Employee Engagement COVID-19 Consumer Behavior

Marketers, it’s time to get realistic about the next wave of Covid-19

By Jennifer Risi, CEO

October 11, 2021 | 5 min read

At the start of the pandemic, brands jumped to create communications plans relevant to addressing the myriad of effects it has on their consumers. Today, however, while news of vaccine mandates and pushed back back-to-office dates continues to break, brands are remaining noticeably quiet about the Covid-19 resurgence from a brand perspective. Here’s what marketers need to be thinking about.

mask up marketers

When it comes to Covid-19, brands that strike the right balance of aspiration within the reality of the moment will win

It appears that brands are trying – and perhaps struggling – to find the right approach to connect with shoppers in an impactful, meaningful way amid the evolving Covid-19 landscape. After enjoying what many have called a ‘hot vax summer,’ it is hard to accept that even vaccinated people continue to face uncertainty when it comes to their safety. Worse still, vaccination rates in the United States have slowed to roughly 55% and are only rising marginally.

The emotional fatigue of the ongoing crisis is palpable. The question now is: is it possible for brands to maintain a forward-looking vision? And if so, how?

Think backward to move forward

Unlike March 2020, brands are not faced with the burden of making Covid-19 response plans from scratch. Language addressing the gravity of the pandemic, especially within the context of a brand’s overarching mission and products/solutions, already exists and can provide guidance for updated versions. Patterns for how the market will respond at its worst in reaction to the pandemic’s effects last year can inform what to expect from the approaching wave.

With this said, it is important to factor in the current landscape and update messages to meet the moment. For example, Covid-19 fatigue extends to constantly hearing and talking about it, so consider ways your brand can balance marketing that blends ‘keeping it real’ with authenticity. Think about the non-traditional ways your product could be seen as needed, both in this time and later.

Reflect on the current environment

At present, few visual advertisements are still incorporating preventative measures such as masks and social distancing. This may soon change once again. It is no secret that the nationwide rhetoric regarding wearing masks and getting vaccinated indicates, as Dr Anthony Fauci called it, “two Americas.” It will be important for brands to home in on which messages will resonate best to different audiences. The brands that strike the right balance of aspiration within the reality of the moment will win.

Gauge actual consumer needs

Nearly 70% of consumers say they believe the economy will take a somewhat or significant negative turn amid the Covid-19 surge – particularly in combination with the flu season, according to a study conducted by The Sway Effect in August. Interestingly, roughly 50% of respondents are reportedly being more conservative with their finances, and 17% are shifting their purchasing decisions to other products or services. This tenor of caution needs to be considered for all facets of a brand’s consumer planning for 2022, so keep a pulse of shifts in the market and stay the course. Rather than scaling back, invest in resources that will continue to maintain and ideally grow the brand. Surges of Covid-19 cases are temporary, but the repercussions of scaling back when more robust purchasing behaviors may be on the horizon could become a missed opportunity that lasts.

Accelerate employee retention through communication

Given the tight labor market, now dubbed the ‘Great Resignation,’ brands should place heavy emphasis on retaining and attracting talent through closer communication with employees. As employees are largely accustomed to remote work, which was once a difficult unknown and is now a strong safety net, brands can leverage internal communications to do the heavy lifting.

By providing regular resources such as virtual town halls, office hours and 1:1 meeting times between managers and staff, brands can cultivate a company-wide culture of open dialog that taps into what workers value most at their company. It can also give you a clear picture of what practices may need to evolve. While meeting for meeting’s sake is counterproductive, planning times to discuss targeted topics and demonstrating a willingness to listen carefully is a behavior that can encourage greater engagement and collaboration.

Brands have the chance, from now, to predict consumer needs and spending habits. Teams can strategize whether product demand may wax or wane and innovate differently. The brands that take a multifaceted approach to plan and act can continue to ‘hold sway’ amid the Covid-19 landscape and well into the future.

Jennifer Risi is founder and president of the Sway Effect. Natalie Kawam, director of brand strategy, co-authored this piece.

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