Consumers are waiting to hear from you…really!

“In these unprecedented times…”


We have to stop saying this. “Unprecedented” means something that’s never been done or known before. Now, technically speaking, tomorrow will be unprecedented, but “these times?” Not quite. And people are demanding more.

What we’re experiencing today certainly isn’t new to mankind, but it may feel like it’s “unprecedented” because we’ve forgotten our history lessons from school and older relatives. And just as humans adapt to hard times and depressing headlines, so, too, do marketers.  

Something that may indeed be unprecedented is the multiplication and democratization of media outlets, content creators, and platforms. With all the choices available, brands need to be smart but also experimental about the conversations they’re having with consumers. They also need to be more familiar with the people they‘re communicating with. Singular messages are getting harder to properly craft and place right now, making how, what, and where you deliver it very important. 

We’ve seen the uplifting. 

We’ve seen the family gathered ‘round.

We’ve seen the good works. 

We’ve seen the giving back.  

Add to this the already overwhelming amount of content for consumers to interact with, and you’ll see that those messages have reached a point of saturation. Evolution is needed, and his is where versioning, digital media, and local marketing can be so valuable. But here also is where the importance of tone comes in.

No one congratulates a grieving person or consoles a happy one. So offering reassurance in an area that’s still in the throes of an outbreak is going to be better received than a direct sell that might be appropriate in an area that hasn’t seen much impact from COVID-19. We call this the empathy to immediacy spectrum. 

Empathetic executions need to come from a place of honesty but also optimism. Messages with immediacy are rooted in the most positive outlooks and speak to consumers who are anxious for, or even demand, the return to pre-COVID norms. Brands that have chosen to stay on the air throughout the pandemic have reminded Americans that they still have options, and that they’re still a part of the national economy.

A March 2020 survey by GlobalWebIndex asked Internet users in 13 markets whether brands should continue advertising as normal. Nearly four in 10 U.S. respondents ages 16 to 64 agreed, and a similar share (35%) were neutral, compared with 28% who disagreed.

So…wait. Consumers actually want to hear from advertisers? Break out the bunting and get the inflatable gorilla out of storage!

Not so fast. 77% of respondents said they wanted advertising to “talk about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday life,” and 75% said it should “inform about the brand’s efforts to face the situation.” So while consumers don’t expect brands to abandon advertising, they don’t want them to ignore the realities of the world we’re living in.

Sorry, folks, but that amazing campaign you planned pre-pandemic may no longer be appropriate as consumers clamor for information about how the crisis is being handled and how they can stay safe. This includes how your brand is responding to COVID-19.

One-size-fits-all strategies rarely work, but this is especially true today. Each market requires close examination to determine where it falls on the recovery spectrum, and messaging must be adjusted accordingly or else it’s just adding to the noise. 

Unprecedented times? Thankfully not. Difficult? Absolutely. 

Brands that communicate with nuance and sensitivity have a much better chance of winning consumers’ minds and wallets.

posted on
August 7, 2020
written by
Jamil Buie
Partner, Strategy