You lead marketing or communications for a major brand or enterprise. You’ve spent years building, defending and defining your brand. You have a tight brand pyramid (house) with a clear sense of purpose, promise, and positioning. It’s consistently applied across all your marketing and communications; as a result, people know you and know what to expect from you.

But then enters a global pandemic.

What is a well-established brand to do?

On one hand, you can’t just stay the course. Everything in the life of your audiences, from your consumers to your employees to your investors, has dramatically changed. That alone must force a reconsideration of how you connect with them. Fundamental aspects of your brand might be weakened by the crisis. And your tone of voice may feel completely off when matched against the tone of the global conversation.

Yet, on the other hand, if your brand truly represents the essence of your organization, you can’t credibly deviate. It’s not just a matter of discarding brand equity, you simply won’t be believed if you show up fundamentally different in the face of tragedy, no matter the events that surround you.

The answer ultimately is that your brand needs to operate differently—as a different version of itself.

The challenge lies in the fact that we build brands to endure as timeless institutions. We invest in them, nurture them and we know that consistency is the most important core competency that drives their market value.

Thankfully, brands are not one-dimensional; the answer to the challenge is not to change the core components of your brand, but rather, to determine which select elements of your brand you want to bring to the fore at this moment. And to do so thoughtfully and quickly–and in a way that applies far beyond your ad copy, extending to all of your messaging and even your company’s actions at this time.

We believe that defining your brand story in crisis requires a thoughtful answer to the following questions. These work whether you are addressing the messaging for a product or a service brand, or if you are re-thinking the role of the broader enterprise.

Defining your Brand Story in Crisis: 6 Questions

  • Context: What aspects of the crisis most deeply affect the audience(s) you are addressing?
  • Credibility: What core strengths of the brand's history or character are most relevant today?
  • Imperative: What immediate challenge can you most help solve?
  • Belief: Why exactly does that inspire you?
  • Solutions: What are your most important actions to take and messages to send?
  • Promise: How would you summarize this to inspire everyone about the brand’s contributions at this moment?

When developing your brand story in crisis, the following principles or guidelines apply:

Be guided by research, but not paralyzed by it. The research you have on hand from the pre-crisis period can be helpful, but with so much change, your instinct and ability to listen to customers and employees in the moment is a far more powerful tool at this juncture.

Partner with the C-Suite. The leadership of the brand–or the enterprise–must embrace this vision. The tool above is only useful when you gather the collective minds that understand all your key stakeholder audiences–and are empowered to take action.

Be true to part of your brand. Again, this is not about creating a new brand. It is a process of simplification–to bring the most valuable assets of your brand to life in a way that respects the context and urgency of the crisis.

Execute and communicate quickly. Time is of the essence of your brand or company wants to enact real change. Once you have this outline, enlist your best brand writers to bring it to life. Get editorial eyes on it from all stakeholder groups so you don’t miss a nuance. And tell the world, starting with the people on your teams.

Be flexible. If there is one thing that recent history has told us, it’s that the situation around us changes in ways and at speeds we could never predict. Keep an open eye to how the evolving crisis is continually affecting your audiences and be willing to re-consider the six questions above as the situation changes.

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