5 Ways Brands Can be Their Best in Crisis

In the wake of COVID-19, brands are challenged to shift, pivot and embrace the sudden changes happening throughout the world. As marketers, we thrive on change. While the obstacles that OH Partners, our clients, our families and our friends are facing have caused stress and uncertainty, I know that our team at OH is prepared to step up on behalf of ourselves and our clients to make the difference.

Over the past couple of weeks, the pandemic has taught us valuable lessons. As I watch the OH team tackle these challenges head-on, I’ve thought about five takeaways every brand should address when facing a crisis.

1) Be present to build trust
We’ve seen so many brands pull back on or even stop communication and ad spend during the COVID-19 pandemic. As marketers, we work months in advance on brand campaigns and now find ourselves faced with changing creative and updating messaging in a matter of days. Brands shouldn’t go dark and turn their backs on tried-and-true tactics. Instead, our role in advertising is to address the need for a new tone and new goals.

While hospitality brands such as Wynn and Marriott are no longer buying up lots of digital ads to sell rooms, they are still using social media to communicate to both consumers and employees, offering compassion and transparent information. Food and beverage brands are sharing cooking tutorials, lifestyle brands are hosting virtual happy hours, and fitness centers are launching free live streamed workouts. This is how brands continue to be present without selling, making brand fans feel connected, safe and aware.

2) When the world shifts, consumer mindsets follow
People are no longer thinking, behaving and feeling the way that they used to. As marketing experts, it’s important to understand the almost overnight changes in how consumers are behaving. How do we effectively reach our target audience during this new normal? The media landscape has shifted. Social distancing is forcing people to spend more time on social media in order to feel connected and watch more news television in order to stay informed. Brands must accept the challenge of meeting their consumers where they are now, not where they were three months ago.

3) Lead with the brand’s human side
Underneath it all, brands are human, and the ones that make it through the COVID-19 challenges on top will be the ones that lead with their human side. Now is not the time to be strictly data-driven and ROI-focused. Leaning into intuition and empathy empowers brands to strike the right tone when communicating with their audience and discover ways to make a positive impact in the community. During a crisis, there is tremendous opportunity for brands to help people in need and demonstrate leadership. When brands are their authentically human selves, they build consumer confidence, earn loyalty and help create a better world.

4) Innovation through virtualization
Practicing safe social distancing has forced innovation out of necessity. As companies around the world have adopted work from home policies, they’re embracing virtual connection more than ever and becoming more collaborative for it. Brands and agencies are finding creative ways to keep employees and consumers alike engaged. Whether it’s through virtual happy hours, TikTok challenges or Facebook live streams, these revamped strategies drive connection and collaboration with both their internal and external stakeholders.

5) Prepare for the revival period
It might not feel like it right now, but crisis situations do pass. The population will become healthy again, people will return to their offices and the economy will recover. In the meantime, brands should be planning. What will businesses look like in two weeks? What about two months from now? How do we plan to tackle strategy after the fog has lifted? The key to success is to connect with clients and team members daily and prepare for all possibilities. Developing contingency plans for the time when the tides finally turn means brands are ready to act when the time is right.

As an agency partner, it’s our job to guide and assist our brand partners through these challenging times, and across the country and the world, our colleagues too are stepping up. This is a critical time for brands to be both calm and proactive, reassuring communities that we will forge forward. To others, COVID-19 may be a setback, but to OH Partners and agencies around the globe, this is a time to innovate, give back and be the leaders our communities need.

About the Author: Scott Harkey is co-founder and managing partner of OH Partners, one of the nation’s fastest-growing independent advertising agencies. The agency is turning heads of brands and holding companies alike with its passionate, agile work, focused strategy, innovative analytics and an unmatched company culture made up of collaborators and creative thinkers.

Scott’s genuine passion to grow and elevate OH Partners and the industry is reflected in his forward-thinking work and successful leadership. His experience in media, analytics, and traditional and digital marketing help him spearhead integration initiatives for international brands across a variety of verticals including CPG, luxury hospitality, gaming, entertainment and technology. Scott’s velocity, passion and problem-solving have positioned him as an indispensable partner while delivering profitable business outcomes.

Scott’s understanding of CMO, brand, and marketing trends is rooted in his enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the industry. He is at the forefront of the advertising industry as a member of the 4A’s Business Council and speaking nationally for ANA, Media Post, Media Life Magazine, Digital Marketer and others. Scott’s work has landed him on the Arizona Republic’s ’35 under 35 Entrepreneurs’ and the Phoenix Business Journal’s ’40 under 40′ lists. He was also named the Ad Person of the Year by the American Advertising Federation of Phoenix in 2018.