By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

We’re currently wrapped up in a pandemic, and we’re trying to think about the implications for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We’re also thinking about society, and what sort of changes we’re going to see as this comes and goes. 

One of the most important psychological insights during difficult times is that people value accurate information from trustworthy sources. They look for authenticity from their leaders, from their news, and from their brands. As a result, it’s important that marketers are conscientious about being authentic and empathetic during these difficult times.

People are scrolling through their social media posts and encountering advertisements among posts containing some pretty impactful news. In order to effectively get your message across, it’s important to be aware of this and to align with the audience’s perception of the severity of the situation. This is something that we discussed previously with respect to the boomerang effect. If you depict the situation as being more or less severe than people think, then they’re unlikely to engage with your message. 

The first few marketing messages that we saw as coronavirus came to the U.S. were videos from heads of companies. We saw the president of American Airlines discussing his concerns about the situation. We watched the manager of the Dodgers express his concerns. And since these messages were expressed through video, we were able to read the genuine empathy and concern from these companies. This sort of authentic approach is really important for connecting with the audience during these difficult times.  

In terms of impacting people’s behavior, there is a certain amount of anxiety that is optimal for getting people to take action, but there’s also such a thing as too much anxiety. If the audience is too anxious then they’re likely to tune out and won’t be receptive to your message. So you have to be at the right level, and it’s important to couple those messages with positive, encouraging things that people can do that gives them a sense of control over the situation. 

It’s also important to inform the public as opposed to assuring them. Often when we’re assured that everything is okay, we often question why we need to be assured, and we might not have an accurate sense of the impact of the problem in order to change our behavior. Informing the public helps them get a clear picture of the scenario, which helps them guide their behavior and plan ahead appropriately. 

One of the things that brands are doing in this climate is they’re focusing more on sales instead of customer care. And that is an important opportunity that they have right now. You have the opportunity to communicate with your customers, and you know that they’re struggling right now, so you can try to help them through that. One example would be a fitness company that switched their ads from selling gym equipment to communicating useful exercises that help relieve stress. 

Another thing that we’re seeing right now are social media platforms going to extra lengths to ensure that they provide accurate information. This is particularly important for brands like Facebook which have lost a lot of trust from the public. People’s drive for accuracy right now can potentially direct them to new social media platforms that provide the most trustworthy sources. According to an Adweek article, Snapchat is a good example of a platform that appears to be providing more reliable information than their competitors. Facebook and Google are trying to combat fake coronavirus news, platforms like Twitter and YouTube are giving up important real estate to provide information about the coronavirus, and some websites are removing paywalls behind articles that provide useful information about COVID-19. 

Overall, it’s best for society if our leaders, our media, and our brands provide a clear and authentic message that aligns with their customers. Of course, staying in front of your customers’ concerns isn’t something new, it’s how it’s always been. 

If you’re interested in hearing more of our thoughts about marketing in these difficult times, we’re hosting a webinar on April 1st 10AM Central. You can sign up here.

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