Virus crisis demands a new order

This article was published in Marketing Magazine – May 2020

I have become slightly obsessed with the flight radar app in recent weeks.  I find it fascinating to zoom in on the countries of the world and instead of marvelling at the hundreds of planes queuing to land over London Heathrow, today’s flight patterns paint a stark picture, where just a few lonely Fed Ex planes hover above one of the world’s busiest airports. It is a harsh reminder of how this pandemic has utterly disrupted our lives and changed our world for good, but it also illustrates the power of technology, to make the world come alive through a small screen.

What is incredible in this global pandemic is that we all have the same problem, the same challenges and the same brief, albeit with different starting points.

The Olympics might be postponed but the real battle has just started, where only the fittest companies will survive. The impact of the coronavirus will change us for ever and the speed of technology adoption will go into overdrive. But what do brands need to focus on now, given an unprecedented pressure on cashflow and survival?

When times get tough, we look for support and guidance and there is a lot we can learn from how today’s governments communicated, when the pandemic took hold.   A far cry from the inspiring Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand), we witnessed a pantomime of dismal communications from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Donald Trump. For Johnson, his failure to connect his words with his actions undermined his plan, by insisting that the UK general public would be ‘pleased to know’ that the virus would not prevent him greeting hospital patients with a handshake. On the other side of the Atlantic, Trump changed his rhetoric nearly every day by claiming the virus was a “hoax” one day and the following day doing a serious about-turn, which continues to this day. The result was mass confusion.

In Ireland, the effect was the opposite, clear concise communication with echoes and references to our past served to galvanise the country and rally the troops. The nation knew what we had to do and many of us were relieved to have such a clear set of instructions as a guide into the unknown. It was as emotive as it was instructive.

While all brands have been forced to adapt, we must continue to communicate clearly and lead from the front. Many brands today may not be trading, many others may be compromised somewhere along the supply chain. However, the big difference this time around is today, we know the power of marketing and what it can do.  Not responding is a response too and while it is essential that communication is adapted in this new world, brands that act now will form a lasting impression.

The big danger now is the temptation to turn on price and turn off memorability. Often, we turn to price in times of recession and lose the emotion, when the very people we are targeting need more from a brand; whether that’s to be supported or even entertained.  Of course, people want good value, but we need to do both, or risk eroding profitability with a cheapened brand to match.

Value comes in many forms but brands who can help in whatever shape that may be, will form a longer lasting impression.

The recent An Post, Sending Love initiative is proof of this, where in the last few weeks a postcard was delivered to every home in the country.  The currency here was not the free stamp or even the postcard, but the memories and a spot of free babysitting for stressed-out parents.  It put a giant smile on my children’s Grandparents, who delighted in receiving their handwritten postcards. Memorable, supportive or as Mastercard would say; priceless.

These are unprecedented times and navigating this new landscape is challenging and complex, when so many people are dying. Brands must not be seen to be opportunistic, but instead be there to help.

Brands must also use this time to get their house in order. Re-engineering your business model and ensuring it is fit for a post co-vid world is critical.

One only has to look at all those Fed Ex planes in the sky to understand how much business is being conducted online. Brands won’t have the luxury of time to catch up. This pandemic has liquidised our shopping habits and what must be terrifying for many retailers is once consumers have started buying a different way, will they go back?

There may be less planes flying overhead, but the time is now to get fit fast and take action, without of course, forgetting the power of human connection.


Fiona Field

Photo credit: Steven Su @xpsteven via Unsplash