Winning trust during the pandemic: A guide for brands

Guest Column: Rahul Jain, Creative Strategist at Sideways, writes how brands can take the right marketing decisions to ensure a quick demand recovery once the world moves into the ‘new normal’

e4m by Rahul Jain
Updated: Jun 8, 2020 9:20 AM
Rahul Jain

Let’s start with a simple experiment. Make a list of all the things you have bought in the last few weeks on your grocery runs. Now, think of things you didn't buy because your preferred brand wasn’t available. Even if that number is low, it is considerably higher than the pre-lockdown phase.

Due to the crisis, brand loyalty has taken a huge hit. The cause for that is a supply shortage leaving customers with no other option but to try new brands. A latest McKinsey study shows 65% of consumers have already tried new or alternate brands. This clearly gets reflected in the fall of share of the top 3 brands in Hand Sanitizer category from 85% to 39% in a span of 2 months. Same goes for packaged rice, 72% to 64% for the top three brands. One might argue that this is a temporary phenomenon, but we believe forced trials can lead to preferences for cheaper and local private labels, especially in categories with barely any differentiation.

As the government gradually lifts the lockdown, brand preferences will shift from availability to trust again. 79% Indian respondents to the research said, brand's response to this pandemic will influence their likelihood to buy that brand in the future whereas 73% said they were likely to lose their existing trust on any brand that seems to put profit over people. Be it a challenger brand or a leader, this pandemic will have repercussions in the long-term image of the business.

The trust gap between the market leaders and challenger or regional brands is the lowest at this point. And the crisis brings with it an opportunity to redefine and win the trust of the consumers. But unlike in times of normalcy, here the customer expectations from brands are different. Edelman’s Trust Barometer Special report indicates as many as 60% respondents in India said they will stop using a brand if it didn’t act appropriately during a crisis. What is appropriate during this crisis and how can brands take the right marketing decisions to ensure a quick demand recovery once the world moves into the ‘new normal’?

  • Listen carefully – Be up to date with what people are saying about your brand, category and in general. Even though you are interacting with only your audience, you have to keep everyone in mind. Any communication or action that doesn’t align with the current directives or are tone-deaf to the situation is unforgivable.
  • Act first, communicate later. Now more than ever, it is the intent that matters. We have all received the ‘We are with you’ emails from brands. Communication for the sake of it, is not going to cut it. This is the time for action that shows genuine concern and effort from the brands to reassure and build confidence. Piling conversation without value does more harm than good for your brand image.
  • Innovate solutions that help meet the challenges of this pandemic. This leads to collaboration with the Government, with NGOs or even other corporate entities and using your strengths to fight the crisis. But pushing or making new products that aren’t related to the challenges can be seen as opportunistic and punished by the consumers.
  • Use media for good. People expect brands to serve as a reliable information source as well. From McDonald's Brazil tweaking their iconic logo to promote social distancing to TikTok using its voice against spreading misinformation, there is a real opportunity to be creative and helpful.
  • Not all heroes wear capes. Keep it real – Brands do not need to shed the image they have created and earned and all start acting the same way – a caregiver. It is both unreal and unsettling. We believe as long as you are being genuine and caring, there is no need to lose your brand tone and voice.

While most believe brands should refrain from using humour or lightheartedness, we think it’s the need of the hour. Bring a smile to the faces and reassure the public with a sense of normalcy. Burger King played their part in keeping kids busy at home during the lockdown by offering free Whoppers for solving maths problems.

  • Charity begins at home - Protecting the financial and emotional wellbeing of their employees is being seen as a responsible act. Brands should try to explore and eliminate all other options before using the last resort of firing the employees during the crisis. Meaningful messaging will not cover up for how the brands act with their own staff during a crisis.
  • Choose the medium wisely –Every brand has to walk the fine line of optimizing the resources and RoI but at the same time give it the right platform to make a strong comeback. TV and Social media have both seen a rise in engagement during the lockdown. So, let the intent (sales or image building) and target audience decide the media mix.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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