the COVID-19 outbreak is and isn’t about your brand

that should be the main conclusion you take out of this global crisis from a branding perspective.

the COVID-19 outbreak is about your brand – when it comes to putting your values into concrete action, showing up in a meaningful and tasteful manner, contributing, and learning more about yourself.

this outbreak is not about your brand – if you are meaning to take advantage of the situation in any way possible, do shameless promotion, put yourself first, brag, or do things just because (mainly, because you want to look good).

of course, everyone wants to come out a hero from this situation. there are brands that are scoring massive community karma points because of their particular presence in the market. but those companies and organizations are doing that little tidbit right, the one we mentioned in our past article, “the formidably revealing power of a crisis for a brand”. they are either creating a perfect balance between their business agenda and their help or they are focusing on a selfless way to contribute in relieving this crisis (remember those 2 important questions, “how can we help?” versus “how can we take advantage?”).

as a professional working in branding, especially if you are a brand manager, you should treat this unusual moment in time as an opportunity. as Tom Fishburne from The Marketoonist says, “Brands are judged less by how they operate when things go right than by how they handle situations when things go wrong.”

this is a good moment to…

…transform your brand promise into brand action. like the London Mozart Players, whose mission is to “harness the passion and talent of our musicians so our audiences can revel in the joy of world-class live performance” and who are streaming their concerts for free for the world to enjoy. or like one of my dear brands, L’Erbolario, aiming to “create safe and effective phyto-cosmetic products, created with respect for nature and for mankind” and who are now putting all their efforts into their hand sanitizing products that will directly go to doctors and hospitals in Italy.

…foster meaningful brand collaborations. like in the brilliant “Project Pitlane”, a unique collaboration between 7 UK-based Formula 1 teams, who have repurposed their production lines to make ventilator parts for the bigger #VentilatorChallengeUK.

…connect with your tribe on an even deeper level. like Patagonia is doing by hosting special nature movie screenings via their social media channels, getting people more relaxed and in touch with the great outdoors while asking them to respect the indoors quarantine rules.

…expand your view. like all the companies, organizations, and schools that needed to put some proverbial muscle in their digitization efforts and pick it up from there. or all the restaurants, shops, and farms that decided to do things online for their customers (most of them actually discovering new customers this way).

…polish up and reorient. like distilleries such as Pernod Ricard are doing by re-purposing their products and making hand sanitizers out of them.

…just notice. observe what is happening with your brand, campaigns, product, and client base. much like Martin Lindstrom is advising us these days.

this is not the time to…

…use the quarantine period as an excuse to shamelessly promote your online activity – sales, courses, books, podcasts (I have a podcast. an “episode catch-up during the pandemic” would be an easy message to slip right now. it would also create a big divide between the podcast purpose, its brand and its audience. it would also feel like the wrong thing to do, so that kind of brand action is not happening with my podcast).

…try to be inappropriately creative. like Dutch marketing company Rumag who created a special coronavirus fashion line with tags such as “Get the corona” or “Corona girl”, with the purpose of being “hip and trendy”. spoiler alert: things did not go well for them (their CEO resigned this week due to the scandal that this initiative sparked in the Netherlands).

…misunderstand the bigger picture of the situation. like dubbing initiatives with names that don’t match the situation, like “we are contributing to coronavirus” or the “coronavirus playbook”, because you want people to look on the bright side. regarding the playbook example, we’re sorry, Martin Lindstrom. we love your work, and the initiative is great, but what you did is a copywriting (and human) faux-pas.

…fall for extremes. this pandemic does not translate into the end of the world, nor is it a time when we should focus only on proverbial rainbows and butterflies. what the world needs are brands that are self-aware, honest, balanced, and practical. much like the people we need right now.

you are invited to show up and contribute in these tough times. and you are asked not to jump the gun or push common sense out of the door. you are the best person who can feel where the fine line lies for your brand’s actions.

use your power wisely.

and stay safe.

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