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Brands & Marketing During Crisis Times

Idea Bakery’s HUMAN Guide to Sift through the Essentials
19 March 2020 9min.

In the midst of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic crisis and a looming recession with talks around the creation of solidarity funds and government collaborations with the private sector, many brands are taking each day several hours at a time as circumstances continue to evolve. While larger corporations are coordinating to roll out policies from their procedural guidelines, medium and smaller businesses are likely to feel isolated in decision-making.  Questions such as “how do you create or reframe value for customers in this context” and “how can you lean on commercial innovation in the absence of product innovation or lost demand for your current portfolio?” loom large.  

Successful brands do not completely abandon their marketing strategies in a crisis, they adapt and humanize them. Robust marketers from any scale of business should favour a long term visionary plan over a short term reactionary survival kit. Once the current crises does eventually pass, people will remember whose actions resonated in their human understanding, and who appeared to put profit before public health.

We came up with 5  “HUMAN” ways to approach ideation and implementation around brand and marketing issues that we hope will be helpful to sift through and navigate the essential steps to make it through this uncertain landscape.


Be upfront about uncertainty. Communicate clearly, frequently with all your stakeholders. Listen to understand employees and share knowledge on how the company has survived difficult times before. Strive to maintain “pre-crisis” quality standards. Spend time connecting with your suppliers, customers and employees virtually as a “whole chain”. Check to see if platforms like Google, Zoom and Microsoft 365 may have free resources available to your sector. Deliver personalized offers as much as possible. Be flexible and accommodating with your employees. Remember that honest and empathetic employee communication also means strong advocates for your organization’s brand. The reverse will only create detractors internally and criticism will be outspoken – every employee is human and will want to let other humans know. Share your crisis-related measures and actions as transparently as possible, internally and externally. Use friendly human language to correct any heavy legal terminology in outgoing official statements.


It’s time to know more than ever how customers are redefining value and responding to the circumstances as you reforecast demand. Must-have features of yesterday are today's can-live-withouts. As durable value goods are being stocked up on, many people will postpone purchases, trade down, or buy less in other categories. Understand what makes your product or service uniquely useful. Can you provide better returns and warranty benefits to anchor your business relationship in the long run versus cheaper competition? Can you waive any fees that are directly related to the crisis or make a service free for public use? New products, especially those that address the new customer reality, should still be introduced but marketing should stress superior value for money, not corporate image. This is not a time to be opportunistic.


In uncertain times, marketing spend is usually one of the first budget cuts to be made. Yet freezing brand investment erodes bonds and creates a trickle-down effect that also saps the advertising income that allows other services, like the media and social networks, to keep running free for customers and the public. It is essential to keep engaging, effectively and meaningfully. Be a brand that cares and acts that way.

Avoid witty topical memes and appeals on the basis of fear. Seek small yet meaningful ways that go beyond profit-mindedness to assist those in need that your infrastructure can help the community with. For example, can you help vulnerable populations like the elderly have access to basics like grocery shopping and errand fulfillment, through dedicated hours? If you have underutilized resources that you can afford to share, do so. A larger-scale example of this is electronics firm Sharp’s repurposing of its TV factory to manufacture surgical masks. LVMH Group has also announced it will start producing hand sanitizer at three of its perfume and cosmetics factories for distribution to French hospitals to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, at no cost.


Becoming adjustable in everything from managing cash flow through to messaging is key. Avoid tying up working capital in excess inventories. Early-buy allowances, extended financing and generous return policies can motivate distributors. Run a thorough and critical analysis of your cost structure to ensure which cuts or consolidation initiatives will save the most with minimum customer impact. Renegotiate with providers and agencies as they need to keep your business too. You may need to offer more price promotions, reduce thresholds for quantity discounts, extend credit to long-standing customers, price smaller pack sizes more aggressively, and develop subscription models with weekly deliveries rather than quarterly re-order cycles. Finally, adjust the message: “Available in April” is simpler and calmer than “out of stock until April”.


Using networked effects to partner with businesses and customers helps. Create partnerships not based on monetary terms but on customer-helpful initiatives and shared business objectives. Seek out complementary brands and bundle your offerings, whether it is a tie-in with delivery services or product bundles. Find meaningful ways to motivate existing customers and communities to become advocates for you through collaboration with them.

We hope these can provide some guiding answers to your most burning questions around an uncertain landscape. For everything else, Idea Bakery is always an email or video call away to help you bake resilience into shifting plans.