The long and short of brand relevance in a modern crisis

We are living through perhaps the biggest crisis of our time. Across geographies, demographics, and industries, the coronavirus is the great equaliser and we are all affected.

It seems almost sacrilegious to talk about brands in a moment like this. Many businesses are taking a "wait and see" approach. And in equal measure, leading brands have jumped to take action, from Zara producing hospital scrubs to Google making premium Hangouts free.

Fence-sitting is not a sustainable strategy today. Brands are relevant and meaningful when they respond and give back to what’s happening in culture. This outbreak will prove to be the ultimate test of brand relevance.

Building relevance for now, next and post

By now, it’s undeniable we’re in this for the long haul. And short-term measures (however altruistic) do not stack up to a long-term response. At 72andSunny, our strategists across offices have been hacking a global blueprint for brand relevance - not just for now, but for what will come next.

1. Short-term: Be immediately helpful

This is where most brands are today. Confronted with an urgent crisis, businesses are taking responsibility to do what they can to help. As an operating principle, brands are putting empathy before profit. From Coca-Cola channeling ad budgets to virus relief in the Philippines, to Pornhub giving free premium subscriptions in Italy, the objective is to be genuinely helpful (whatever form that takes), and avoid opportunism.

2. Medium-term: Adapt to serve brand-relevant needs

As the pandemic creates a new normal, and terms such as "social distancing" become part of regular lexicon, brands need to help people adjust to a new way of living. But even as lifestyles adapt, fundamental human needs remain. And brands can continue to serve the needs and motivations they were created for, albeit in different forms.

A case in point: the desire for love is stronger than ever in a time of enforced isolation. Apps such as Coffee Meets Bagel and Tinder are creating new utilities such as virtual dates and group meet-ups to fan the flames of love, and make up for the loss of IRL. Daters have even reported rediscovering the art of conversation and better dates from these extended virtual interactions.

New connections are forming as families spend time in close quarters, like children inducting their parents into TikTok. Different modalities of play and exploration will emerge. The need for safety will continue, not just functionally but emotionally. And so on and so forth.

In the mid-term, brands need to adapt and innovate their offerings and communications for these changed times, while staying true to their core need space.

3. Long-term: Lead in recovery and upturn

Major crises mark our collective psyche. Even when we emerge from this, the economic, political and cultural ramifications will continue to reverberate.

It may seem premature now, but brands need to plan for longer-term shifts when we round the curve. How will brands pivot to deal with the new priorities and anxieties of a post-crisis population? As much as we are hurting now, how can brands help with the healing process that needs to follow?

From recessionary fears for businesses to a re-assessment of priorities for individuals to release of pent-up consumer demand, sustained brand relevance is predicated on anticipating future scenarios, now.

The situation we are in is unprecedented. But as strange as this new world order is, the fundamentals of brand building stay true – be human-centric, deliver true utility and value, adapt to culture as it shifts, and act from a place of conviction and credibility. Stay strong, stay safe. And here’s to sunnier days not too far ahead.

The writer is Ida Siow, executive strategy director at 72andSunny Singapore.