(This article appeared on talkwalker.com.)
The coronavirus and the following economic turmoil has shaken businesses to the core. When the dust settles, and we adjust to the ‘new normal’ there will be brands that hold strong, and those struggling to survive. In this blog, we look at how the crisis impacted the world’s 50 most popular brands, and why that love could be the key to their survival.
THE BRAND LOVE STORY
In our latest report, the Brand Love Story 2020, we analyzed 781 global brands to identify the 50 most loved brands on social media. Brand love is an effective strategy for engaging your audience, improving advocacy and loyalty.
But now, we’re going to look at how vital it is for cushioning your brand during a global crisis, and why having a strong relationship with your community ensures you can maintain fiscality during an economic downturn.
THE WORLD’S 50 MOST POPULAR BRANDS
When we look at our most loved brands, we can see that coronavirus mentions peak on March 23.
This peak was when countries around the world engaged lockdown procedures, with a slight delay as brands took the time to adapt to the changes. To look at the impact of coronavirus on these brands, we’ll take a look at data from two periods:
- Before coronavirus. July 1 2019 to December 31 2019. A 6-month period before COVID-19 struck.
- During coronavirus. March 1 to May 31. A 3 month period when the implications of COVID-19 were fully felt. During that time, at least 10% of total brand mentions per week included mentions of COVID-19 related topics. Before that date, it was 3% maximum.
The tone of conversations changed “during coronavirus.” Joy was less prevalent in the 2020 mentions, with a drastic rise in disgust and fear.
Across the world, conversations became more somber, for both these loved brands, and overall. The pandemic, economic woes, isolation, job losses, and deaths, changed how consumers talk about brands. And how brands talk about themselves.
And yet, the love these brands previously built for themselves shone through. The peak on March 23 was vastly positive.
With many of those mentions packed with love related keywords. Yes, there was a crisis, and these brands had to react, but overall, they were able to mitigate the damage. And actually receive additional praise for their handling.
Take a look at some of the most loved brands to see why…
HOW LOVED BRANDS ARE STAYING AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION
Why the love for Nostalgia is boosting Lego’s success
Lego was our most loved brand at the end of 2019, with 2020 still bringing them positive results. With many people in lockdown, they turned to Lego to provide entertainment for all the family.
Lego averaged 860,000 mentions per month “before coronavirus,” but 983,000 mentions per month “during coronavirus.” An increase of 14%.
This increase in mentions ties to an increase in demand. Sales of the construction toy peaked on eBay.
Comparing the two periods, both negative and positive sentiment levels increased. Negative increases are to be expected, as people increased discussions about a negative topic (coronavirus) around the brand.
The increase in positive mentions is the important factor here. People engaged with the brand positively, to counteract the global negativity. The brand love Lego had built, meant that people turned to them during the crisis for reassurance.
Nostalgia is a vital part of this. During a major crisis, people want to tap into familiar things from the past. They literally want to relive “the good old days.” For many, Lego is a brand familiar from people’s youth, and being a construction toy for all ages, it was easy for everyone to turn to for comfort and reassurance.
Lego supported this with numerous brand-led campaigns, connecting with the pain-points consumers were feeling at the time.
Lego’s #LetsBuildTogether campaign helped families and fans unite with joyful moments and positive experiences. The hashtag was mentioned 27,900 times over the three months, with 377,900 engagements (13.54 engagements per mention).
Don’t underestimate the power of nostalgia. People will look to remember the good times, and by connecting your brand to those times, you’ll maximize love.
Also, don’t let a crisis stop you from doing what has worked so well. People need distractions from the issues in the world. Continue to offer the content that people already engage with, just ensure you’re not blind to the crisis going on around you.
How Four Seasons Hotels’ community efforts are helping it mitigate damage
For a brand like Four Seasons, the crisis has been a challenge. With travel restrictions and cancellations, it was certainly not business as usual.
Monthly mentions of the brand increased by 26% from our “before coronavirus” to “during coronavirus” periods, with 52.3% of those mentions being positive. As of yet, we haven’t seen a spike in mentions related to refunds or cancellations, compared to Airbnb with around 10% of their total brand mentions over the ‘during coronavirus’ period related to the topic.
Four Seasons was a loved brand, because of their strong consumer connections and CSR strategy. The company knows it’s vital to support the communities their hotels are part of.
They opened the New York Four Seasons, to house medical personnel during the peak of the crisis in the city. The first to host healthcare workers free-of-charge.
This response engaged the local community, and consumers across the world. But this wasn’t a one-off, it was a continuation of the efforts they support. As a moment of positivity in a particularly dark time, it will be remembered once the situation calms.
Even when things are bad, there are still opportunities to find the good. Even if you can’t see how they will impact your brand immediately. Often, these big, community-focused efforts are long-term commitments, which will pay off in the long run.
Why Warner Bros.’ audience connection is nurturing consumers for future impact
The last months have been turbulent for Warner Bros. The crisis has impacted cinemas, meaning delays for many of the big releases for the past few months (and the rest of summer). Yet, there’s been an increase in demand for home entertainment, especially projects from the TV and publication side of the brand.
For the company, they needed to keep excitement for the brand and its properties ignited, to ensure success for the delayed releases. This meant upping their already successful social media and PR strategy, to maximize engagement. The average engagement in the ”during coronavirus” period was 30.6 engagements per mention, compared to a “before coronavirus” rate of 24 engagements per mention. An increase of 27.5%.
The brand knows that they drive love by continually feeding their fan bases with new content and listening to what their audience wants. During the crisis, while it wasn’t possible to continue with the major releases as they’d planned, Warner Bros. could still be part of the conversations with teasers and snippets.
They teamed up with Lego to release a special PSA to help children understand the crisis, and finally announced a project that had been in demand for a long time. A Snyder cut of the Justice League movie.
The announcement was something the community had wanted for a long time. And was just what was needed for people to look forward to post-lockdown. This unity between brand and consumer should aid the company’s recovery in the coming months.
Even if you can’t make immediate sales, you can still nurture your audience. Tease, tempt, inform, so when the opportunity does arise, your customers will be in the ideal place to buy.
And constantly listen to your audience. Social listening can show you exactly what consumers want. With those insights in hand, you can always meet customer expectations.
HOW BRAND LOVE HELPS BRANDS REMAIN INDUSTRY LEADERS
Why travel woes have had less impact on loved tourism brands
With enforced closures and travel restrictions across the globe, the tourism industry has been badly impacted. In the “during coronavirus” period, there were 7.3M mentions of refunds or cancellations in relation to the industry. Companies not only faced a shortage of income, but saw huge outgoing cash flow, with varying levels of government support.
For all airline mentions, 31.2% were negative and only 11.6% positive “during coronavirus,” compared to 21% negative and 44% positive in the “before coronavirus” period. Many companies struggled to cope with the demand for refunds, while juggling reduced staff levels. While the decision to offer vouchers instead of cash refunds also riled customers. It became such an issue, a ranking was set up on who was the worst at offering refunds…
For the two airlines that made the Brand Love Story, Singapore Airlines, and Etihad Airways, the downturn is less noticeable.
Etihad Airways maintained their brand love, through their continued sport sponsorship and CSR efforts, while Singapore Airlines (and their sub-brand, Scoot) maintained a transparent communication strategy with their consumers.
A similarly hit industry was cruise lines, faced with the same travel restrictions as airlines, with the added risk of ships themselves becoming virus epicenters.
31% of mentions related to cruising were negative during the ‘during coronavirus’ period. But our most loved Cruise Company, Celebrity Cruises, had only 1.6% negative mentions. It was staying afloat in a stormy industry.
Being a loved brand won’t entirely protect you from a major crisis, but it can significantly mitigate the damage. The built up deposits of brand love help you weather the situation—it takes a lot for a brand advocate to turn into a critic.
Plus, the methods that loved brands use to keep customers happy during the better times, also work just as effectively during a crisis. The connections these brands have built, help them to adapt the conversations quickly, to diffuse issues quickly.
How loved brands took an unfair share of industry growth
The lockdown had a massive impact on consumer buying habits. Essential products such as food and hygiene products became priority, with many supermarkets seeing an increase in demand, leading to shortages of some products.
For many, chocolate became an essential comfort food during lockdown. With mentions increasing from 3.53 million mentions per month “before coronavirus” to 4.73 million (+34%) “during coronavirus.”
When people turned to the comfort of chocolate, it was Cadbury, the much-loved brand, they turned to first. With Dove coming in second place. Demonstrating again the importance of brand love—the relationship you build now will be there even when times are critical.
The same can be seen for major retailers. Whole Foods Market saw their average engagement per mention increase from 30.7 “before coronavirus” to 48.4 “during coronavirus.”
The brand did have to adapt to meet the increase in demand, which brought challenges of their own. Ensuring supply meant increasing staff numbers, while minimizing staff risk. They also tackled brand shortages by introducing ‘senior’ opening hours. Overall, the brand did suffer from some negative press, but because of their established reputation as a loved brand, they were able to shake off the worst of it, with little change to their sentiment.
In any crisis, there are some industries that will still profit. But for the brands within those industries, there will still be varying levels of success.
With less choice, consumers will turn to the brands they feel more connected to—the ones they love. That usually means those brands take an unfair slice of the spend available.
Of course, these brands still have their work cut out for them, managing the challenges a crisis brings. But the effective social media and PR plans they have in place helps them manage these issues effectively.
Brand love really does make a difference to a brand. During boom and during bust. When you’re facing unprecedented issues, or increased demand.
By following the 11 methods that the world’s 50 most popular brands use, you’ll nurture a loyal audience that connects with your brand, engages with your messages, and will stand by you even through the toughest times.
It’s not too late to create love for your brand. It’ll be essential for the coming months of economic anxiety. To discover what makes a loved brand, download the full report.