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TODD SMITH — Here’s what consumers want from brands in the midst of COVID-19

TODD SMITH

Consumers are shifting from an “acute” phase of concern about the coronavirus crisis pandemic to a “transitory” phase that will ultimately lead to “normalcy,” top analysts at market researcher Global Web Index said recently during a media preview of their latest wave of COVID-19 tracking studies.

The new findings, based on a third wave surveying more that 15,000 people April 22-27, show that both “global” and “local” concerns about the disease appear to have stabilized among consumers worldwide and in the U.S. and that the new normal will nonetheless suggest some fundamental changes for both brand marketers and consumers.

The briefing, which covered a wide range of consumer attitudes about their health, security, economics and finances as well as products and brands, also reaffirmed a variety of consumer tracking studies indicating that most consumers want brands to advertise normally.

Fifty-six percent of consumers across the national markets surveyed said they approve of brands advertising as normal — a number that dips slightly to 49% in the U.S.

Asked what brands should do to help with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, economics loomed large, as did the supply chain.

Eighty percent of consumers worldwide, and 73% of Americans, said they believe brand marketers should offer flexible payment terms for purchasing their products, while 71% of consumers worldwide and 68% of Americans said they should offer lower-cost versions of their products and services.

Three-quarters of consumers want brands to help produce “essential” products and services that are necessary for society, while Americans are much more in favor than the rest of the world of wanting brands to continue producing non-essentials.

How Coronavirus Has Impacted Brand Sentiment

The coronavirus crisis has impacted every corner of our lives – forcing us into a social distancing, remote work, remote school, facemasks in public existence. Retailers are crumbling, the hospitality industry has taken a huge hit and travel is virtually nonexistent.

COVID-19 comes up in some form in every conversation – and situation. For brands and branding pros there has been a seismic shift in focus. How do you continue to maximize your brand during a pandemic? How do you advertise and reach a hurting public?

There is no playbook for this, no road map to brand success in the midst of a pandemic. Today’s world has never dealt with something like this, and how it shapes our views on life.

Many brands have used empathy to reach the public in new ways, helping them maintain connection with their audiences. Others have refrained from overt consumerism.

No doubt, consumer sentiment has shifted dramatically over the past several months. It’s now more important than ever to understand how to monitor brand sentiment.

Social Media Today developed these tips on monitoring audience response in the era of coronavirus:

  1. Listen to what the Internet says about your brand

First, in order to get a sense of audience sentiment, you need a social listening tool to monitor mentions of your brand across the web. Consider such tools as Awario, Brandwatch, or Talkwalker for this purpose.

These are specifically beneficial in this respect because they each include a sentiment analysis element, which will break down your various brand mentions into ‘positive’, ‘negative’, and ‘neutral’ listings. 

It’s worth monitoring your sentiment charts for spikes, and to respond to each in kind. A spike in negative mentions signals could point to an upcoming reputation crisis, while a spike in neutral or positive mentions could mean that people are talking about your brand more than usual.

Keeping tabs, in either case, can help you maximize any opportunities for improvement.

  1. Monitor the impact of COVID-19 on your brand

Ideally, your social listening tool will pick up every topic and every conversation about your brand. But if you’re interested in digging a little deeper and honing your efforts onto conversations that combine your brand and mentions of COVID-19 specifically (or, indeed, your brand and other specific issue), you’ll need to take your monitoring efforts to the next level.

For this, you’ll need a social listening tool that has Boolean search capabilities. In short, Boolean search is a manual type of search query which enables you to create more complicated parameters, including additional logic operators, such as AND, OR, which can facilitate more specific requirements.

Using these additional qualifiers, you can build search strings that sift the key mentions from the rest, automatically sorting through the broader stream to pick out the main points you need to know.

This can help you improve your strategic approach to a situation like COVID-19, as it enables you to stay updated with the latest mentions of your business in relation to this specific scenario.

  1. Respond to negative mentions ASAP

Now that you have a listing of all your brand mentions in relation to the issue streaming in, and separated into positive and negative mentions, you can take the next steps, starting with the most important element: the negative mentions.

Negative mentions are the ones most likely to lead to adverse consequences for your company, but research shows that people are generally appreciative of quick, active responses, and getting onto these posts and comments fast enough can enable you to turn negative sentiment around, avoiding broader damage.

Aim to respond to complaints and negative comments as soon as you see them. This also shows that you care about the opinions and problems of your audience, which can establish further connection. 

  1. Respond to influencers’ mentions

Ideally, you’ll be able to respond to all mentions, both positive and negative, in a timely manner, as required – but depending on how many mentions you see, and the resources and bandwidth you have, that won’t always be possible.

If your capacity is limited, it’s worth taking note of the mentions from the most influential users, as their experiences can have a much bigger impact on your overall brand sentiment.

Again, this is not the ideal, and you don’t want to be in a position where you have to prioritize responses based on follower counts. But logically, when you’re managing your time, this is the place you should consider looking, particularly in the case of a negative mention that you want to dilute before it becomes problematic. 

  1. Check your media coverage

Knowing your reputation among your customers, target audience, and social media users is vital, however, when considering serious reputation failures (as well as serious reputation successes), mass media is where the big shifts will occur.

Social listening tools can monitor a broad range of online sources, in addition to social platforms, including personal blogs (which can be extremely popular) and major news sites.

If your business is getting mentioned in major media outlets, you need to know about it, and media monitoring and active social listening, combined with sentiment analysis, will help you stay on top of this big mentions – and early notifications could be invaluable, dependent on the situation.

The coronavirus has forced us to be aware of our audiences like never before, and this awareness will certainly impact brand perception in the marketplace.

» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn  http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.

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