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Brands matter: Three ways useful brands connect with consumers during crisis

Brands matter: Three ways useful brands connect with consumers during crisis

By Taylor Brookhouse

We believe the strongest companies and organizations are whole brands—those built from the inside out, around a core idea that guides the entire organization like a North Star. But during uncertain times, it’s easy for any brand to be affected from the outside in, and to lose direction trying to find partial answers to seemingly impossible questions.

Though the solutions are not the same for every brand, now is the time to find a way to matter to consumers who need you. How can you change the conversation around your brand as it relates to COVID-19? Here are three ideas to consider for any brand, regardless of industry.

Find your surplus and use it for good.

Taken from a page right out of Scratch, Barkley’s guide to creating a whole brand, now more than ever a brand’s “Red Thread, or the core idea at the center of everything it does, is only as strong as the actions it creates. Proof is essential,” says Katy Hornaday, chief creative officer. “Brands can’t just say what they stand for. They have to prove it and this crisis is really showing the ones who are doing adept at that and those who aren’t.” This is a time to prove the core belief at the center of your brand—from the inside out

One brand getting this right is Fruit of the Loom, Inc., which started using its factories for good by converting production from their typical products and redirecting labor and materials to make cloth face coverings for healthcare professionals. The driving belief behind this initiative? 

“Every brand, every institution, and every organization has the responsibility to be there for the people, it is no longer only a government’s responsibility,” says creative director Jo George.

THINK: What does your brand have that can be repurposed for positive impact?

Follow a new brand journey. 

The brands that survive this crisis will be those that are nimble, able to switch gears and adapt quickly, especially when it comes to navigating a new consumer journey that’s resulting from changes in shopping behavior.  

“The old customer journey kinda went out the window with this crisis,” says Tim Galles, chief idea officer and author of Scratch. Forget everything you know about following a typical customer journey and adapt to the new normal, he says. Every brand’s goal right now should be this: be as useful as possible to meet consumers’ evolving needs.

Briefly summarized, the new customer journey is as follows:


What can your brand do to be useful to consumers as they adjust to the new reality of staying home?


What does it look like when we’re used to this new reality? 

How does your brand’s role change in the consumer's life of being restricted to their home?


How do you come out of this stronger as a whole brand?

For a more comprehensive look at the framework behind this thinking, check out The Barkley COVID-19 POV – An open brief for being a useful brand during COVID-19.

A great example of a brand that’s followed this new customer journey in order to be as useful as possible is Planet Fitness. The fitness chain temporarily closed its physical doors to its members last month, requiring an immediate pivot that impacted its entire model.

The solution? The United We Move campaign. Though the most tactically difficult direction, Planet Fitness brought the gym into homes around the globe, designing and streaming live Home Work-Ins, daily. The move addresses a real issue facing consumers: people need to move to reduce stress, stay healthy and sleep—especially now.

Available to both members and non-members alike, the series has reached millions of participants in all 50 states and around the world, including Italy, Germany, France, Haiti, Uruguay, Australia and England. Ultimately, the strategy will keep the brand top-of-mind while creating loyal members who are an integral part of the Planet Fitness recovery plan. 

THINK: How will your brand adjust to the new reality, and what’s your plan looking forward to recovery? 

Don’t be a hero. Be a helper.

A big point of struggle for many brands right now is how do we get involved? Luckily, there’s a middle ground between being silent and being a hero, and most brands can mine for ideas on what that looks like by being a journalist for their brand: Listen to your consumers and what their needs are right now.  

“Consumers are marred by uncertainty”, says Chris Cardetti, executive strategy director. He emphasizes the last thing people need during a constant state of uncertainty is more uncertainty. “Meet uncertainty with clarity. Be helpful.” 

Your brand doesn’t have to make a big gesture. Start or stay small by offering creativity, a chance to relax or escape. Solve a simple problem people may be struggling with during this time

A brand that mastered the simplicity of a small gesture is Taco John’s. The QSR chain packaged all their flavors families love into premade frozen burrito kits—solving problems one supper at a time. Through a solution backed by strategy and modern consumer intelligence, Taco John’s was able to answer this: What do families want? Taco John’s burritos. And how are they going to get them? Frozen.

THINK: How can your brand solve a simple problem?

There are many ways brands can find purpose in this pandemic, from global video solutions to frozen comfort foods. Find yours by looking inside your brand to find out what you have to offer, make a plan that sees you through recovery, and keep an eye out for opportunities to help.

The world needs this kind of thinking right now.


Like what you just read? Check out this simple, but useful planning framework, designed to help brand leaders like you create an action plan that will guide brands to recovery.



Influencers during COVID-19

Goodwill during COVID-19

Media Relations during COVID-19

Remote Working Best Practices

Gen Z life during COVID-19

Winning Strategies for CPG Brands in Recovery

Barkley US

Apr 16, 2020

filed under:
Consumer Products, COVID-19, Millennial, Purpose, Retail, Scratch, The Useful Brand


Consumer Products
Consumer Products, Media, Millennial, Purpose, Retail
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