It’s fair to say that 'less talk, more do' is sound advice at the best of times, but it is particularly prescient for brands at the current time with the Covid-19 at it's peak. People aren’t interested in good wishes, they need actions and tangible help. Brands would be well advised to shut up at the moment.
Before this piece goes any further there are two important things to acknowledge; the first is that marketing is of miniscule importance at the moment, and of no importance compared to the people on the frontline fighting, and dealing with, the coronavirus.
Everything is relative, and for those people that do work in marketing and those that rely on its success for millions of businesses and livelihoods, it is worth exploring for improvement. The second is that brands should not stop investing in marketing as it’s more important now than ever. The key point is how they should be doing it- with actions not words.
Sadly, it seems many brands have taken the current crisis as a cue to either slash marketing budgets or, worse, pump out meaningless superficial ads and messages from CEOs. While a few have got it right. It seems the brands that are still active fall into two categories - the Carers and the Doers.
The Carers are really keen for you to know that they really care. Really care. Really keen for you to know. This manifests itself in the form of near incessant emails letting you know how much they understand how tough this situation must be. They really understand. Ideally accompanied with a scanned in signature from the CEO. To show that digitally artificial personal touch.
The Carers also like to use made-for-awards ads to show how enormous their social conscience is. Mainly by separating their logo in an absolutely genius bit of social distancing. It's just a shame Cannes has been canned this year.
The thing that unites The Carers is a consistent lack of doing anything remotely helpful or innovative. The biggest culprits here are the banks- a group with the largest potential for tangible usefulness through product adaptation, yet also the most lacking in anything beyond the standard “we care” emails. Also, a special shout out here for the brands offering publicity-friendly free or discounted stuff for NHS workers while also operating elaborate tax avoidance schemes that starve the NHS of money. But paying taxes doesn’t win Lions - duh.
The Doers on the other hand are the brands that are using smart marketing- genuine Four Ps marketing- to contribute something useful to their customers new and old, and hopefully wider society too, all while effectively marketing their business.
Hat tip to the numerous alcohol manufacturers repurposing their factories to make hand sanitizer, Defected and others creating virtual festivals, Burger King giving people the recipe to make Whoppers at home (vs McDonalds doing the social distanced logo thing). There are some great examples amongst supermarkets; a Danish shop using pricing to stop panic buying (hand sanitizer for £3, two for £100), Tesco guaranteeing 12 weeks full pay for all employees over 70 so they can self-isolate (actual purpose-lead marketing, not the nonsense usually spoken about), and Ocado removing bottled water from deliveries to increase the number of deliveries they can make.
This is proper actions-speak-louder-than-words, proof-over-promise, marketing and comms.
There’s a lot of talk about how consumers will make future purchase decisions based on how brands behave during this crisis. That if brands are seen to be insensitive consumers will never come back. I’m not sure I buy that. I think Wetherspoons will be just as busy again, in the same way that if consumers cared about corporate behaviour above all other factors the serial tax dodgers wouldn’t be the behemoths they are. But, there is no doubt that brands can grow, and businesses can become more secure during this time by behaving smartly, creatively and considerately.
People don’t need a hug from brands, they need actions. Don’t tell me you’re here for me, do something that proves it.