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Keep advertising (people like it)

To advertise or not to advertise, for many brands that is the question. In normal times, people are increasingly prone to skip or ignore ads. Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer survey for South Africa found that 98 percent of people feel it’s important that companies keep advertising. Only 2 percent felt they should stop. The reasons include that they like seeing amusing ads, they understand that businesses need advertising to stay afloat, and they need reminders of normalcy. Needless to say, advertising builds Salience, a key component of brand value. So, feel free to advertise. People like it, and it’s good for your brand.

Don’t go dark

Above all, resist the urge to stop spending on media at all. People’s memories are short, even during normal times when a brand is easily available. And when brands stop spending, brand tracking measures fall fast. A recent study found that Total Brand Communication Awareness (TBCA) falls as much as 39 percent when brands drop advertising.

Keep on and carry on

You might wonder if there are topics brands should avoid during a crisis. There are, but there’s a twist. Generally speaking, the sorts of things you should avoid during a crisis are the same as the ones you should avoid in normal times. Some have called for brands to avoid showing party scenes of people mixing together. But a Kantar Marketplace study of five countries on three continents found that only one percent of people frame their responses to ads in the context of coronavirus or other issues. They also don’t mind ads that display parties and other gatherings. Common sense, as always, is a good guide.

Pragmatic commerce

Many South African consumers either have no appetite for retail apps or are unreachable by advanced infrastructure for delivery. Brands need to find ways to reach these consumers in pragmatic ways that make e-commerce accessible. Examples could include Cloudy Deliveries, a township bicycle service that delivers groceries and take away to homes or restaurants. Many informal businesses are also turning to WhatsApp ordering and delivery by runners.

Local is lekker

Locally sourced products, services, and ingredients tend to deliver a sense of comfort that reassures people on a number of levels. They not only support the local economy but also inspire us through feel-good stories that celebrate the best of South Africa’s diverse tastes, cultures, and style. Examples include flavors, brands, and resumes that celebrate our local heritage, like Lays’ biltong-flavored chips.

Expertise wanted

Nearly all brands have their own areas of expertise and competence, including everything from delivery, nutrition and chemical engineering to clothing manufacturing and financial planning. Brands should consider if there are meaningful ways that they can use that expertise to help everyone. But if you don’t have relevant experience, consider a donation. Consumers will likely remember which brands have been generous, and more importantly, which ones haven’t stepped up during tough times.

The changing rules of engagement

DStv has gone as far as any brand in recent months to modify its terms of service to benefit consumers. By opening up its channel lineup and especially making children’s and educational content freely available, it has doubtlessly saved a lot of parents’ sanity as they try to balance homeschooling and working from home. When brands are looking for ways to innovate, they should not limit themselves to advances in product design or functionality. Sometimes you can simply change how you engage with consumers to be more helpful.

Doing their homework

2020 has been a tough year in many respects, but it has been a great encourager of healthy habits. Fifty percent of people in South Africa say they were exercising more, while 52 percent said that they were reading more. They are also eating better, focusing on personal development, spending more time with people and their families, and increasing their overall hygiene. Brands that provide inspiration for self-improvement and allow for superior in-home experiences should prosper. As an example, KOO provides daily inspiration with 995 different ways to use the brand’s products in meals at home.

Communications under a microscope

While consumers have an increasingly low level of tolerance for brand misbehavior, all communications today are under much more scrutiny than ever before. And this goes for more than just brand communications. CEOs and anyone associated with a brand need to be extremely cautious during any time of heightened attention. So, if your brand feels the need to comment on ongoing events, make sure plenty of outside eyes evaluate the communication first. And remember, sometimes saying nothing is the best strategy of all.

Practically speaking

Across multiple surveys, South Africans are clear about what they want from brands and companies. They want practical support and help in showing how we can overcome the crisis. Above all, they want brands to be specific. Vaguely supportive or generic messaging is unlikely to stick in consumers’ minds as they are watching much more important things go on.

SA goes local

Over the past several years, many consumers around the world have adopted a buy-local strategy. They prefer to shop at farmer’s markets and smaller shops run by their neighbors. While South Africa has been slow to jump on that bandwagon, the pandemic has given it a solid nudge. Twenty-one percent of South Africans now say brands should bring their production factories back to the country. While this may seem a small number, it is a considerable jump over previous years. Forty-eight percent now say they pay attention to the origin of products, and 70 percent say shopping at local stores is important for the local community. If you’re a local brand, don’t be shy about it.

Facing big challenges

2020 has been a terrible time to be in the oil business. At one point, traders were paying people to take the stuff off their hands. But for South African oil giant Sasol, low prices have only made a bad situation worse. A costly investment in its Lake Charles chemical plant had already heavily impacted its balance sheet, with its core business heavily impacted. As a result, it lost more than 49 percent in brand value in the past year and tumbled 7 positions in the Top 30 ranking. It’s worth noting, however, that Sasol has a relatively high Brand Contribution score for an oil and gas company, which should help its recovery.

The power of positivity

In 2009, researchers Maria Richter and Judith Eck at Universitätsklinikum Jena studied the effect of negative words and scenarios on people using fMRI technology. They found that negative words and thinking, even when used in a non-threatening context, caused areas of the brain associated with stress to light up. It’s a subtle point, but in tough times, you don’t want to pile on. Try to keep things positive as much as possible and use phrases like “get it now” rather than “don’t miss out” and “remember to” instead of “don’t miss out.” Consumers’ subconscious minds will thank you.