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How brands should respond during the COVID-19 crisis

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Consumers still want to hear from brands; More Americans than not believe advertisers should carry on as normal. The crucial question is, what messages should brands communicate—and how?

A pair of studies conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis reveal two hopeful facts for organizations weighing the risks and opportunities of marketing during a global pandemic: 1) consumers still want to hear from brands; and 2) more Americans than not believe advertisers should carry on as normal. The crucial question is, what messages should brands communicate—and how?

Drawing from historic research and literature on past pandemics and recessions, and examining what we have already learned from the coronavirus threat, Beth Egan, associate professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has partnered with the Mower Insight Group to develop best practices for marketers. Compiled in a white paper titled How Brands Should Respond During the COVID-19 Crisis, these best practices address three critical areas of concern:

1. Investing for future brand health
2. Finding a brand voice that resonates now
3. Applying spend according to shifting media habits

Here are a few of the lessons from history the paper reveals:

  • Increasing advertising spending during a recession has a positive impact on both ROI and market share. (Advertising During a Recession,” a 1999 study by J. Walter Thompson’s Stephen King)
  • A consumer packaged goods brand that stops advertising loses half of its brand awareness in just 2.5 weeks. (Simon Broadbent, late 1970s)
  • Consumers respond positively to advertising in times of crisis, with the exception of those with messaging that they perceive to exploit the situation for commercial gain. (Post-9/11 research from Hofstra and Pace universities).
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