Aliya Zaidi
Aliya Zaidi 9 April 2020

How Your Brand Reacts in the Coronavirus Crisis Will Shape Long-term Loyalty

The reality of the coronavirus lockdown is revealing the good, the bad and the ugly among brands. How your company weathers the storm will have a long-term impact on brand perception and long-term loyalty well after the global pandemic passes.

There's a quote by Robert McKee that says: “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure." This could also equally apply to brands: while companies are under pressure to shield their profits in a time of economic uncertainty, equally it would be wise not to neglect the impact of corporate social responsibility and the long-term effects of reputational damage. 

In other words, how companies react now will affect how they are perceived by their customers. Given that we are in the midst of history in the making, customers will remember how brands reacted, and are not likely to be forgiving to those companies that have not treated their employees well, or expect their workers to risk their own health for the good of the company. 

This post looks at the brands that have reacted well as well as the brands who could do better. The article also considers what companies need to take into account to ensure their company survives long after this health and economic crisis passes.

1. Make your products available to those who need them.

In a time of national crisis, it's crucial that brands respond in a timely and appropriate manner. With schools closing, educational brand Twinkl has made their website and educational resources available to schools, teachers and parents, to enable home learning. 

Not only does this increase customer loyalty, but it also allows customers to get a flavour of your products and services, such that customers will continue to transact with your brand long after this lockdown passes. 

2. Use social media to provide engaging content. 

Some brands, such as Next, have gone down the route of closing down their ecommerce site completely, as a result of staff in warehouses across the country preferring to be at home in the current climate. 

However, Next is keeping up its social media presence, by regularly posting on Instagram, with content such as home workouts to get customers through the lockdown. 

3. Keep your customers updated about their orders.

While it is encouraging that Next is still fostering engagement, the fashion brand's email strategy is missing a trick. Looking at the comments on social media, many of them are from irate customers who have not been informed about the status of their orders. 

If brands are going down the route of closing down their ecommerce operations, it is essential that they inform their customers by email, well in advance. Brands also need to send personalised and targeted emails to their customers, advising them of the current status of their orders, and if their order has been cancelled. 

While social media is important for fostering engagement, it may not be the most appropriate channel for informing customers about their current order status. It is crucial that brands are open, honest and transparent.

Your customers will expect personalised email communication, so it is important not to put all your eggs in one basket and only communicate via Twitter or through Instagram. Using a range of channels not only ensures your brand is top of mind, but enables customers to be well-informed of the company's current strategy during lockdown. 

4. Go deep with action, not just words. 

Many brands have built their reputations on being ethical and trustworthy, but in the time of a global pandemic, it's time for brands to put their money where their mouth is. This is particularly important when it comes to helping key workers and the elderly and vulnerable. 

Pret-a-Manger is a brand that prides itself on providing healthy food through a transparent supply chain. As well as closing its seating areas, Pret has also put in additional offers for NHS workers, giving them free drinks and food at 50% off. 

Your customers won't believe you when you say you're an ethical brand if you choose to carry on as normal. In addition, brands cannot afford to negate reputational impact when the world is under pressure, because customers will remember how your brand reacted, especially if your brand acts irresponsibly. 

When lockdown was announced in the UK, Sports Direct initially reported it would keep its stores open, as it was "uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible". After widespread criticism, and following intervention from Cabinet minister, Michael Gove, the sports retailer made a u-turn on its decision. 

5. Look after your employees.

Amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, employees will be relying on their bosses to provide some sort of stability to get them through the crisis. As well as insisting that pubs remain open during the coronavirus crisis, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin also suggested that his employees should go for a job in Tesco or another supermarket, should the opportunity present itself.

In contrast, high street coffee chain, Costa Coffee said it would continue to pay its 16,000 staff their full average weekly wages over at least an eight-week period. 

The coronavirus pandemic has put particular pressure on the supermarkets. Many of the major supermarket chains have reacted by opening their stores earlier for elderly and vulnerable customers, as well as introducing social distancing in their queues. 

Morrisons has also introduced guarantees on sick pay, including to staff who are self-isolating rather than ill. The supermarket has also introduced an emergency food box with £30 worth of household essentials that it can deliver to customers who need it. 

Contrast this with Virgin, a company that lives by its core brand values of being fun, daring and innovative. After being forced to cut 80% of its flights, the airline then asked staff to take two to three months of unpaid leave. As a giant of the airline industry, some argued that Virgin was in a good position to shield its employees at a time of crisis.  

In summary

Brands are facing unprecedented challenges during this global pandemic, and will be under close scrutiny. Consumers often look to brands to provide examples of ethical behaviour, and it is up to companies to react appropriately. 

In an era where social media often makes or breaks reputation, brands simply cannot afford to neglect the cost of reacting unethically, as they may appear to be uncaring at a time of national crisis.

While customers may be holding off buying as many products as they normally would, it is important to remember that purchasing behaviour will eventually return to normal levels, long after lockdown.

Therefore, brands need to think long-term and shield their reputations, ready to pick up where they left off. How they react now will determine how they are perceived by their customers in the long-run, which will form the basis of lifetime loyalty. 

Messaging is crucial; brands need to ensure that they follow words with actions - companies need to show they care and are not merely profiteering from the shift in customer behaviour.

As centres of innovation, customers often perceive brands (and the CEO at their helm) to have more power to make a change than governments, who are often slow on the uptake.

Therefore, businesses have a responsibility to react appropriately. Doing so will ultimately benefit the business in the long run, shielding the company's profits from the effects of a potential economic downturn. 

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