The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we live and how we make decisions. The way we behave, think and come together as a community has shifted, and our society will feel the ramifications for years to come.

As a business owner or brand steward, these shifts will have a big impact on how you speak to your audience. Recent events pose multiple questions for brands hoping to connect with an uncertain audience.

Stay-at-home orders and fear of the virus have changed the routines and behaviors of countless people, affecting businesses in every way. With the stability of businesses (especially local ones) threatened from the economic fallout, companies should ask themselves these questions as they respond:

  1. What should my brand do? Consider products or services you can offer to help customers during these unprecedented times.
  2. What should my brand communicate? Focus on quality and reliability; provide authentic, accurate information.
  3. How should my brand communicate? Message in a way that strikes an emotional connection with your audience.

How We Respond to Times of Change

The United Nations has stated “the COVID-19 pandemic is far more than a health crisis. It is affecting societies and economies at their core.” Similar to other society-shifting events like the housing crisis of 2008, this event will have an impact on consumer behavior for a long time to come.

When thinking about how to navigate during times of intense change, marketers must understand fundamental human needs and how they shift in response to uncertainty. It can be helpful to look to psychology to understand these core needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s model is based on the idea that people must satisfy their basic needs (safety, belonging) before moving towards higher-order needs, such as self-esteem or self-actualization.

Tony Robbins’ Six Core Human Needs:

Tony Robbins points out needs such as predictability, excitement, individual growth and service, among other things. A person’s priority for achieving these needs varies by personality type.

During times of crisis, the prioritization of needs is based on the situation, rather than a life stage or personality type. People shift to fulfilling their most basic needs first. They crave certainty, emotional connection and social stability.

How Your Brand Can Respond

During times of change, brands must maintain relevance and stay in tune with the needs of consumers. That doesn’t mean you should focus solely on innovation or try to change your way of doing things. Dissatisfaction with a product or service is not the problem.

Instead, marketers should focus on empathizing with their customers and communicating with an honest, simple, positive voice at every touchpoint, from direct advertisements to social media posts, to in-person interactions. This careful messaging stewardship can help clarify your brand and its purpose in the minds of consumers. Studies of successful messaging in previous crises indicate three key themes:

  1. Empathy: Stand by your consumers as they are more vulnerable than ever. Consumers will not support a business they feel doesn’t care about or understand them.
  2. Simplicity: During times of crisis we are bombarded with information, and many people don’t have time to think about brands and new products. Focus on creating simple, clear messages.
  3. Positivity: It can be difficult to stay positive during times of distress, but humans also need hope. During hard times, consumers often turn to external sources for reassurance. People are yearning for positivity out of darkness. Brands can help fill this need with positive messages that reinforce community, hope and connection.

We know that navigating unprecedented times like these is difficult for even the most experienced business owners and leaders. As summer draws to a close, we hope these ideas help you adapt and move your brand’s communications strategy forward. Look for part 2 in this series on communications in a post-COVID world in the coming weeks.

The information in this article is a summary of recent research by Aprajita Kalyani and Saachi Asthana that was published in the paper “Brand Communication in the Post COVID Area: The New Communication Playbook” (Dragonfly Market Research).