COVID-19 rocked consumer’s lives in ways we couldn’t have even imagined. It changed the way we shop, the way we eat, the way we socialize, and the way we communicate. And six months in, it’s still raging through many parts of our country with little signs of slowing down. How a brand responds and communicates (or doesn’t) with its consumers is the difference between success and failure. Many brands have been holding their tongue hoping for things to go back to normal, but with no real end in sight, should brands continue holding their spend or jump back in? I believe the answer is definitely to jump back in. 80% of consumers said that brands should NOT stop advertising during the coronavirus pandemic. How do we know? We used I-Factor®.

With our proprietary I-Factor® tool, the most comprehensive measure of a brand-consumer relationship, we looked at the brands that did and did not put a freeze on marketing over the last few months, and were able to learn a lot about how the right kind of messaging can propel a brand forward and raise their Irresistibility with consumers, while the wrong kind of messaging can turn off consumers and make a brand less Irresistible. For example, 50% of consumers felt that commercials, where brands are being inauthentic and using COVID-19 messaging for their own gain, were the worst possible mistakes a company could make. This gives us some clues as to the careful line advertisers have to walk. 

We also learned a lot about what is going to be important to consumers moving forward and have incredible insights and data around where brands can take messaging to be truly successful in the coming months. For example, we learned in our survey that 61% of consumers who believe brands should NOT stop Advertising feel that way because brands can help people stay informed on goods and services available that can help during difficult times.

First, some highlights from the brands that stayed the course and even turned up the volume during the first three months of COVID-19.

The winners:

The brands that were really, truly authentic and made efforts to help consumers during the pandemic have much higher scores in all of the dimensions of I-Factor- meaning consumers understand, crave, and share the brand, aka find them Irresistible.

Nike, who built face shields from materials found in Nike apparel, scored a 63.

Hilton, who donated up to 1 million hotel room nights across the U.S. to frontline medical professionals, scored a 55.

Facebook, who prompted some users in the U.S. with a CMU survey, asking them to self-report COVID-19 symptoms to government agencies, scored a 58 (although today their score is down to a 29 due to their most recent issues).

Citi, who committed over $65 million in support of COVID-19-related community relief efforts around the world, scored a 63.

Consumers believed and appreciated how these brands jumped in to help, or reassure them during this difficult time, and these efforts strengthened the relationship they had with their existing consumers and likely created many new ones. For example, 37% of consumers would like to see more social content on how brands are giving back during these times. Similarly,  47% of consumers are looking for ads that provide value or useful information during this time of change.

On the other side, brands that were seen as self-serving or jumping messages that felt inauthentic like Grubhub had very low I-Factor® scores and most certainly turned away some of their loyal consumers. Grubhub announced a $100 million relief effort that would temporarily suspend the collection of commission payments to restaurants who qualify. However, at the time of the announcement, the terms listed specified that this would only last during the “relief period” and that collection efforts would start mid-April. This earned them a score of 44. 

So what’s next for brands who’ve been waiting to get back out there?

This study gave us great data around what kinds of things were going to be most important to consumers moving forward. If you guessed one of their top priorities is the health and wellness of their friends and families, you’d be correct. Our study also goes into great depth on consumer feelings about eating, cooking, shopping, and staying healthy in the time of COVID and how their habits may have changed.

If you’re interested in the detailed findings of our study and in figuring out what the next communication strategy is for your brand during this critical time, please reach out for a free consultation.