Shining in the times of crises

A few brands are going out of their way to stand by their customers. They will be remembered for long

We believe in the importance of brand experience as an essential part of bringing your brand to life and delivering on your promise. Whether the experience is digital, physical, or a combination of the two, it’s about defining key moments for audiences to interact with your brand at different stages of the user journey. This allows you to build powerful relationships with your customers and, over time, a positive perception of your brand.

In times of crisis or disruptive change, particularly like the one we are witnessing today, maintaining a consistent, positive brand experience can be especially challenging. Overnight, we saw Covid-19 profoundly change the way people interact with brands. Taken by surprise, many businesses had to adapt quickly, rethinking their approach and re-evaluating how they could stay relevant by meeting their evolving needs.

While switching to digital and adopting WFH policies may have been a natural move for some, for others it has had detrimental effects on their brand experience. Particularly for those in the retail, travel and hospitality industries – where brand is most often built around the physical experience – many have had to completely redefine their strategy and develop new ways to engage with their customers, in an effort to survive and stay relevant.

Here are some of the key ingredients to a brand experience that can weather a crisis:

1. Be true to your brand

When responding to a crisis, it’s important that your actions remain aligned with your brand’s DNA. When it comes to brand experience, these actions will define your relationship with your stakeholders and contribute to their overall perception of you. They must be coherent so as not to appear inauthentic.

In the case of TripAdvisor, whose mission is “to help people around the world plan and have the perfect trip,” the global pandemic meant they were unable to deliver on their promise, as travel ground to a halt and many businesses in the hospitality industry were forced to shut up shop.

However, TripAdvisor remain true to who they are by supporting their local travel community through the crisis. They launched several initiatives to provide economic support to travel and hospitality businesses impacted by COVID-19, and enabled their users to support their favourite local restaurants and communities, to assist in their long-term recovery.

Brands that can respond and adapt in a way that is authentic can continue to deliver on their promise and remain relevant to their audiences in times of crisis.

2. Understand your customers 

Understanding your customers is not only key to defining quality touchpoints, but also to creating a relevant experience of and around your brand. Particularly in times of crisis, this means listening closely to their needs, and offering genuine support and relevant solutions.

Take Pizza Pilgrims, for example. Unable to open their restaurants to the public, the London-based pizza specialists created their Pizza-in-the-Post kit, sending their customers everything they needed to make their own pizzas from scratch, at home. Knowing most of their customers probably wouldn’t own a pizza oven, the recipe was also designed to be cooked in a frying pan and came with detailed instructions, along with a step-by-step how-to video from their founder.

In doing so, they managed to recreate the experience of eating restaurant-quality pizza, as well as curate a whole new experience around DIY pizza-making, creating something that was both authentic to their brand and relevant to their customers.

Brands that understand their customers are able to meet their needs, create experiences that resonate, and build positive relationships that will last beyond the crisis.

3. Bring your people along with you

A strong internal culture tends to lead to a positive overall perception of a brand. Equally, any problems or tensions existing within a company are usually seen and felt from the outside. Whether through poor customer service or high employee turnover rates, problems with your company culture are all too often exposed and can be damaging to your brand’s reputation.

At the start of the pandemic, Airbnb’s decision to allow guests a full refund on bookings put their customers’ needs first, but failed to address the needs of their hosts, causing outrage amongst their community. As a result, their CEO Brian Chesky had to issue a public apology and offer a $250 million payout to help cover the cost of the cancellations. To add to this, hosts have since faced issues with missing payments and a lack of support from Airbnb’s reduced workforce, meaning the company has been left tackling issues of trust and transparency within their community.

With the appointment of a new Global Head of Hosting, Airbnb hopes to restore trust and improve its relationship with its hosts, recognising the important role they play in creating Airbnb’s brand experience.

Brands that are able to forge strong relationships from the inside out are more likely to build lasting advocacy amongst their employees and community, which will ultimately help deliver on their brand through positive interactions that contribute to the overall experience.

As we navigate the current crisis, brands have an opportunity to (re)create and (re)define valuable experiences, and leave lasting impressions in the minds of their audiences. This will require an ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and meet evolving needs in order to stay relevant. Companies that stay true to their DNA, listen to their customers, and put their people first will help shape positive perceptions of their brand and build a strong framework to withstand future crises.


Emma Sisson is a junior strategist at Saffron consultants.

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