Kindness and selflessness have been the bywords of the COVID-19 crisis in New Zealand and Australia. There has been an almost wartime sense of solidarity – people helping their neighbours, supporting local businesses, giving to charity – oh, and staying inside for weeks on end to protect the health of others.
This wave of altruism means that traditional marketing communication isn’t going to work right now. People are focused on doing what’s right and getting through together.If you’re a brand, you need to join the wave and lean into your corporate values – or you’ll be sucked under the water.
Rather than directly promoting a product or service, CSR campaigns highlight a cause or help people – brand visibility is a side-benefit. Think Dove’s ‘Real women’ ads, or supermarkets eliminating plastic bags and promoting recycling.
During the COVID crisis, people are scrolling through social media constantly, and they’ll notice what your brand is doing. An effective CSR campaign can help convert a neutral impression of your brand into a positive, and drive engagement on social media. On the other hand, promoting your shoes, phones, or potato chips as usual will make you seem tone-deaf at best.
These days, most companies have a defined set of values. But if yours don’t go beyond a vague, buzzword-filled statement on your website, they don’t mean much. Research – and common sense – shows that customers only really believe in a company’s values when they hold up under pressure. When times are good, it’s easy to say you value your staff, but if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices to keep them employed when times are tough, your values aren’t worth much.
Now is the time to bring your values to life – even if that means sacrificing some of your profits. Make sure to follow through as well – don’t make an offer or promise to donate products or cash unless you know you can do it. US clothing brand Draper James found this out the hard way when it offered a free dress to teachers during COVID-19. Although the promotion got a huge amount of interest and hundreds of thousands of teachers sent in applications, the brand only had round 250 dresses to give away. The positive online engagement quickly turned sour, and what started as a well-intentioned CSR campaign became a lesson in what not to do.
CSR works best when it fits the brand: food brands helping feed the hungry, car makers offsetting emissions, youth brands working with disadvantaged children. At the moment, it’s also about finding causes that resonate with your audience. Newsfeeds are saturated with negativity and tragic stories, so people are hanging out for real, ‘feel-good’ content.
Even if your business isn’t a huge corporate, you will be able to find ways to help during this crisis. Give free products or discounted services to essential workers, donate a portion of profits from a product to a charity supporting the needy, or offer your under-utilised resources to help – your vehicle fleet and drivers could deliver food parcels, or unsold food products could be given to a food bank.
One COVID-specific example: New York fashion designer Christian Siriano put his sewing team to work making face masks for under-resourced hospitals. This wasn’t a planned marketing campaign, simply a response to a need using the resources at hand, but it has made a tangible difference to those on the front lines of the pandemic – and given his brand a huge lift.
Done right, CSR campaigns can have a significant, positive impact on your brand – and help people at the same time. But, if you get it wrong, your good intentions could end up making you look worse.
That’s why audience insight is so important when you’re developing a CSR campaign – and why Zavy’s Conversation Monitor is so helpful. Created specifically for COVID-19, our Conversation Monitor tracks and analyses hundreds of thousands of online posts, comments and likes. It summarises content and gives you valuable insight into which stories and promotions are reaching audiences – and which are falling by the wayside. That insight helps you craft and deliver your own campaign, avoid pitfalls and boost engagement.
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