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You can compete against coronavirus with creativity

Coronavirus has halted the nation, leaving brands scrambling to redefine their roles in consumers’ lives right now. Marketing and communications experts agree that it’s best to be present but not pushy, branded but not brand-forward, and to be ready to transform strategies on a dime.
Here are some notable examples of these kinds of pivots from food and beverage, apparel and other industries.

Acts, not Ads

Many brands have chosen to tackle one of the central side effects of quarantine: the pervasive loneliness of isolation. As individuals struggle with the daily reality of hours spent alone, brands are stepping in to substitute consumers’ cancelled events and empty social calendars.

● Industry giants Budweiser, Rémy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard partnered with online retailer JD.com to create an online clubbing experience, while rocker Dave Matthews launched Verizon’s new streaming entertainment series Pay It Forward Live that aims to raise funds for small businesses affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

● Chipotle Mexican Grill is hosting virtual lunchtime meetups while its dining rooms are closed, sharing a Twitter link each day to meetups which feature celebrities and Q&A sessions, with select participants receiving codes for free entrees, and more.

Aim to be unusual

Restaurant operators are doing all they can to stay in business, as many have been forced to turn to takeout and contactless delivery, while others have transformed their locations into “general stores” selling wholesale ingredients.

● Guerrilla Tacos in Los Angeles debuted an emergency taco kit, which includes family-sized portions of roasted chicken, carne asada, red salsa, green salsa, tortillas, onions, cilantro, rice and beans, eggs, and, perhaps most importantly, four rolls of toilet paper.

● “Eatertainment” chain Chuck E. Cheese’s, known as a birthday-party celebration spot, is now making family fun packs and party packs available via delivery, including goody bags with toys, a doll, cake and gaming tickets for a future visit.

Stick to social media

Social distancing has prompted consumers to seek connections through social media channels, providing brands with more potential eyeballs and opportunities to connect with consumers in a more creative and genuine manner than can be achieved through other channels.

● Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen launched a “Fried Chicken N Chill” campaign, offering to give out login information to the company’s Netflix account so customers can enjoy the streaming service with their at-home fried chicken orders.

● Summersalt, a swimwear startup, transformed its regular customer service channels into an opportunity to provide emotional support by opening up a free “Joycast” text message hotline that allows people to reach out if they need something to lift their mood; in response, a member of Summersalt’s “customer happiness” team will send over a 10-minute meditation video, self-care ideas, or a puppy GIF.

● Great Jones, an online-only branded cookery shop, also offers a text hotline, Potline, that provides recipes and cooking advice.

● Bandier, an activewear brand that also hosts classes with fitness influencers, is offering free, live Instagram fitness classes.

Be part of the solution
When disasters strike, brands are no longer allowed to sit back and watch; instead, consumers expect companies to step in and serve as part of the solution. Significant numbers (89 percent) of young consumers (Millennials, Gen-Z) think brands need to assist with coronavirus relief efforts, according to survey data from research firm YPulse.

● Alibaba, Apple, Nike, The Estée Lauder Cos. and others are donating billions of dollars and millions of masks and other medical supplies needed by hospital workers facing a critical shortage.

● Companies such as Amazon and Unilever have pledged tens of millions each to assist with the relief efforts, and brands such as Dyson are exploring ways to use their expertise to assist with other necessary equipment such as ventilators.

For some, it’s enough to be smart, act strategically and keep on keeping on. Consumers have a long memory, and according to Erik Gordon, professor of marketing and business at the University of Michigan: “We tend to remember the strongest link between two things and to forget details. If a brand links itself to the pandemic, that link may lead to an unconscious aversion to the brand, even if the details of the link are that the brand claimed it was doing something positive.”

Marie Gorman is Account Planner for quench food & beverage marketing agency, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Harrisburg and Philadelphia-based Pavone Marketing Group

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