Building brand connect during times of crisis

Giraj Sharma | Updated on April 16, 2020

Proactive advertising: Asian Paints and Maruti Suzuki India have kept their messaging relevant

Stay relevant, humble, authentic, transparent and honest

Among the first lessons that one picks up in one’s marketing career is that branding is all about carving a persona for a non-living entity. In an attempt to humanise our brand, we work towards getting the target audience to relate to it exactly as one would to a human being. Elements such as trust, authenticity, ethics and emotional bonding become the vital pegs on which hinges the brand’s equity.

However, this template has seen a major disruption with the internet explosion.

Brands have to now respond to happenings around the world, at times to even unrelated events, in order to stay relevant. Such interactions, on top of all other activities, now lead to building up ‘brand connect’.

During these extraordinary times, how do brands maintain and strengthen their connect with people? We examined this last week during our Marketing Academy’s Discussion & Debate — M.A.D.D — this time held virtually.

M.A.D.D. is an informal platform where practising marketing professionals get together in a huddle periodically and react to evolving situations that confront the community.

This time, the entire discussion revolved around the Covid-19 pandemic and how brands could deepen the connect with customers and target groups in lockdown time.

Surprisingly, the discussion began with things that brands shouldn’t do during a crisis such as the current pandemic. Lloyd Mathias, angel investor and former marketing head of HP Asia-PAC, was extremely critical of brands that sent out messages that were cheeky or smacked of opportunism.

As Praveen Rawal, head of Steelcase in India, pointed out, “Brands are trying to outdo their rivals on social media and in the process they are liable to dent the ‘connect’ that had been so carefully built in the past”. Refrain or restrain is what he felt could be a pretty sound brand strategy too for these times. However, in this hyper-connected world, brands are expected to be seen taking stances and connect with the target audiences in more ways than just delivering the brand promise. They have to strive to form emotional relationships with their consumers and with the society at large. And while the brands do so, they have to be honest, transparent and humble.

Sandip Ghose, COO, (Cement and Jute) Birla Corporation, added yet another dimension to this part by bringing in the concept of brands ‘creating an emotional surplus’. Ghose said that any engagement of the target audience with the brand should yield a positive emotional surplus for the brand. This is quite a task considering that brand custodians have to respond fast to situations in this fast-paced world. Perhaps the Asian Paints video, har ghar kuch khehta hai, where the lockdown situation is shown with positivity stands out and may qualify to be the one generating an emotional surplus.



The discussion rolled back to brands being ethical, genuine and humble in the way they approach issues and situations. Brands need to be seen as using their power to help people and society in whatever space they operate in. Efforts of brands such as Maruti Suzuki, which has put out videos and information on maintenance of cars during the lockdown, were cited as attempts towards strengthening that ‘connect’ with audiences. On the other hand, the finance sector brands came in for some flak and, as Sanjay Sarma, a brand communication and design consultant, pointed out, “these brands are not walking the talk”. He felt that if they were truly concerned about a customer’s financial well-being, then they should be putting out advisories on how to manage one’s finances and investments in these times. To which, Divya Sisodia, an advertising professional joining in from Toronto, added that all she sees on Indian banks’ websites is an update on how she can contribute money for this fight against Covid-19 and nothing on how she needs to handle her money. Surely, banks are missing a trick here.

People want to see the brands they connect with to use the power at their disposal to make a positive contribution to society. Knowing that the company or promoter of the brand cares to the extent of taking assertive action to help people is what strengthens the ‘brand connect’.

Giraj Sharma is founder of BehindTheMoon Consultants and curates M.A.D.D

Published on April 17, 2020

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