The Dos and Don’ts of Marketing During a Pandemic

April 6, 2020

This article, by Alexandra Mondalek, originally appeared in Business of Fashion. Below is an excerpt. 

Babaa, a small, direct-to-consumer knitwear brand founded in Madrid in 2012, might seem well-positioned to win the loyalty of self-isolating shoppers. The pitch practically writes itself: cozy, merino wool jumpers at a mid-level price point to get you through a seemingly endless period of social distancing.

That’s not the direction Babaa founder Marta Bahillo has gone, however. On her brand’s Instagram account, she’s posted videos she shot of her children visiting the label’s Barcelona factory before the pandemic reached Spain. One shows her son exploring the facility’s knitting machines, another depicts the time she brought her newborn daughter to meet Babaa’s seamstresses.

Bahillo said she had previously avoided posting about her personal life, but felt it was necessary as the coronavirus death toll surpassed 10,000 people in Spain, where Babaa is headquartered.

“People are dying, there are neighbours who — I don’t know when I come out who is going to be alive, like it is crazy,” Bahillo told BoF. “So, my message comes from that. I wasn’t even thinking of money or anything.”

The posts prompted a flood of messages from followers who appreciated the heartfelt content, which attracted 1,230 “likes” and 41 comments, double the average engagement the brand sees on many of its Instagram feed posts. She said sales have been steady, though supply chain interruptions have delayed orders.

Consumers are always watching, but they are watching more intensely now.

Marketing during the pandemic has become a minefield for brands. Companies need to communicate directly with their customers, especially now that stores in most major economies have closed. But many tried-and-true marketing techniques come off as tone-deaf.

While it may not be the time to blindly push a product, it is the moment to show what a brand really stands for. Use that to make a play for customers’ attention, and, eventually, their money.

1. Do acknowledge the pandemic. Don’t depress potential customers.

Many people are thinking about little other than Covid-19 right now, and the threat the pandemic poses to their health and finances. Brands have to acknowledge the crisis or they’ll come off as insensitive — or just be tuned out entirely. Campaigns showing groups of people enjoying themselves at an outdoor party are going to fall flat.

That doesn’t mean marketing has to be sombre. Apparel brand La Ligne struck a lighthearted tone in a recent email, building on the news of a social distance-abiding outdoor wedding (“Here Comes the Self-Distancing Bride,” La Ligne titled its email) which took place in New York City. The brand provided outfit ideas tinged in lighthearted irony: A pinstripe button-down blouse for the “Justice of the Peace officiating from the 4th-floor apartment window,” and a cashmere wrapped cardigan for “the self-quarantine honeymoon.”

Working from home, self-care, fitness and human connection are themes that allow brands to strike the right balance, according to Edited, a retail research and analytics platform.

Coach has pivoted its “Coach Originals” campaign away from its celebrity-centred approach to one focused on its customers. Where an earlier ad asked actor Michael B. Jordan, “Why are you an original?” the brand now asks Instagram followers, “What brings you joy?”

The brand also partnered with the Instagram account We’re Not Really Strangers, which posts earnest messages, on a painted billboard in Manhattan to serve as a “mood-lifting reminder.”

“It’s really about striking that balance between having a voice in this environment, and not thinking that as a fashion company that you’re going to lead a conversation about a pandemic,” said Nicole Jennings, executive vice president of client & media operations at ForwardPMX, a brand performance agency whose clients include Asos and Tommy Hilfiger.

Read the full article with more of our comments here. 

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