How to Get Your Brand Message Right & Wrong in Times of Crisis

These are very unprecedented times, so there is a lot of confusion, especially in smaller businesses, how to properly get their brand message across.

How businesses present themselves during these times could affect their bottom line after this is resorted, so businesses need to take a course of action. 

For brands trying to market themselves during this crisis, there are two possible approaches:

  • Pivot quickly and try their best to react (fight).
  • Do nothing and carry on as before, essentially change nothing (flight).

In this circumstance, trying to ignore the current situation is likely to alienate your audience and project a negative message to your audience that they will not forget, and may change brand preference – making you lose customers. 

Smart and agile businesses are pivoting:

  • Local restaurants offering home delivery meals instead of dine-ins
  • Time Out becoming Time In and moving to a digital format covering online streaming listings.
  • Hotel chains offering their now-empty rooms for hospital use.
  • Burger King promotes a “quarantine Whopper” you can make at home.

If we look back to advertising during World War II, many brand products were no longer available for sale to civilians. There wasn’t as much opportunity to maintain a good customer bond as there is now.

However, some brands realized that by keeping their brand name circulating, after the war ended they would be in a strong position to resume “business as normal.” 

That’s what Burger King did there, by giving the option to make the Whopper at home, so after the quarantine, you remember their brand name.

This is the same case. Although you may not be directly profiting, keeping your brand name circulating will keep you in the consumer’s mind after the pandemic ends, and that’s what needs to be taken into account – that this quarantine won’t last forever.

Right now, brands need to quickly reassess their marketing strategy and make sure they are sending out the right message. This can be achieved by:

  • Directly address what is happening and how this is affecting your demographic.
  • Get to the heart of what your audience is feeling right now.
  • What value can you offer to your audience that helps them.
  • If, as a brand, you’re thinking of doing anything PR-based, be warned that false altruism will backfire and could send a message that you are trying to profit from a crisis.
Be genuine with your messaging and actions. Don’t try to capitalize – try to help. Most importantly, don’t stop your marketing right now – brands should be preparing now for when we come out of the crisis and producing a strategy for that, preparing to readapt.

How to Broadcast in a Pandemic

Do not ignore what’s happening. Acknowledge there’s an issue without focusing on it, in a way where you can pivot your business in any way that can to adapt to the new normal.

Brands that continue to send out emails and adverts with their pre-crisis message are risking alienating their audience and making them feel disconnected – which sends a bad brand message.

To move into a strong position for coming out of the other side of this current crisis, a brand must get its message right and it must be investing in the new content strategy now.

Brands should acknowledge what is going on and most importantly what their audience is experiencing.
For the best content strategy in a crisis:

  • Directly address what is happening and how this is affecting your demographic.
  • Get to the heart of what your audience is feeling right now.
  • Identify what value you can offer to your audience that helps them without looking like thinly veiled publicity.

5 Ways to Do Smart & Responsible Marketing During a Crisis

Here are some tips for addressing your marketing approach during a crisis.

While every brand is different, this is a basic action plan that can help brands of all sizes make the right choices and avoid serious mistakes.

1)  Adjust Marketing Campaigns and Scheduled Content Timelines

  • Decide what should be paused immediately. Push timelines back on major campaigns that will likely be eclipsed, or pause entirely if you’re not sure if the content is appropriate. If a campaign has some elements that aren’t appropriate right now, that doesn’t mean it needs to be scrapped altogether; it’s likely that many things will be fine once the outbreak subsides and things return back to normal.
  • Consider what to prioritize or pivot. You may want to move some things up in the schedule, or look for ways to pivot some messaging if it wouldn’t fit with the current situation. You want to adhere to the issue and make your business comfortable, not pushy. For example, a campaign centered on the theme of “Get closer to your customers” can pivot to “Support your customers” or “Customer relationships matter.”

You should also pay attention to the quarantine advisements in your geographic business areas, as every region is on a different timeline, so you can be proactive in your communication once things get back to normal and work around depending on how your area is handling the situation.

2)  Evaluate Your Imagery and Language

Visual communications are powerful, as are the words we use, so it’s important to think about the messages your brand is sending to your customers and potential customers.

  • Avoid visuals of crowds or people touching. This includes people working in offices or at social gatherings out of the house. You don’t want to seem as though you’re promoting that behavior.
  • Reframe marketing language that describes close interaction. Reconsider figurative language like “get in touch,” “work hand in hand,” or “get closer to your customers.” Messages encouraging immediate interaction may be perceived as though you’re disconnected with the current events, and don’t care about the wellbeing of your customers.
  • Swap out visuals. If you have current or upcoming campaign visuals that may be tricky, revise the imagery now or push the timeline to later in the year, or after the quarantine/crisis is over. This is referencing specifically “push” content – the content you are actively putting in front of people across channels during this time (e.g., email subject lines, social posts, current campaign taglines, content, blogs).

As this quarantine period is expected to be temporary, visitors will likely have some forgiveness about pre-existing content. More permanent brand elements (e.g., your logo) or “pull” content (e.g., your homepage) can remain as is – unless you’re promoting a large social event on your homepage, or your hero image involves large crowds or people touching. You can easily change things and customers will notice and appreciate the effort.

3)  Don’t Capitalize on the Crisis

This applies to any tragedy or crisis, but it’s particularly important to remember in this climate of worry and fear. Don’t make it seem like you want to take advantage of the crisis.
  • Keep people informed. Brands do need to communicate in response to the crisis, as it pertains to their business. For example, you should update your audience about the current measures you’re taking, store closures, or policy updates related to COVID-19 or other crises. Although these messages might be getting memed on social media, they do add value to customer relationships because they are informative.
  • Don’t be an alarmist.It’s important to keep people informed, but don’t add to the panic. Don’t use overly dramatic language,and pay attention to any additional information you’re sharing (e.g., credibly sourced news articles or tips).
  • Mind your tone. No “COVID-19 sales!” or other insensitive advertising. Even if the communication isn’t offensive, it can still be perceived as clueless or ignorant.
  • Avoid bragging. Remember that many people are not working during this time and are genuinely worried. As a default, a spirit of humility and empathy should be a filter for anything your brand says in the near future. Don’t point out that your employees have jobs, instead you can add a note that you wish everyone who continues to work is safe.

4)  Be Positive, But Not Ignorant

In a time when people are uneasy, you don’t need to be overly positive, it may come off as “excited” as if you’re content with the crisis.

  • Look to your purpose, vision, mission, and values for guidance. Times like these are when the work you’ve done to create a brand strategy can be incredibly valuable. Use your “brand heart” (purpose, vision, mission, and values) as your marker to remind yourself what your brand stands for, and what that means in the context of COVID-19 (or other crises).
  • Be personable.You don’t have to strip your brand of emotion. For example, offering your well wishes or using imagery of people smiling isn’t, in itself, offensive. In fact, it can be refreshing for people to recall normal life, remember what it was like before the quarantine, and to be hopeful for the quarantine’s end.
  • Think about your future messaging. During the depths of the 2008-09 recession and the early years of economic recovery, many brands pivoted to campaigns that had promoted optimism, hope, and humanity. This should be a goal for your company, to consider how your current messaging will affect your future messaging.
  • Create employee-generated content (EGC).Ask your teams for their favorite Netflix binges, share your tips for maintaining office plants while everyone is away, or post fun photos from your video conferences. Ask your employees what they’re doing in their spare time, and how people are working together to keep things light. What are people doing to stay healthy and prepared? This will be a great way to show your customers that you’re more than a business entity, and your company and it’s employees are trying to fight through this as well – and they can follow your lead.
Remember: The more you show your human side, the more everyone can all feel connected – even if we’re stuck inside. “We’re all in this together” is a good message that you want to portray.

5)  Highlight How Your Brand Can Help

If what you do supports or enhances people’s lives while quarantined, tell that brand story. Brands exist to provide value, and the products/services that help during this stressful time deserve the attention of those who can benefit from them.
  • Communicate your benefits. Does your product give people things to do at home? Does it help people do their jobs without face-to-face interaction or commuting to an office? Clarify your brand’s potential unique value, and share it.
  • Create helpful content.Even if your product doesn’t directly help people deal with the quarantine, your brand can still provide value to people. How can you educate, entertain, or inspire people stuck at home all day? As long as you keep the focus on helping people and not patting yourself on the back, your marketing doesn’t have to stop, and should continue. Remember that the quarantine won’t last forever.

Brands Getting Their Message Right in the Crisis


A great branding message is one from Speedo.

Swimming is an important part of keeping physically healthy and it also helps people deal with stress and problems.

Swimming is a huge part of some people’s lives, and during a crisis, that’s when they would need it the most.

Speedo nailed the message by really understanding what’s of value to their audience. They offer messages of support and inspiration across social media to keep people going.

They also point out how many professional athletes will be struggling to continue with their training and the impact this could have on a career.

A few days after the first message, Speedo followed up with 5 dry land exercises to give you more power in the pool.

This really connects with their target demographic, it doesn’t try to sell them anything, and seems as though sSpeedo really just wants to help their customers.

This is a great image to try and achieve, and can be done quite easily, as you can see, just by giving tips. That keeps it in the consumer’s mind that Speedo is just helping them cope, not selling them swimwear, but helping them stay in shape so they can continue to keep their level of fitness, to resume swimming as they were before the crisis.

Great pivot of content and genuine messaging that found the right level for their target demographic.

The White Company

Luxury interiors and clothing company The White Company managed to address the current crisis, but avoided any direct reference to it.

The word “hibernation” doesn’t quite reflect the current situation, but has put a positive spin on it, taking attention away from the negativity.

The content they offer is very much on target with their audience and recognizes that people will want to “nest” and find some comfort during times of so much stress.

They also recognize that their key demographic have young children, and try to help by offering tips and activities to keep the kids at ease and less of a hassle.

The newsletter manages to connect their products to the subjects in a fluid way.

Brand Getting Their Message Wrong in the Crisis

Massimo Dutti

Most brands will plan their editorial and content calendars long in advance. Especially fashion, with long lead times for range planning, production, and photoshoots.

Most brands right now will have invested massive budgets into campaigns to launch their new season products, but that is no excuse to continue pursuing a sunk cost fallacy route, it gives off a very insensitive standpoint, as mentioned earlier.

There was an email from Massimo Dutti that has a travel theme. And this was sent after the UK went into enforced lockdown, which was very poor timing. Advertising travel when people can’t travel can be perceived as though they’re mocking the situations, and are very disconnected.

Possibly the worst timing to show people travel content.

With a message of walks on sunny beaches and city get-togethers and models in summer clothes on beaches and leaning against palm trees.

No recognition or consideration that many people have lost large sums of money on booked holidays that they can’t refund.

No consideration for all the people trapped in their homes with no prospect of a summer holiday this year.

Massimo Dutti should quickly and seriously consider what they are doing with their content strategy and do something to try and make up for this.

Take into account the tips provided, learn from the successful branding messages, and the unsuccessful one. It’s important to try and pivot your marketing strategies to adhere to the current situation, and to be considerate about your demographic audience and the messages you’re putting out there for them.