Canadians concerned about their health are limiting personal contact. Companies and careers are changing quickly as they are disrupted on a mass scale. 

How should brands speak to their audiences in this climate, and how can they prepare for post-COVID-19 marketing?

Globe Content Studio hosted a discussion with advertisers and marketers who have done an effective job balancing appropriate messaging and creativity. They talked about their work and shared best practices, for these challenging times and beyond.

On April 29, 2020, Globe Content Studio went virtual, taking its monthly MarTech Mornings event series online for the first time. 

Katherine Scarrow, general manager of the Studio, moderated a panel on how brands can communicate in ways that are authentic and empathetic, without sacrificing creativity, in an age of COVID-19. 

Our panelists were:

  1. Todd Allen, VP of marketing, Labatt Breweries of Canada
  2. Joshua Bloom, head of Canada, global business solutions, Tik Tok
  3. Ted Lalka, senior vice-president, marketing and product management, Subaru Canada
  4. Uwe Stueckmann, senior VP of marketing, Loblaw Companies

You can watch the hour-long discussion here.

Here are three key takeaways:

1. Consumers expect brands to be present during the COVID-19 crisis

The Globe and Mail’s own research found that consumers want brands to help Canadians by offering practical information, and they want to be seen as supporting front-line workers. Labatt was one of the first companies to pivot on the product side and it wasn’t the company’s first time doing so, Allen said. 

Labatt’s disaster relief program has been around for some time, and that experience enabled the company to quickly re-prioritize and produce hand sanitizer for front-line workers, food-bank workers and partners in restaurants and bars. Labatt also partnered with the City of Toronto to distribute emergency canned drinking water for a variety of programs. 

In terms of marketing, Labatt pivoted all promotions and advertising for regular programming such as concerts and sports activities to Canadian Red Cross initiatives and a Rally for Restaurants launch. As one in 10 restaurants in Canada are now permanently closed, Labatt is encouraging Canadians to purchase $25 or $50 gift cards to their favourite restaurants and it’s adding $10 to every gift-card purchased. 

The key for brands is to ask: How do we help communities and how do we put people first? 

2. Marketing plans need to change constantly 

Companies typically plan advertising campaigns months in advance. When COVID-19 hit, Subaru Canada decided to ask two simple questions, Lalka said. What’s most important to Canadians right now, and what role can Subaru Canada play in helping people get through the crisis? 

His team replaced all of its ads with one that focused on recognizing and thanking front-line workers and how they protect Canadians. The ad was also aligned with the Subaru brand and its core messaging around safety and trust.

Tik Tok has been generally deployed by brands to share their values and connect with fans. Bloom noted that Tik Tok’s auction program will be launching soon in Canada as part of its initiatives for bottom-funnel goals. Like Loblaw, many companies have moved both advertising and transactions to digital platforms. Not only will brands be able to communicate credible information and offer useful support such as free delivery or discount offers, they will be able to use Tik Tok to measure conversion in the near future. 

Reiterate your marketing plans regularly and in accordance with government policy changes, social sentiment, customer feedback, and employee feedback. 

3. Constraints breed creativity

Many companies were not equipped to work remotely pre-COVID-19. Loblaw had already been discussing the agile process and working from home and the pandemic has forced it to expedite the process. Stueckmann mentioned that Loblaw now has a daily huddle to touch base, more virtual coffee chats and no more PowerPoint decks! 

The team is armed with more information than before, so it feels more empowered to make decisions and it makes things move much faster with the agile process. 

With Labatt, the company realized how fast it can actually move, especially since it typically needed to move at the speed of popular culture. Even post-pandemic, Allen is hopeful that the team will continue to be nimble and in tune with its fans. 

Create an environment where people can communicate with each other frequently and people won’t feel left out. 

We will be continuing our virtual MarTech Mornings events in May, so be sure to follow us on social @globecontent, and subscribe to our newsletter here.

Karen Ahn is analytics lead for Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national media organization.

Published by Karen Ahn

Analytics Lead at Globe Content Studio, The Globe and Mail

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *