How Covid has created a new battle for relevance

Toby Harrison
By Toby Harrison | 3 September 2020
Toby Harrison

Toby Harrison, Ogilvy’s chief strategy officer. 

Most people misunderstand what happens during a crisis. The common view is that in a moment of turmoil, people’s thoughts and opinions are suddenly and drastically changed.

However, this is a misconception, because a crisis doesn’t change how we feel. It just intensifies what we were already feeling. What was once important, is now vital. What was once irritating, is now unbearable. A crisis turns up the heat on what we desire and exposes the raw nerves of what we despise.

Or as Professor Scott Galloway rather eloquently puts it:
“Covid-19 is an accelerant…not a change agent.”

So, if you had a problem before the crisis…it is magnified now.

If we are honest with ourselves, this crisis isn’t going away in a hurry. Things won’t just ‘snap’ back to normal anytime soon. In this time when consumers are genuinely evaluating what brands they need to survive, perhaps the biggest problem for brands during Covid-19 has been defining their relevance. However, the solution lies in a simple change of focus: from how to sell more… to how to service more.

It seems obvious, but very few brands have committed to the transition. For those who have, the following principles are consistently seen in their behaviours.

Actions matter most
If you are committed to be a relevant brand during this time, nothing speaks louder than deeds.
With some careful thought about what you can do to help people right now, your brand’s relevance can be displayed powerfully. Can you deliver information, utility, service or even be entertaining (in the right way?). There’s lots of ways you can take action to help but be mindful not to crow about it. Few things anger the public more than someone who appears to be profiteering from a crisis.

Remove the danger
Paramedics never run to an accident. They walk calmly, assessing what additional dangers there may be to themselves or the patient, before they provide assistance. Before you do anything else, consider if your brand is currently doing anything that is…
A) making the problem worse.
B) getting in the way of the best solution.
C) is tone deaf to the current situation.

Know your place
In a crisis, the public don’t expect a household brand to suddenly develop the ‘answer’. You can be a part of the solution, but this certainly isn’t a time to make it ‘all about you’!
Think about what the world and your customers need right now and how your brand can be of service. What information do they need? What are they struggling to achieve?
What can you do to help the navigate your category, if it has been changed by the crisis?

Know your moment
You can show leadership with your brand by helping in a useful and relevant way. However, just as critical as what you choose to respond with, is when you choose to do it.
Your activity should be timed so it doesn’t get in the way of important updates and information, it is of the most use to your customers at that time and place, and it is sensitive of the mood and feelings of the public.

Don’t just fill the space
I certainly don’t need to hear from any other brand that has my email address about these ‘uncertain times’. There is so much material already out there. Some good, but most bad...and people will be feeling information fatigue. If you have something to offer that is genuinely useful, informative or necessary, that is fine. But if not, don’t add to the clutter.

Depending on your level of optimism, every crisis presents an opportunity. So, if you can put aside all the issues that COVID-19 has created, there is a wonderful chance to redefine your brand’s relevance. All it takes is some careful thought on what value you can truly provide to your consumers right now and a willingness to be of service. Considering the marketing age we are living in right now, this really isn’t a bad thing at all.


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