Communication trends in times of crisis and uncertainty

Updated: May 11

Cristina Campos, General Director, Brand Dialogue Spain reflects on changing communications trends during a period of crisis and uncertainty.

Click here for the full article in Spanish (pg. 32)

In times of crisis, business communication has to react quickly while maintaining its values and positioning. There is an opportunity to target new stakeholders and stand out from competitors without becoming an opportunist . The Brand Fortress is the KPI par excellence to keep track of the impact that communication offers to the brand and the value of the business.

Reputation, visibility, notoriety, and familiarity are just some of the attributes that communication managers naturally measure. What not everyone knows, is that all of them contribute a certain weight, according to the brand and the sector, to the value of the brand and, therefore, to the turnover. The brand is a financial asset and adds value to the business.

The strength of the brand gives the negotiating strength of a brand in its specific sector compared to its direct competitors in a given market. We establish the Brand Strength, according to three pillars: "Income", activities that support the future strength of the brand; "Brand heritage", actual current insights from our market research and other data provider partners; "Result or Impact", brand related business outcome measures, like market share.

Analyzing the communication of the brands that have increased their brand strength in the Brand Finance Spain 100 ranking the most, we observe certain trends and patterns that are repeated regardless of the sector:

  • They have continued to invest in brand communication and advertising

  • They have acted with agility towards their competitors

  • They have moved towards a more "human" way of communicating

  • They have opted for digitalization and omnichannel

Reviewing the brands that have risen the most in terms of brand strength, we see that they come from all sectors. Food companies, beers, betting companies, banks, telecoms, the automobile sector, oil companies, and insurers.

I highlight the good use of communication by Bankinter, which although it was not one of the first companies to adapt its advertising in the face of Covid-19, but perhaps the one that did it best. Bankinter has always known how to take advantage of its strong brand to create a memorable campaign. The brand has also demonstrated an agility in the face of the pandemic, launching measures to alleviate the impact of the crisis. It is the only top 10 brand in the banking sector w

ith a sizeable increase in brand strength (+6.1 points to a value of 71.5 points out of 100).

Communication trends in times of uncertainty

2020 has been an extremely difficult year for the vast majority of people and corporations. One year after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Spain, we want review the trends in brand communication that have been observed in different sectors and the impact of the crisis, as well as anticipate future communications challenges. This new landscape of uncertainty means that communications trends born of the health crisis can spread over time, creating new consumption habits and that we must take into account in our communication strategies from now on.

1. More human communication

In the context of technological change spurred by the pandemic, marketing is evolving to build human connections between customers and companies.

Initially after the coronavirus broke out, companies positioned themselves and joined the various solidarity or aid campaigns, such as recognition of the heroes of the pandemic or support for victims. In a context in which society is more vulnerable than ever, appealing to emotion and connecting with the more humane side of the population will be a key part of companies' communications strategy, where it will be important to take care of the tone and style of the messages, taking into account in the environment around you.

With the introduction of 100% recyclable cardboard packaging, Puleva is solidifying its brand positioning as a socially responsible brand in the domestic market. Another example is from two of the most valuable media brands in Spain. During the pandemic, Telecinco has paid significantly more attention to health-related ads, although Antena 3 had the highest number of health announcements (15.201) compared to Telecinco's 14.111, due to the greater number of ads that were generally broadcast on this channel.

In these times, brands have been forced to adapt or even reinvent themselves. Hotel brands have offered their rooms to frontline healthcare workers by providing a safe place to stay. Similarly, many governments have imposed hotel stays on arrival as a quarantine period.

2. Digititalization

If there is one thing that has emerged from this crisis, it is the significant development of digitalization. With the growing coronavirus crisis, consumers are changing the way they interact with brands across different technology platforms. Due to home office or teleworking, there has been a boom in the different tools necessary for the correct performance of tasks, like management and storage systems (MyGestión) email and shared agenda (Exchange Online, from Microsoft Office 365, or Gmail from G-Suite) data storage (DropBox, OneDrive or Google Drive) and videoconferences (Microsoft Teams or Meet Hangouts).

Sports, which is so important in Spain, particularly football, has had to reinvent itself and adapt to the closing of stadiums. LaLiga launched a strategy against Covid-19, a series of actions to minimize the impact of the pandemic and the management of a crisis never before experienced by the sports industry based on attracting the fans with the help of digitization and targeting esports. The generation of relevant content to maintain the engagement of its fans has been key.

3. Media consumption is reborn

Since the state of alarm decree issued on 14th March 2020, the amount of information in the online media has skyrocketed. The media were the ones with the highest increase in visits, specifically 59% on average, followed by social networks, with a growth of 51%.

Other entertainment offerings, such as video games, have also experienced an unstoppable boom. The gamer community has only grown during lockdown and marks the trend of increased consumption of video games and esports as a new space for brands.

4. Managing your reputation online is now more important than ever

The intensive use of social networks has opened an enormous opportunity to establish direct communication with brands and vice versa, but this relationship also involves numerous risks that can lead to an online communication crisis and seriously affect their reputation.

With current mobility and sanitary restrictions, social media can be the best showcase right now to show brand or corporate values, but if these messages are identified as false, that is, they either coincide with the actions that the brand is carrying, they can lead to a conflict. The best crisis strategy is anticipation. Having an updated crisis communications plan and a solid social media strategy is keys in being prepared.

5. The rise of Content Marketing: Brands with values and Feelings

Lockdown has been an invaluable opportunity for brands to offer content adapted to users' needs (recipes, DIY, sports ...). In this sense, brand content becomes especially relevant to connect with consumers. The brands that know how to offer content that meets the needs of their users will achieve brand loyalty.

Emotions are a key element that connects brands with consumers, and that is why branded content is such a successful format, because it bases its strength on stories meaningful to the user. Brands that end up being relevant to consumers are those that convey values and feelings.

A clear consequence of Covid-19 has been the new way of seeing the world, with some mistrust, fear and uncertainty. Three concepts that are already part of the new normality and that have settled in the minds of consumers, after these months of pandemic. This leads us to another consequence that affects the world of communications. Now, it will be necessary to adapt the messages and enhance the credibility of the company in matters of safety and hygiene, looking for new ways to reach the public, exalting values that were already important, but are now placed in first position.

Many advertising campaigns have appealed to emotions during the pandemic. "Your house has something to tell you" from IKEA is especially important to value our home when confinement forced us to remain locked in them or with the still latent tendency of teleworking, "Let nothing stop your dreams" from Amazon, "Stories that unite us" from Disney, or, among the Spanish, "Enjoy in life" by Campofrío, "Distance us to get closer" from Santalucía, "More with you than ever" by Balay, "We are here to help you" from BBVA, "When we are connected" by Movistar, or "Stay home for you and for everyone" from El Pozo are just some examples.

6. The importance of connectivity

If anything has become clear during lockdown, it is that technology has allowed us to be more united than ever. The apps and social networks that have managed to better capture attention by responding to the need to get closer to our loved ones have undoubtedly been Zoom and Tik Tok.

“Demonstrating the return on investment that has been made in communication will be more important than ever. Communications professionals have an obligation to measure and evaluate our actions and that they are aimed at achieving the objectives of our organizations.” Cristina Campos, Managing Director, Brand Dialogue Spain

Social networks have played a fundamental role during the pandemic since they have become one of the main means of communication and entertainment. Platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram are more active than ever and reach all audiences, also allowing users to adapt their message to each format and type of user.

7. Need to demonstrate the value of investment in communication

Undoubtedly, marketing and communication budgets have been adjusted by the uncertainty experienced by many markets, so demonstrating the backlog of investment that has been made in communications will be more important than ever. Communications professionals have an obligation to measure and evaluate our actions and that they are aimed at achieving organisational objectives. At Brand Dialogue we make it happen by determining the value percentage that communication actions contribute to the value of the brand, an asset that directly influences the income statement.

8. Importance of internal communication

This aspect has always been key for companies, in terms of employee engagement or employee experience. However, at a time when employees have been in a situation full of uncertainty, internal communication has been essential to transmit the necessary trust to employees, always clearly informing about what is being done and what is going to be done in the company and showing the commitment with its employees to keep them informed, calm and motivated. Achieving adequate internal communication is one of the main challenges to adequately respond to customer demands, as well as creating an optimal work environment that allows strengthening the productivity of companies.

This is quite a challenge when offices closed their doors and hundreds or thousands of employees were forced to work from home, practically overnight.

9. The reinvention of influencers

With their tone and style so close to their followers, they have become the most reliable source to search for information. However, lifestyle took a 360º turn when, as a result of the pandemic, it equals that of the rest of the population. This has increased authenticity and truthfulness towards users, which better responds to the needs of the current consumer.

10. Consistency to maintain reputation

In addition to what we say we are and do must be aligned with our brand purpose, now more than ever consumers seek authenticity. What we do and say must be, now more than ever, consistent with who we are.

Consistency is the basis for building a brand, expressing the same in each message and point of contact with people while maintaining the same common thread, without breaks or changes. This is what will generate knowledge and security. As brands, opportunities for contact with people are increasingly reduced, if we change the messages, the way we present ourselves, the words we use, the colors ... they will not recognize us and they will be able to figure out that we are not genuine.

Towards the Post Covid era

The social changes derived from the pandemic are creating new challenges for brands trying to anticipate and take advantage of new consumer behaviors. Experience and lessons learned:

1. Reputation: Sustained purpose

Purpose-driven companies are those that have a deep understanding of why they exist, putting them at the center of everything they do, and for whom they are best designed to serve, making sure to keep their promises.

People positively perceive the brands that have helped their clients during the pandemic, workers and society as a whole, but this commitment must be sustained over time to prevent public confidence from evaporating.

The reputation of a brand is built on the fulfillment of promises. Or, from another perspective, the customer experience must be in line with the company's messages. This involves a holistic trust strategy that goes beyond customers to include employees and stakeholders.

2. Agility

Businesses have had to be agile and adapt to the new reality, turning to digital strategies capable of meeting customer needs as they evolve. Clients remember the brands that have known how to react quickly to the pandemic, offering new and relevant offers, adapting to their needs.

If that were not enough, companies face the difficult task of standing out above the noise, capturing the attention and interest of the audience. Now more than ever, companies have to communicate, make themselves seen, delivering relevant messages based on their customers' understanding, monitoring trends and delivery at the right time.

Consumers move away from brands that they believe are in their own interest and, conversely, value those that have innovated to deepen their connection during the pandemic. It is expected to obtain from this period an improvement in efficiency and productivity in the first place, but also to improve customer participation, retain talent and increase the impact of the company on society.

3. Consumers participating in brands

Digital technologies have favored the rapprochement between people and companies during the pandemic. A participation, who is here to stay, in which clients can assume the roles of prescribers and collaborators with which to strengthen their identification with the brand, but for this it is necessary to create a holistic participation plan that designs which points of the client's journey can coincide with the most appropriate participation platform.

An interesting trend observed in alcohol consumption habits during lockdown measures is a reversal of demand to better-known brands. The most popular brands have seen sales increase, while peripheral brands have struggled to maintain their market share. This shows the importance of brand building. When much of people's lives are uncertain, consumers will look for brands they are familiar with and trust. Understanding this can help brand managers and marketing and communication managers drive your brand communication to recognize this longing for comfort and security, where perhaps they previously intended to get their campaigns excited rather than comfort.

4. Companies reinvent themselves and increase comprehensive services

We are witnessing a strategic turn in which companies allow customers to be served with specific services or products to meet their needs more comprehensively. It is necessary to look beyond the current moment and, for this, the differentiation of competition and the disruption of its industry are the best opportunities for innovation and growth.

This can mean transcending the company's own products and services to find new associations that provide new points of view and better meet the needs of customers, employees and stakeholders.

El Corte Inglés' omnichannel strategy focused in part on promoting the Click & Collect service, to collect and return products purchased on the El Corte Inglés website and in Supercor stores. Home deliveries and all the advantages associated with the El Corte Inglés purchase card were also promoted. As a result of El Corte Inglés' omnichannel strategy, the Supercor brand only experienced a marginal decrease of -0,42% in brand value in 2021.

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