The COVID-19 crisis looms as one of the most significant and disruptive challenges we’ve faced since World War II. During this time of unease and uncertainty, it is important to remember that there have been other monumental challenges in our lifetimes – the social unrest of the late ‘60s, the Great Recession, numerous public health threats, September 11 – that also felt ominous and endless as we slowly lived through them.

In times like these, it is helpful to learn lessons from the past, so we looked back at 2008-2009 when the subprime mortgage crisis led to the Great Recession.  What we found is quite interesting – we learned that in times of crisis:

  • Consumers buy only what they think they (may) need
    • During the crisis, price is not a barrier to a perceived need
    • Coming out of the crisis, when the economy and confidence are shaky, price becomes a barrier
  • Consumer loyalty is tested and can easily shift if a new product or service is available and performs well during the crisis
    • Coming out of a financial crisis, pre-crisis loyalty can also fall prey to better value

Since then, we have become far more aware of the teachings of behavioral economists, so we recognize that consumers (i.e., we humans) are dramatically influenced by the information most available to us.  This heightens concerns when we hear about mounting danger and means that voices (if not brands) that are effective during the crisis become dramatically impactful as the crisis eases.

“We have become far more aware of the teachings of behavioral economists, so we recognize that consumers (i.e., we humans) are dramatically influenced by the information most available to us.”

We at HawkPartners have been focusing recently on brand authenticity. We found that there are key values in brand and strategic communications that enhance authenticity and trust, which are vital for brands to be strong both during and after a crisis. 

These values are:

  • Brutal Honesty
  • Unapologetic Transparency
  • Constant Consistency
  • Values-driven
  • Explicit Morality
  • Being an Expression of Who I (the consumer) Am

Many of our clients ask how to craft communications in a time of heightened consumer concern and the best advice we can give is communicating in accordance with these brand authenticity guidelines.  While many brands are airing seemingly tone-deaf ads, many others seem to be following these values with caring and informative messages. Hopefully, they will keep up this good work as long as this crisis lasts.

“There are key values in brand and strategic communications that enhance authenticity and trust, which are vital for brands to be strong both during and after a crisis.” 

Finally, we have found that the best marketers track intently during times of crisis – particularly if their brand or market is at all in the spotlight.  This allows them to understand – from the consumers’ perspective – when the crisis is abating and how the brand is positioned as we emerge (e.g., trusted due to its authenticity or not), and life starts to return to a new normal. 

We can only hope that happens soon.