How COVID-19 Has Affected Search Behavior And Brand Response
COVID-19 has affected nearly every person and every business in the world. Many people have been laid off or furloughed while others find themselves working from home for the first time ever. Unsurprisingly, this has had a tremendous impact on consumer search behavior. Gone are the random searches for the latest style trends and restaurant openings. Instead, we have seen a dramatic shift in search behavior from a focus on consumption to a focus on information-gathering.
Brand Focus Shifts to Information-Sharing
Informational searches run the gamut from the latest updates on coronavirus numbers and safety advice to tips for working from home and distance learning advice to how-to searches, like “how to make a mask”. Brands have responded to this new search behavior from the start of the pandemic.
One of the first things brands did was to share their COVID-19 strategy. It seems like everywhere you looked in those first few weeks, brands were sharing their planned response to the pandemic – on websites, through emails, newsletters, on social media, etc. The focus was on getting the word out so that business could continue under a new normal. As the pandemic stretches on, messages have changed as needs have changed. Businesses that once were open, are now under shut down orders. Those that can adapt to social distancing requirements or online orders and delivery have done so – and still those communications keep coming out; messages are shared as brand response adapts to the latest government guidelines and requirements.
Information remains key because consumers demand it.
Branding Strategies to Help Consumers During Times of Stress
If information remains in demand, brands need to provide it. During times of stress, brands can help consumers and remain connected with their audience if they keep in mind what their audience wants. During our current COVID-19 situation, consumers want:
- Real, Factual Information. Don’t ignore the reality and act as if it is business as usual.
- Reassurance and Connection. Remind customers that you’re all in this together and you’re here to help. Share ways customers can help locally or on a wider scale. Create opportunities for shared virtual experiences, if possible for your brand.
- Flexibility and Understanding. Many people have lost their jobs or are worried about expenses. Be flexible and understanding in your dealings with them, perhaps adapting your cancellation and refund policies.
- More Access. Routines are out the window as consumers adapt to their new reality. That may mean that they are reaching out to you at different times than they used to in the past. Adjust your communications strategy to accommodate this change, whether that is changing call center hours or putting more content out more regularly so the information consumers need is readily available when they need it.
- To See the Good. Everywhere you look there are stories about how local communities are coming together to support one another or demonstrations of thanks for healthcare workers, schools organizing parades through town to remind students that teachers are still thinking of them and miss them. Consider highlighting heroes among your own employees or actions your business has taken to help the broader community such as the donation of masks and equipment or specialty workers.
- Stimulation and Enrichment. It can get pretty boring sitting at home day after day, even if you are still working. Take a cue from museums, zoos, and cultural institutions around the world and share videos, recordings, virtual tours, online discussions…anything that enriches people’s lives. It’s okay to go off-brand here. No one says the content you share must always be about your brand. At this time of stress, connection of any kind counts, so share that great new recipe you found, that funny video, or the beginner meditation tips.
Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
The key to brand communication during this time is to remain helpful, consistent, and present to your audience. The more helpful you appear to be now, the more people will remember your brand later. Crises are incredibly important opportunities to build brand loyalty.
This crisis in particular may prove to be one of the most influential on brand loyalty because so many people have so much access to information and time to consume it. It’s never been easier to keep tabs on what brands are doing and how they are treating their customers and employees, so make sure what you’re doing will withstand scrutiny and build brand loyalty.
Finally, remember to keep your finger on the pulse. Change your message as the situation changes and needs to evolve. As your state eases or changes guidelines or as businesses open back up, continue to let consumers know how your brand is adapting. Maintain regular updates and communications to get your message across.
In the meantime, think about how you can celebrate and show customer appreciation once business gets back to normal!