Is now really the time to invest in your brand image? Multiple studies say that it is.
There are numerous things vying for your attention right now. Brand tracking – understanding consumers’ perceptions of your brand – might seem like something you can let slide. It can be picked up again when things settle down, right?
Not so fast. We all know that COVID has changed shoppers’ behaviors. It has also changed their priorities and, at least for now, their outlook. The image your brand builds during COVID can have an impact that long outlasts the pandemic.
It’s a mistake to think that things will automatically revert back to their pre-COVID state once all the restrictions are lifted. As Franck Sarrazit explains in this Qualtrics post, “Firms that increased marketing spend during past recessions typically experienced higher sales, market share, or earnings during or after the downturn. …Studies also showed that the effects associated with cutting budgets mostly persisted for several years after the recession. If you cut your spend, it may be years before you see a return to positive outcomes.”
Assessing Brand Health Is More Important Than Ever
As the above quotation illustrates, tracking brand health during COVID is essential. It will help you understand what is important to your customers – and how your actions affect their perception of your brand. Additionally, it can help you keep an eye on your competition.
If these things are important during relatively good and stable times, they are doubly so during times of stress and uncertainty. Building trust and a positive brand image now will not only help you survive this threat, it will put you in a better position for the future.
But let’s focus on the now: How has COVID-19 changed consumers’ brand perceptions?
COVID-19 Has Set the Brand Perception Bar High
During the COVID crisis, consumers as a whole have held brands to a higher level of accountability. We have already seen tone-deaf advertising and untimely social media messaging land some brands in hot water. Meanwhile, other brands have generated positive feelings by demonstrating empathy to their customers and concern for their employees.
Let’s look at two surveys to really understand the impact that COVID has had on people’s brand perceptions. First, we have the COVID-19 Brand Sentiment Navigator Report, which shows us that 58% say the COVID-19 situation has impacted their view of brands. Edelman’s Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and The Coronavirus Pandemic breaks things down even further:
- 65% of those surveyed said that a brand’s COVID response will seriously impact their future purchase decisions with that brand.
- 71% indicated that if a brand places more importance on profit than people, they will no longer trust that brand.
- 60% want to do business with brands they absolutely trust.
- Over one-third said they’ve begun doing business with a new brand because of that brand’s compassionate COVID response.
- One-third of respondents have persuaded others to stop using a brand that they deem has not acted appropriately during the crisis.
As we can see, trust between consumer and brand is paramount – and quite durable in its effects. So what can you do to build that trust now?
Building Trust – and Brand Health – During COVID
First, it’s important to measure your brand’s current status – giving it a health check, if you will. For this, you’ll want to look at brand strength, image, equity, and overall perception. You’ll also want to analyze the key drivers for your audience: Have they changed since COVID? Is your messaging on point with their concerns, or do you need to refine your meaning? Brand tracking will help with this checkup; the central issue is to know, not just assume, that you understand what’s important to your customers now. Your net promoter score will do a good job of letting you know how well you’re resonating with your customers.
Now that you have a good baseline for your brand health, what can you do to build trust specifically during COVID? First and foremost, be sensitive to customers’ emotions, moods, needs, and concerns. It is quite clear that consumers don’t want brands to take advantage of COVID; they want them to be open, honest, and do what they say they’ll do.
Next, focus on key moments in your customer’s lives, and by extension, their journey with you. Provide value with your interactions; factual, helpful content is especially important right now. Show that you have shared values. Connect with them as people, not as account numbers. At the same time, respect their privacy.
Will it take research and hard work to get this right? Yes. It very much will. But if you can develop the right brand image now – and back it up with actions that show your own integrity and authenticity – you’ll see long-lasting benefits.