Consumer Facing Leadership Strategies for Better-For-You Brands in Times of Crisis

March 23, 2020 | by David Lemley

Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will be different still. It’s going to be this way for a while; we just don’t know how long.

Among the multitude of companies, brands, consultants, and friends offering advice during this crisis, we offer these insights and reassurances for better-for-you brand leaders.

What this Crisis Looks Like for BFY Brands

Different market sectors in the U.S. economy are being affected in wildly different ways: healthcare is overextended, foodservice and hospitality are in dire straits, finance is swinging wildly. CPG and retail industries are reacting to acute changes in consumer behavior, shopper demands, and supply chain challenges.

We predict that in the short term, BFY brands (especially shelf-stable products backed by a strong supply chain and distribution model) will see an uptick in sales. We also think that gain will taper off as pantry-stocking is no longer urgent, but household inventory becomes normalized.

Post-crisis, business will be challenging for any brands that

  • have rested on their laurels
  • became overconfident thanks to the uptick in sales
  • hunkered down and waited for the crisis to pass

Outward-Facing Leadership for BFY Brands

For 15 years, we have been declaring that brands are the new religion—because people look to them for personal identity and shared values in the way previous generations looked to churches, social clubs, universities, and extended family.

Brand leaders, here’s your opportunity to prove yourself worthy.

How (and Where) to Talk to Your Customers

Let’s begin with two things you should absolutely not do right now:

  1. Go silent
  2. Go into selling mode

Your overarching message to your consumers right now should be something like this: “We are all in this together, and together we will get through.” Present your vision for a better tomorrow that emerges from this crisis. Don’t sell to them; show them small acts of love.

If you haven’t yet, quickly update your website with a message that reinforces your brand’s ethos, the values you share with your community, and a sense of calm confidence. Talk about what you’re doing to help, and encourage your fans to follow your lead. Don’t add to the collective freakout.

Your communication and marketing strategies have to pivot now, in all platforms of the Brand Ecosystem. Set aside the plans and campaigns you outlined six months ago so your messaging doesn’t sound tone-deaf. Remove the hard sell from your paid media and social communication. Be helpful in tangible ways.

In general, you shouldn’t alter your brand’s voice at this time, unless your natural tone is deliberately smart-aleck. Set aside the snark for the time being and find the lightness in our current reality. For example, our client Lesser Evil softened its usually wise-cracking tone to a more gentle silliness about things their audience is encountering now. In short, think of how your personal conversations have shifted — people are encouraging each other, finding the wry humor in weird situations, helping each other solve daily problems like staying active and home-schooling.

It may be a good time for the brand to take action, but make sure whatever you do is in the spirit of your brand’s mission. Recognize that consumers are worried, cooped up, uncertain about the future. Look to social causes or charitable acts that ease those broader concerns — for example, by donating products to food pantries or school lunch programs. In the Seattle area, Tom Douglas Restaurants recently hosted a drive-through salmon bake for charity.

Brands can express gratitude for those people who are on the front lines — first responders, medical professionals, grocery workers, delivery drivers, road-side assistance drivers, the list is huge. This can be national, but it makes a bigger impact if it’s local to the community where the brand lives.

Finally, Words of Encouragement from Retail Voodoo

This is the third economic recession our business has weathered, and we know a thing or two because we’ve not only survived but have encouraged the brands we work with to think about their contribution rather than their spreadsheet at times like this.

Personally, I am taking my own advice, so my days are actually longer and busier now than normal. I’m encouraging and leading my team, my clients, my client-to-be, and my family. And while I’m not practicing the self-care that I regularly preach. I’m focused on giving and helping; I don’t have time to freak out.

I keep telling people that if we emphasize the negative, we can and will talk ourselves into making it worse (the stock market volatility is a perfect example). But if we can stay positive and encourage and care for others (instead of hoarding supplies and fearmongering), we will be stronger, happier, and a better version of ourselves than we were yesterday.

Brand leaders, now is the time to plan a stronger future. The world needs brands to reassure us, to love us where we are, and to inspire us to live our best lives in the midst of uncertainty. We need brands to prove to us they are citizen-brands, committed to doing good for all humankind.

Remember: To become beloved, you must love first.

Are you interested in talking to David about your unique situation? Drop us a line.