Protecting Brand Reputation During COVID

As the COVID pandemic continues to rage around the world, fueled partly by a more contagious variant and also by a strange Panglossian attitude among many regarding vaccinations and mask wearing, we think it’s time to take stock in brand reputation. Have people’s attitudes towards their favorite brands changed during the pandemic? They most certainly have according to a market research survey by Richard Edelman that interviewed 12,000 people in twelve global markets in 2020:1

  • 71% of respondents said that they will lose trust in a brand if they feel that the brand is “putting profit over people” during the pandemic
  • 62% said that their country will not make it through the pandemic without brands playing a critical role in addressing the societal changes posed by COVID-19, from protecting the well-being of employees to shifting products and pricing to creating a sense of community
  • 55% said that brands and companies are responding more quickly and effectively than governments

According to an earlier report by Edelman’s research group, consumer’s brand trust is on par with quality, value, convenience, and ingredients as a purchase consideration.2

People want companies to focus their messages on solutions, not selling.

People want companies to focus their messages on solutions, not selling. This sentiment was illustrated by a preference for messengers who are experts, not celebrities, since it is hard for consumers to differentiate between legitimate products and fads. For instance, 78% rated medical doctors as credible spokespeople for a brand’s virus-related actions, while celebrities and influencers were rated closer to 20%. This makes sense. Expert knowledge and experience is valued by consumers so brands work with them to educate consumers, and establish credibility in their industries. Particularly in saturated industries like health and wellness. If a product has an expert’s endorsement, consumers tend to trust that brand’s message and products over that of the competition.

This survey suggests that brands need to focus their messaging on solutions, not selling. It showed that 84% of respondents want brand advertising to focus on how brands help people cope with pandemic-related life changes while 77% said they want brands to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact it has on people’s lives. More than half of the respondents said that they wanted brands to stop any humorous or light-hearted advertising and said they simply are not paying attention to new products at present unless they are designed to help with their pandemic-related life challenges. Hewlett-Packard took this to heart by donating 3-D printers to hospitals to produce masks. Companies such as Kentucky Fried Chicken have provided sick leave and guaranteed wages for employees unable to work if retail locations are closed by government order. Basically, respondents believe that brands can and should make a difference throughout the COVID crisis.

This global crisis has profoundly changed how we all think, behave, and consume. And there will be no return to normal—this is the new normal. The brand mandate of trust has expanded to problem solving  and innovation done in the public interest. At this moment of deepest global crisis, the public wants brands to step up, keep us safe, guide us, and help us. This is the time when brands can prove that they put people, not profits, first. 

1. Accessed August 17, 2021
2. Accessed August 17, 2021