Branding in a Crisis

How to Match Your Brand to the Moment: Five Practical Steps to Help Your Brand “Be The One” in a Crisis

When you’re branding in a crisis and times get tough, it’s more important than ever for brands to communicate clearly, simply and effectively. This helps marshal your resources for the best results while also helping customers and wider society at large.

The truth is, brands are in effect a reflection of our humanity so in a crisis or time of uncertainty, brands, like individuals reveal themselves. In emergencies of immense magnitude it soon becomes evident whether a brand is equal to the moment. We see some excel at their best, some suffer badly and others at their worst. 

It’s a time when, as a leader who is the visionary and voice behind a brand, that you have to dig deep, try to figure things out fast because so many look to you for strong leadership. There’s no playbook for extreme adversity but a crisis can cut through to what really matters and provide clarity. It’s when you have to manage fears and anxiety, deal with fundamental challenges of sustaining viability, make some very tough choices and remind yourself of your bigger purpose.

Yes, we all have wobbly moments (unless we’re total narcissists) and that’s ok because it shows our authentic humanity. But we have to move beyond that quickly, be decisive, show empathy for customers, staff and peers and step up as leaders — stay focused on your vision and mission and the values you hold dear.

Related: How Leaders Drive Profitability With a Strong Brand Vision Statement

When we evaluate any great brands, large or small, it’s often the challenges in life that have initiated great innovations, creative solutions and ingenious actions. During a time of upheaval it’s also a time for even more determined action and possibly a new direction so we’re sharing some practical tips to help you be creative in the face of challenge — when branding in a crisis.

Stay true to who you are, yet be malleable, pivot, move forward strongly — Be The One.

Top 5 Practical Steps to Help Your Brand Be Unstoppable in Uncertainty — “Be The One” in a Crisis

1. Focus on Your Brand’s ‘Why’, Before Your ‘What’ or ‘How’, When You’re Branding in a Crisis

At a time of uncertainty, panic and conflicting messages, it can be even more tempting than normal to rush into activity. When things are unclear, the sense of doing anything at all can feel as if it brings some order or regains control, even if the thing is not helpful.

But it’s important to make sure that you are clear about what your brand stands for underpinned by your bigger ‘why’, the purpose and reason for why you do what you do, and what you want it to achieve. Why are you in the business you’re in? The reasons you exist beyond just making money, your bigger purpose. It’s only once you have clarity on this ‘why’, that you will be in the right position to evaluate the different options you may have to achieve it when branding in a crisis. Whether you want an online brand, offline brand or both, the fundamentals of successful branding will still apply.

All sorts of offers, opportunities and seemingly unrepeatable chances may appear enticing you to do something. The speed of online engagement makes it faster and easier than it ever was with offline branding to put some communication out there. However, you need to ensure that wherever you focus your resources, it will help support and sustain your brand longer term, not damage it. That is partly about how you allocate your brand and marketing budget. But it is also, crucially, about where you spend time and mental effort. 

A crisis is an endurance test, so you want to focus your energies on brand building activity for the longer term when branding in a crisis.

An example is Time Out. Well known as a source of listings for social activities, as people have been encouraged to spend more time at home they have rebranded as “Time In”. This is an expression of their key brand benefit, of enabling people to make the most of their social time.

Branding in a Crisis

Image via The Drum © TimeOut

Related: How Branding Strategy is Different to Marketing

For an online brand, this leads us to the following simple principle: someone engaging with your brand should be able to play back to you in one sentence what it stands for.

We know that sometimes it’s a struggle to build a brand strategy that really engages your ideal customers effectively so we’ve developed three different ways of working with us to help you build your brand, depending on your preferences, so if you’d like us to:

  1. Build your brand for you – find out more here or get in touch [email protected] or ring +353 1 8322724
  2. Empower you to build your brand – check out the Persona Brand Building Blueprint™ Mastermind here. This is a two-day intensive where you work on your brand with us codifying and mapping out your brand strategy for business growth. Alternatively, join our half-day Branding Accelerator Masterclass for a fast-injection of brand building essentials. Ask about our Personal and Corporate Leadership Brand Alignment Masterclass
  3. Want a DIY solution? check out our how to build a brand eprogramme here and our how to audit your brand yourself eprogramme here

2. Choose the Best Media for Your Branding in a Crisis

For any brand, even at the best of times, media choice matters. Getting your brand in front of the right target audience in the right moment with the right message is what drives brand success. 

What sets a crisis apart is that normally simple tasks can be hard and unpredictable. You may know all the shortcuts from your house to a nearby location, but after a storm that fells trees and closes roads, getting there can be a different experience altogether. That is also true for selecting the best way to get your message to the right people, in the right moment, in the right mood.

When times suddenly get hard or different, knowing where your ideal target customers are can be challenging, both for B2B and B2C brands. They may also be in a different emotional, psychological or indeed physical state to normal, which can affect both their engagement levels and their receptiveness. They may respond to an app message faster than an e-mail, for example, which is why early warning systems for earthquakes in countries such as Japan are app-based and override silent mode. 

That means that in a crisis, you need to get a handle on where people are spending their time. Are they in home or out of home? Will they be working in their office or factory, or working from home? Will some channels of communication get different levels of attention than usual? 

For example, in the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown, lots of people who are not used to spending prolonged periods of time indoors are spending a lot more time at home than usual. They won’t see outdoor advertising because they’re not commuting or travelling, but they may spend more time than usual listening to, or poring over long-form content. They may also be more exposed to online branding than they normally are.

Newspapers have jumped on people’s prolonged confinement as a chance for them to increase sales, removing the possible obstacle of delivery charges by waiving them for a defined period. The Daily Mail is one example.

Branding in a Crisis

Image via Newsworks

Related: Rebranding, Crisis Recovery and Brand Rebuild

Are you a business leader, manager or entrepreneur who wants to re-evaluate or build your brand strategy so you can thrive even in a crisis and increase your sales? Are you curious about how to build or scale a highly successful standout brand? Join one of our branding masterclasses because they empower you to build your brand, enhance customer experience, expand your market impact and create higher perceived value so you can command a premium. 

In fact, the Persona Brand Building Blueprint™ Mastermind is all about fast-tracking you, your brand and your business through the brand building, agile branding strategy process using professional big-brand know-how with proven systems that get results so you can grow your business faster and more effectively. 

The programme enables you to make your brand highly visible, different, credible, trustworthy, memorable and much loved amongst your ideal customers so you can become more profitable and leave your competitors way behind. Be The One — your ideal customers’ favourite brand of preferred choice commanding a premium.

If you want a tailor-made solution specifically for your brand then we also provide inhouse bespoke Persona Brand Building Blueprint™ Intensives working with you and your team so you can grow your business faster and more profitably. Contact us to discover more [email protected] or +353 1 8322724


3. Control the Context Your Brand Appears in, Especially When Branding in a Crisis

Context matters so much for brands, not only when branding in a crisis, that British satirical magazine Private Eye even has a regular column called “Malgorithms”, calling out notably inappropriate digital advertising placement.

Branding in a Crisis

Image via Twitter ©Private Eye Malgorithms

Particularly in an online environment, it can be difficult to control the context in which your brand story appears. But if the accompanying content or mood does not match your message, especially when branding in a crisis, it can either reduce effectiveness or in some cases damage your brand. 

This can also work to your advantage in some ways. For example, in the offline brand world your small or startup business with limited resources will likely not be in the showiest part of town. But in your online branding, even without investing a lot, you can rub shoulders in terms of digital impact with bigger or far more established brands.

Projecting your brand message in the right place is always an important principle. But a crisis tends to engender heightened feelings, so people’s priorities change and their sensitivities can also change. Sometimes this can be a radical, rapid shift in the national mood, or more personally. Either way, effective brands must be sensitive to their customers’ focus of attention, mindset and overall state when branding in a crisis.

Some brands have permission to play into such a mood, for example brands whose brand stories are focussed on care or social values. Your brand doesn’t necessarily need to actively play into mood and indeed it can be risky to do so if the brand does not fit the mood. But it is important for every brand to make sure it doesn’t fall on the wrong side of its customers’ changed mental state.

Related: Brand Newsjacking, Seasonality and Trends – How to Make Your Brand Stand Out

For example, Coca Cola decided to suspend marketing activity in the U.K. during the coronavirus crisis [1]. A lot of brands might be tempted by higher advertising views of online branding during a lockdown or increases in home delivery available by partnering with delivery apps. But marketing savvy Coke decided that its brand values didn’t match the atmosphere. That is a brave decision and one that needs a brand to know its “what” well. Coke with its branding expertise has past form in responding smartly to crises which could severely damage less well run brands.

For an online brand, this leads us to another simple but important principle: think about where and when your brand will appear the way you would for yourself if you were planning to go out for a meal.

4. Match your Brand Message to the Context When Branding in a Crisis

A strong brand, like a person, has a clear personality. The clearer it is the more powerful it can be, but it also means that it may be suitable for some occasions but not for others. So when things shift in the public discussion, a brand’s message may match it well but conversely it also may not. Getting the messaging right is critical. 

It’s a case of asking the question “is this the right instance for our brand to align with and does our message, from language and tone to visual imagery, match the moment and sentiment in the wider market?” Depending on where your brand operates, local, national or even global — local context is key. 

Your brand has its ‘owned media’ in the form of your website, possibly online stores, social handles and possibly social media campaigns. Consider, are they still appropriate in the messages conveyed and what needs changing? If things are moving fast externally then you need to reassess this constantly.

Related: Social Responsibility: How to Build a Socially Conscious Brand

A good example of this during the coronavirus is the Irish mail carrier, An Post. They have announced plans to check that elderly people living on their own are alright because those people know and trust their postman. They’ve also announced plans to let elderly and vulnerable people send post free of charge so they can stay in touch at a difficult time of social distancing and isolation. This is a perfect example of doing good but delivering on a brand promise simultaneously. An Post has taken the key parts of their brand identity, such as their trust and vital role in keeping people connected, to build their response. 

Branding in a Crisis

Image via Irish Post, © An Post

One reason this thoughtful gesture resonated so well was likely because it is consistent with An Post’s branding with its focus on being about more than just profit, as shown in this advert:

If you’d like to discover more about building and maintaining a thriving, high performing, highly profitable standout brand, then get in touch because we’d love to help you make your brand into a profit powerhouse.

  1. Schedule an appointment — we can meet in person or online
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Lorraine Carter is a branding expert and international speaker delivering talks that inspire and motivate along with masterclasses and workshops that inform and support transformational outcomes fast, and consultancy expertise that solves problems — using agile branding strategy underpinned by professional big-brand know-how — so you can outshine, outperform and leave your competitors way behind. 

She enables you to Be The One — your ideal customers’ favourite brand — commanding a premium with 7-figure growth.

5. A Disaster Rewards Clarity Through The Action Your Brand Compels People to Take When Branding in a Crisis 

A brand is a means to an end. Your brand exists to drive your organizational purpose, vision, mission and objectives, whether it’s selling a product, getting people to use a service, or educating them. Even when it may appear that people’s minds are not focussed on ‘normal’ topics, the reality is that all brands exist to guide customers in their purchase and usage journeys. Charities, call helplines and emergency services operate on this principle in their branding, the same as more overtly commercial brands.

At all times, the effectiveness of your branding endeavours is judged by how well you get people to do what you want them to do to meet your objectives. In a crisis, the environment and also people’s thinking patterns and behaviours can be altered, as discussed above. 

Online branding often presents more obvious challenges than offline branding in this sense. In a crowded environment, where people are distracted, attention spans are short, or there is uncertainty, things can be more challenging than normal – as with online branding in general, so with all branding in a crisis. 

To increase your chance of success you need to be really clear yourself and in your communication on what you want people to do as a result of seeing your branding or brand communications. When the crisis passes, the health of your brand and business will partly depend on whether you have still been able to use your branding to help guide people’s behaviour in specific ways, such as volunteering for your charity or buying your product.

An interesting case study is the way supermarkets have responded to panic buying. Some have put signs up at the front of the store, or imposed limits. But some have also tried to appeal to shoppers’ psychology at the point of decision, with targeted messages on the shelves of popular items. 

Branding in a Crisis

Supermarket Tesco incorporated some such advice into a video to shoppers.

For an online brand, this leads us to the following simple principle: every piece of online branding should encourage your target customer to take a specific action no matter how small.

Final Thoughts

A crisis is challenging for everyone so as a business leader, owner, manager or entrepreneur you’re not in it alone. While there may be bigger topics on people’s minds, keeping your brand healthy and thriving is still a critical part of your focus. The truth is, it typically costs ten times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep existing good customers so what can you do in a global crisis like Covid-19 to serve your customers in the short term — take care of them and your people — so you have a sustainable business long term?

Your underlying brand strategy may need some rapid rethinking or small tweaks, because your tactics are driven by it, and these may need changing to fit the new reality when branding in a crisis. Your brand strategy also has an impact on your customers’ affinity with your brand, and their predisposition to buy during the crisis, or after the crises passes, and so consequently, your long term viability — and ability to support your people’s livelihoods. 

Some people say you should never waste a crisis. Along with the difficulty, uncertainty and seesawing emotions there also comes a lot of opportunity. To make the most of the upside, focus on the core of what your brand stands for and figure out what role it can play in the changed environment. 

Play to your brand strengths and maximise your communication impact by paying even more attention than usual to where and how your brand communicates when branding in a crisis. Make it easy and clear for your ideal target customers to engage with your brand where they are, and in ways which help deliver your brand objectives.

Branding in a Crisis


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Questions to Consider

  1. What about your brand really matches the moment in a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020?
  2. How does the way people are currently consuming media and other messaging impact your brand communication plan?
  3. How are you controlling the context in which your brand appears?
  4. What makes your brand message a good fit for its context, both in terms of place and format?
  5. What action do you want people to take as a result of seeing your brand communication during a time of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic?
  6. Do you need to rethink or dust off your plan for managing your brand and business in a crisis or mitigating risk scenarios? There is rarely a perfect play book for when crisis hits but having in place a baseline reference for when you’re under pressure supports your clarity in making key decisions.

Your Persona Client Satisfaction Guarantee

  1. When you work with us we’ll create a customised brand building plan and strategy with clear investment for you tailored to your specific requirements and preferences
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  3. You’ll have timelines, key milestones and deliverables to evaluate and approve for each stage and part of your brand building process
  4. Because we know the unexpected sometimes happens we can make adjustments along the way if you need it and if something extra is requested we’ll ensure you’re fully appraised about what that entails before committing
  5. As we achieve pre-agreed objectives you’ll be able to evaluate your brand building work and strategy in progress, coupled with the outcomes to ensure return on investment

Get in touch today because we’d love to enable you to re-evaluate and build your standout, powerhouse brand so you can Be The One — increase your profits and leave your competitors way behind. 

Email us [email protected] or ring us +35318322724 (GMT 9:00-17:30) and ask about our VIP Brand Strategy Re-Evaluation.