So here we are, in the midst of an unprecedented challenge—as COVID-19 forces indefinite business closures, the workforce (when possible) is camping out in our homes. For many this is a less than seamless experience; from technology needs, to distractions at home, to digital collaboration, we’re all doing our best. Not to mention the emotional impact as we worry for our loved ones and adjust to social distancing. But it’s during times like this that it’s critical we don’t lose our focus.
It’s easy to get buried in the details as you move full speed again to mitigate roadblocks and simply meet demands. That said, overall brand vision and implementation is more meaningful than ever. In times of tragedy come opportunities for innovation—change that will allow businesses to continue to serve their clients, teachers to educate students, and essential workers to be protected. In the Salesforce ecosystem and beyond, this presents a unique chance for partners and clients to show off their agility skills, view the market with a divergent lens, and reframe messaging—all while using their existing branding as a framework. As the creative lead at Magnet360, The Mindtree Salesforce Practice, an adjunct professor for an online master’s program, and a freelance designer, I’ve been carefully observing and reflecting on the essential role marketing and branding are playing right now. Let’s break it down.
Authenticity is Key
First, reach for your authentic brand voice during this time, and adapt messaging to include empathy. Selling per normal isn’t effective or sensitive during this time. BUT, we still need to sell. So, how do you navigate that right now in the B2B sector? How can we help our customers meet the rapidly changing demands and customer expectations? You may feel like you weren’t caught up before this and now you’re farther behind. In that situation, your best bet is to tap into your existing expertise and build upon it swiftly to help your customers thrive. This may mean optimizing your internal processes to improve efficiency—or it may mean reaching customers via new channels or delivering offerings/products that would not have made sense in the world formerly known as “normal.”
In the future, let’s remember this as a testament to how critical constant innovation is. The last thing you want is to be in an uncomfortable situation—one in which your customers become frustrated and disappointed in your lack of agility during the time they need it most.
This, of course, is assuming that your brand is already sound in its essence, authenticity, vision, and purpose. Right now, any trace of inauthentic messaging becomes painfully obvious—and nothing turns a customer off like a brand that doesn’t acknowledge the complexity and emotional intelligence that is desperately needed. Major news stations are getting it right with their commercials. They’re utilizing simple, relatable messaging that honors our heroes in combination with touching imagery. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone and that we can be partners in this. Our brains crave and give way to connection, especially during times of crisis. It’s a time for brands to show that their values and mantra aren’t just words, but rather, focused, established principles from which to drive action on a moment’s notice.
Consumers love when businesses put their money where their mouth is. Patagonia is a fantastic example of this. When they were given a tax break in 2018, they donated $10 million to combat climate change—which makes sense for a company that claims to be focused on protection of the environment and the joys we derive from the outdoors. Their customers, after all, use their products largely for outdoor adventures, making this act of humanitarianism both an assurance of their credibility and an investment in the sustainability of their brand’s future.
At the moment, a reigning example of this is a commercial released by UBER. It begins by showing us a reel of people sheltering in place and connecting in new ways. At first it seems somber, accompanied by touching instrumental music. As it progresses, we see families dancing, laughing, and playing; dogs tearing apart cherished toilet paper; kids crying. It’s showing us our current reality, and how our everyday lives shift as we try to make the best of our situation. It ends with a simple message: “Stay home for everyone who can’t. Thank you for not riding with UBER.” I must admit, I had to rewind when I first saw that messaging to ensure I hadn’t read it wrong. A for-profit company urging you NOT to use their services isn’t typically a winning strategy, but the world is upside down right now (this too, was borrowed from UBER’s marketing). If the ad lived alone, it would give you the sense that UBER cares about the health of their riders and workers, even at the expense of the business. It’s impactful. It hits where it counts. But it doesn’t end there—the call to action at the end leads the viewer to a COVID-19 site that stresses they’ll help “move what matters,” with information on how they’re supporting healthcare workers, feeding first responders, supporting local restaurants, and moving supplies through Uber Freight. This is marketing that is beyond the superficial; they’re acting accordingly with the times and helping where possible. I would be remiss not to mention that they’re also laying off workers during this time; a move that’s been difficult for many employers and is becoming prevalent in the current climate. While this might shift the campaign to seem more considerate of the general public than employees, it’s important to remember that the decline in riders was inevitable—they just got ahead of it. Despite the hardships for workers, I come away from the messaging knowing that they’ve been thoughtful and deliberate rather than selling in ways that seem disconnected to their customers’ reality.
This is just the beginning. There will undoubtedly be large shifts in the way everyone does business in the weeks and months to come, which will impact the landscape of how we operate after we’ve moved past this time of crisis. It’s unlikely that you need to do a complete overhaul and pivot right now—rather, lean in to innovation and problem solving. Adapt your messaging. Listen to needs. Let your customers know that you’re in this for them and find a Salesforce partner who can support you on that journey. Remind them that you are best situated to serve them—to make their lives easier and mitigate the roadblocks. Rather than meet expectations, exceed them. Your customers will remember long after this is all over.