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Protecting and Building Your Brand During a Crisis

Protecting Your Brand

A crisis can come in many forms; economic, political, natural disaster, public relations, pandemic, and, well, you get the idea. While the source of a crisis can be varied, your organization’s objective must be consistent—shelter the brand from harm and lean upon it for guidance.

Your organization’s brand is your organization’s lifeline to the other side of the crisis. Protect it, nurture it, and align it with the moment, and there’s a good chance your organization can survive the crisis and possibly strengthen the brand’s reputation. On the other hand, if you choose to ignore it, take it for granted, or place your attention elsewhere, the damage to the brand could be irreversible.

Maintaining a brand-focused mindset during a crisis can be difficult for some organizations to cling to. Branding, while important, might be viewed as “the soft stuff.” When things get difficult during a crisis, the first instinct is to turn to tangible, bottom-line-boosting actions—lead generation, cold calling, working the client list, and doing whatever it takes to make the monthly numbers work.

Your organization’s brand is your organization’s lifeline to the other side of the crisis.

Sure, this approach may work for a time, but ultimately, it’s no better than frantically treading water in the middle of the ocean. Eventually, your organization will tire, exhaust its opportunities, and fate will take over. Conversely, attending to your brand is a more effective plan for survival. It puts your efforts where they are most likely to succeed. 

Let us share some ideas on how to do this.

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Are You a Vulture or a Helper?

When a crisis occurs, everyone looks at things differently. The way people judge, evaluate, and perceive interactions falls under a whole new set of rules. Your communications and interactions are suddenly under a microscope. This can lead to your brand being viewed as a vulture or a helper. What’s that mean? Let’s begin with the vultures. 

Vulture brands are those who intentionally (or unintentionally) come across as trying to capitalize on the crisis and turn a quick profit. What should be especially concerning to organizations is how the perception of their messages can change during a crisis. 

It’s possible that you don’t change a single aspect of your marketing message and still get identified as a vulture. Because what was once deemed acceptable (maybe even days prior) is now seen as opportunistic. It’s critical that marketers be especially aware of the images and messages used. The context of the moment can radically change how people interpret them. Lesson being, be mindful of what you say during a crisis and how. We’ll come back to that in a bit. 

So what are helpers? 

Helper brands are those organizations that are aware of what is going on and take actions to amend their message to fit with the times. Helper brands have understanding and compassion. It doesn’t mean they set up relief funds and change their messages to a charitable tone. 

In many ways, a crisis is an ultimate test of how firmly an organization believes in their brand and how they defined it.

What it does mean is that the helper brands understand the situation is not business as usual. Ideally, in most cases,  helper brands adjust their messages to focus toward core brand attributes and values rather than promotions or rapid response strategies. During a crisis, maintain brand awareness while also giving people the space, time, and understanding they need. Like your organization, customers are dealing with a whole world of new situations. They are trying the best they can to navigate events. Now is not the time to rush them or introduce something new. Now is the time to be stable, predictable, and understanding.

A Crisis Is a Time to Act Effectively

Uncertain times can be assuaged by offering some measure of certainty. Let clients, staff, and vendors know exactly what your situation is and keep them updated regularly. If things are running as normal, great. If things have altered, that is understandable, too. Your audience will grant you a great deal of grace as long as you are willing to be open with them. So don’t wait for them to ask about your status. Begin the conversation with a timely update. Then, follow up by asking what their situation looks like and how your organization can make adjustments to help be a better partner/provider. That’s just one way great brand perceptions are built during a crisis.

Also, while reacting to the moment, don’t forget to look at what is already in the works. Check all of your organization’s scheduled events, media buys, messaging, and other marketing efforts to see if they need to be canceled, edited, revised, or in some other way redirected to suit the situation at hand. Always give the appearance you are out in front of your messages, rather than chasing from behind to make corrections or offer apologies. 

Building Your Brand Means Listening, Learning, and Being Ready to React

Organizations should always be monitoring what is being said about them online and in the media. This is doubly true during a crisis. When emotions are frayed, one person’s opinion can easily shape a hundred perceptions. Especially if their story, meme, or tweet picks up momentum and is shared frequently. Organizations need to keep their ears open and eyes focused to spot any comments, good or bad, about their brand. Luckily, there are a number of tools such as SproutSocial, BuzzSumo, and even Google Alerts,  that can be used to help you monitor mentions and protect your brand reputation. 

Be Aware of Your Role

During a crisis, organizations sincerely want to help their community. Emotions run strong, empathy swells and they likely feel compelled to turn their marketing efforts into situational cheerleading. Please be cautious with your messaging and actions.

Unless it’s been part of your brand position and messaging, it can feel odd for consumers when brands suddenly add their voice to moments of hardship. Consider that it may not be your role to tell the community “we’ll get through this together.” While the message is well intended, it may not be what the community expects from you. Conversely, maintaining your tone and content can give the audience some sense of normalcy and predictability. When times are uncertain, anchors to what was normal can be very welcomed. 

Also, be sensitive to how people are reacting. While you may be focused on getting through this, some people are still caught up absorbing what just happened. Respect that. Respect that some may not be ready to look forward yet. For those people, your message discounts their need to grieve, suffer, or take time to settle in. In a crisis, be a leader for your organization, be an asset to your partners and audience, but leave the community messaging to public officials and situation experts. 

Act on Your Brand Values 

A good organization has a carefully crafted brand platform. A great organization brings its brand platform to life. Especially during a crisis. In many ways, a crisis is an ultimate test of how firmly an organization believes in their brand and how they defined it.

So when a crisis strikes, turn to your organization’s brand platform. Read through it cover to cover, and then flip back to the page on brand values. This is the time to turn those values into action. Just remember that a brand value only has meaning if you act on it. 

A Crisis Is When Your Brand Can Shine Its Brightest

When a crisis arrives, how you react should begin with your brand. Protect it and don’t forget to live it. Be the organization your brand promises to be in the context of the moment.

Focus on the brand aspects that best suit the tone and needs of the situation. Lean on your brand platform as a compass that informs what you should do and how you should act. In doing this, be aware that a crisis changes everything, maybe for a day, maybe for a lifetime. In either case, you’ll likely need to make changes as well. Perhaps big changes, perhaps tiny tweaks. Do it right and you’ll not just protect your brand during a crisis, you’ll strengthen it. 

If you’d like to hear more ideas on how to protect your brand during a crisis, how to bring your brand values to life, or perhaps, reevaluate what your brand stands for in light of a crisis, reach out to Olive & Company. We’re here to help.

In good times and during tough moments, clients lean on us for analysis, strategy, and creative work. Let’s connect and do great things with your brand, even during tough times.

Picture of Dave Hruby
Dave Hruby
Dave Hruby is brand strategist, writer, thinker, maker, and doer that challenges the status quo, shares wisdom freely, and happily asks tough questions to arrive at better than expected outcomes.