5-step plan to build a stronger brand during the pandemic — without any dick moves
Remember that ancient curse: ‘May you live in interesting times’? Well, times truly don’t get much more interesting than right now. Let’s face it: we’re currently living in a collective WTF mode. In the past two months we’ve gone through the spectrum of emotions typically reserved for main characters in survival blockbusters. Not just people, but businesses too: the list of COVID-19 victims includes thousands of brands, from one-person start-ups to corporations. Tragic, yes. But like any disaster, this pandemic will inevitably leave the survivors better and stronger than before; you just need to be smart and creative about it. So change into your smartest PJs, put on R.E.M.’s evergreen classic ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’, and let’s talk about weathering this shitstorm.
STEP 1: No more waiting.
There’s a big old plaster we need to rip off. Ready? Here goes: stop thinking that this will be finished soon, and waiting for it all to blow over. It won’t.
At the moment, there’s plenty of tunnel left before the light at the end thereof. And don’t expect that once the lockdown is eased, it will all be business as usual. Just like in the opening lines of Lord of The Rings: the world has changed.
So instead of waiting for it all to return to good old ‘good old’, engage in a mental exercise of ‘what would I do if this was forever?’ Not because it will be; but because this will push you to reinvent your business and come up with solutions that will serve you both now and in the years to come.
STEP 2: Give, give, give.
While some businesses are shamelessly profiteering, others are finding ways to do more good than ever (Diageo donating ethanol to sanitiser producers; fashion houses making protective equipment; fast food chains giving away lunches to medical staff) or offer people value in other ways (The Royal Albert Hall arranging a live concert streamed from Rufus Wainwright’s home; top chefs giving free cooking classes; and do check out Greece From Home). And it’s them, not the scrooges, who will inherit the Earth along with the public’s hearts and minds.
This isn’t just about common decency — businesses don’t run on the warm fuzzy feeling of charitable giving. It makes complete business sense, as well — because (shock, horror) people like brands run by good, smart, creative people. ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ applies here, too — and a brand that can show its expertise and values in a crisis is one that people will want to side with in better, calmer, saner times.
STEP 3: Step up your online and social presence.
Traditional channels have all but disintegrated. On the other hand, the pandemic has given businesses something of a gift. You wanted a captive audience with a lot of disposable income? You now have people in lockdown with more free time than before, and many of them are spending it on Instagram. And while daily skinny lattes, restaurant lunches and travel may have left a gap in their hearts, they’ve also freed up sizable chunks of cash. So the question is: will they find you on one of their daily scrolling sessions, and will they like what they see? If the answer is no, you risk disappearing completely.
STEP 4: Spring clean.
House-cleaning is on the rise — and it has less to do with hygiene than with being forced to stare at the chaos and inefficiency of our domestic set-ups day in, day out. Reorganising has an undeniable calming effect: we’re desperately craving some sense of clarity and control in this bizarre situation, and many of us are finding it in the only place we’re still in charge of: our homes. Millions of wardrobes and closets are getting Marie Kondoed, and there’s never been a better time for brands to do the same — the crucial difference is that your ‘home’ is visible to all, including potential clients. Your ‘spring clean’ might mean finally getting a long-overdue rebrand, revisiting your strategy, polishing your website, refreshing your copy, or even just dedicating a few hours to organising your files (‘contract_final_v12’ and ‘contract_finallest’, time’s up). Don’t waste this opportunity for a cleanup — You From The Future will thank you for it, as will your bottom line.
5) Be decent about it.
The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people; and for brands, it’s become a litmus test showing their true colours to customers. This should go without saying, but — don’t join the ranks of COVIDiots. There are many ways to face a pandemic as a business, including self-promotion — but tread lightly. There is nothing cynical per se in updating your operations, realising your business has an advantage in this time, or talking about it. To be honest, it would be weird to not mention the elephant (bat? too soon?..) in the room by pretending it’s business as usual. But be careful what you say, and where: too many brands have raised eyebrows with their utterly tone-deaf, opportunistic or poorly-planned reactions to the crisis.
To TL;DR it: if you want your brand to make it through this time and come out stronger than ever — act now, give more, be seen, freshen up, and don’t be a prick. Above all, stay safe and sane.
Olga Pope and Gina Kelly are co-founders of Linehouse London, a branding studio for companies that have no time for BS. They have worked on over 60 globally renowned brands, but their proudest achievement is rapping in front of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.