Governments from India to the US have struggled with their messaging around COVID-19, and brands can learn from that, says a Mumbai-based consumer strategy and foresights expert.

When India Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week announced a national lockdown from 12 midnight on March 24, for example, people rushed out to grocery stores to stock up.

“In an atmosphere of anxiety, fear and suspicion, getting the right information out and providing a set of assurances before announcing such a drastic measure may have been the right move,” observes Kunal Sinha in an article for WARC.

“Tell me what you’re doing before asking me to act in a certain way,” he says. “And for heaven’s sake, don’t rachet up my anxiety!”

And that, he suggests, must be the response from brands as well: any communications on their part needs to reflect the expectations as well as behaviour of consumers, in the context of a larger social good.

The world of marketing was already moving towards tangible brand purpose alongside consumers, and with COVID-19 that pace will accelerate; but any brand messaging has to be useful and backed up with action and solutions – not merely what Professor Mark Ritson calls “communification”.

The key question to be answered before attempting to offer a solution, writes Sinha, is: What is the real objective? To be remembered? To make more profits? Or to make a real difference, not a token one for awards and a mention in the annual report?

Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap brand is already part of the solution but it’s taking a brand agnostic view and mentioning competitor brands as part of the preventive measures being encouraged across India.

Drinks giant Diageo, meanwhile, is providing 500,000 litres of alcohol to the sanitizer industry across 25 states in India for use in national health systems and by consumers.

When businesses divert resources and avoid self-promotion in a time of crisis that can translate into an investment for the long-term, says Sinha.

“In tough times, brands must show that they belong and be the guidance which people seek.” 

Kunal Sinha’s article, Overcoming fear and creating a sense of belonging: Brand purpose in the time of coronavirus, is part of a special series offering guidance and insights to marketers amidst the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Read more here: Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis.

Sourced from WARC, Marketing Week