Personal Finance

Steering brands beyond a crisis

Branding. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As we start the second half of the year, marketers in Kenya and around the world are now coming to terms with the fact that probably their 2020 brand plans might just remain that, plans.

The high-level planning and forecasting discussions, strategy meeting et all, I doubt if any had foreseen 2020 as it is now.

Most brands do their planning and resource allocation in Q1. Actualizing the plans starts in Q2 when the rubber meets the road with companies going flat out with ATL and BTL campaigns. No one saw this coming, and even if no one could imagine a crisis that will bring the world to a halt.

Responding to any crisis is difficult and as it is, we’re all figuring it out, as the day goes by. For marketers, it is that time where marketing budgets are cut and spending held back. (Its funny how whenever companies face challenges, the first culprits to get budget cuts are the marketers, it wasn’t taught in grad school though).

For marketers, such a crisis shouldn’t be left to go to waste. We should be able to learn from it and other past events and see how brands were able to wade through. Looking back in 2001, the US went into a crisis after the 9/11 attacks.


As the norm, brands took a step back, adopting a watch and see strategy, however, this was not the case for General Motors. Eight days after the terrorist attacks GM unveiled its "Keep America Rolling" plan, offering car buyers free financing for up to five years.

Critics had their day on how insensitive GM was, launching a campaign at such a moment. However, the spirit of moving forward seemed to be what Americans needed at that time.

The campaign worked, breaking a sales record in October 2001, and later in the year for the motor industry. This was brought by GM’s sales numbers as well as me too competitors who launched similar promotions.

At the dawn of this pandemic, many brands have taken the traditional approach of providing powerful, empathetic responses to help people navigate this time.

Whereas this is good, it can only be a short term measure as we look at how the brand will survive during and post this, if any. This is also a good time for a brand to conduct a deep dive to see if your brand is still true to the brand mantra.

Below are three things brand owners and marketers can do for their brands during such a crisis to make the best of this situation and create an edge for their brands.

1. Listen.

In my social rendezvous, I bumped into a cooking group where a member was asking for the best tea leaves to use, the post had 3.9k comments. Further down, one was asking about “Unga ya Chapo”, and had 1.2k comments. A recent report indicated a steady growth of social media uses during this pandemic.

This gives brands more than enough fodder to mine information about what the market is saying about the brands. There are various social tools available to help brands understand what people are saying about them e.g. Google Alerts, Agorapulse, TweetDeck, Keyhole, Brandwatch and mention that can give brands special insights from your industry, geography, or related to your brand specifically.

2. Serve

After listening to the customers, using social communities (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Whatsapp Business etc.), brands can connect and serve their customers during this period.

These communities can be helpful resource centres for customers, as well as a brand’s mouthpiece.

It is that time to replace that crappy soap that the audience is complaining about, working on improving the after taste in your fruit juice or that tight lid that spills water when you to try open the bottle.

3. Connect

With the whole population on their phones, brands are receiving more inbound questions than ever before. Customers would like to know how their brands, services, and stores are responding to and prepared during this time. What are the offers available, how do the customers still enjoy the brand? This connection enables a brand to remain top of mind even during the period, leading to continuous usage.

A crisis is here, and as we can see, COVID – 19 is here to stay, it’s the new normal we have to live with. As marketers and brand owners, we need to understand that the onus of captaining the ship through this rough waters lies with us.

We must understand the new normal and find ways of ensuring that our brand proposition is relevant and competitive in the market.

The bad news is that if we as marketers, the brains behind brands do not do so, then businesses will continue to post low revenues, brands will continue losing market share, jobs will be lost, companies will close etc. The good news is that, most of our consumers are talking, let’s listen and act.