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Brand Management in a COVID-19 World

Like many others, we at Affinity are following the arc of the COVID-19 crisis and remain concerned with the health, safety, and future of those around us—our team, our friends and families, and our extended family of clients, vendors, and industry partners. The amount of uncertainty is unprecedented. That said, we believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Frankly, we’re hoping for lots of sunshine. Why? We’re already seeing rays of inspiration and promise.

When we turn our attention to the world of brands, we’re struck by the thoughtful response of many organizations. Action is the name of the game during difficult times. Investing in helping and engaging consumers is an opportunity to demonstrate that your brand is listening and taking notes in a meaningful way. As the battle with this pandemic continues, it’s essential that brands not only lean in but also make a shift to best connect with consumers. The good news is that underneath this pivot is a reinforcement of sound brand practices. Firms that apply the core tenets of a brand—empathy, agility, and employee focus and purpose—will flourish during this moment of uncertainty and ultimately win with consumers in the long run.

Show Empathy
Consumers’ circumstances have changed dramatically in a short period of time. Brands must be acutely aware of this shock to the system, exhibiting empathy and utility in fulfilling customer needs. People are seeking answers and looking for assistance from all types of entities . . . right now. And the smart brands are responding. Bank of America has agreed to allow qualified mortgage customers to defer payments for three months. USAA is offering customers impacted by COVID-19 special payment arrangements on policies. Disney is also answering the call, having brought Frozen 2 to Disney+ three months early for families who are seeking reliable family entertainment while sheltering in place.

Embrace Change
Brands need to be nimble, continually exploring new ways to engage customers and deliver value. As social distancing has gone into effect, physical experiences are being replaced with virtual ones. Wineries dependent on tourism-related direct-to-consumer sales have made the pivot to think and act more like online brands since COVID-19 halted tasting room visits. A near 50% drop in March tasting room sales was partially offset by a spike of over 200% in ecommerce transactions. Whiskey clubs and wineries are finding new ways to attract and ‘meet’ with customers from a distance, delivering virtual tours, online winemaker talks, and digital tastings for consumers.

Make Employees a Priority
Now, more than ever, doing the right thing for employees will reap dividends for brand owners in the marketplace, in retention, and with engagement. Plus, there is the not-so-minor benefit of motivating individuals, teams, and communities to tenaciously power through a global crisis. Companies have recognized that employees with children need more flexibility when working from home. This acknowledgment of work-from-home challenges and the accommodation of daily routines have gone a long way to strengthen loyalty and foster camaraderie. Think of the internal goodwill and workforce dedication generated through Comcast’s commitment of $500 million to support employees with continued pay and benefits.

Have Purpose and Pragmatism
Organizations must have the stamina to activate their brand promise in meaningful ways at the risk of losing relevance or appearing tone-deaf. They need to keep their brand’s promise at the forefront as they deliver experiences for consumers in this challenging environment. Constellation Brands is making sizable contributions to bartender and restaurant employee relief funds, as are Delicato Family Wines, Diageo, and Pernod-Ricard.

Another top wine producer, Trinchero Family Estates, donated funds to support children of food and beverage service employees. Examples of best practices cross industries, countries, and cultures. Video conferencing and connectivity company Zoom is offering free access to all K-12 schools across the country. Dyson, the innovative UK-based manufacturer of high-end vacuums and fans, designed and is donating a new type of ventilator for COVID-19 patients. Airbnb is deploying its real estate supply to provide housing for medical workers around the globe.

Act Now For a Better Future
How brands respond today will not only influence consumers’ current brand impressions but also shape their future brand relationships once we emerge from this coronavirus crisis. This may be a time of unknowns, but customers will remember those brands that were there for them. With thoughtful insight, smart management, and sound investment, brand owners can make valuable contributions while also creating powerful consumer experiences. The result could be a strengthened position on the brand landscape when we emerge into the light. Here’s to preparing now for the better times that lie ahead.

About Bob Kersten
Bob Kersten is a brand leader with extensive experience in clarifying and building brands that accelerate dynamic growth, customer acquisition, and organizational change. As Executive Director, Strategy at Affinity Creative Group, he is responsible for leading strategic engagements for client programs as well as shaping the agency’s approach to brand development and management. Bob’s expertise includes strategy, experience design, naming and messaging, and brand transformation and activation across media. Connect with him via email: Bob@AffinityCreative.com

About Affinity Creative Group
From our unique creative campus (two mansions and a bungalow) along historic Officer’s Row on Mare Island, California, Affinity Creative Group (Link: affinitycreative.com) provides brand design, digital media, and retail activation marketing services, particularly for wine, spirits, and other luxury categories. The most experienced team in the business, staffed with knowledgeable industry professionals, provide strategic, creative, and effective solutions that attract attention, spark interest, and win customer loyalty in tasting rooms, on premise, and at retail venues across the country and around the globe. Affinity helps clients of all sizes connect with consumers at the early, essential moments of contact, or points of ‘brand touch’ through the intelligent use of creativity, captivating storytelling, and flawless implementation.

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