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THE VALUE OF HUMAN MARKETING DURING COVID-19

Cassandra Laffey

Senior Writer

Australia’s most trusted brands during the COVID-19 lockdown period were Bunnings, Aldi, Woolworths and Coles, according to a Roy Morgan Risk Monitor report in May 2020.

Let’s unpack why these retail brands made the top four.

It’s simple; these brands considered the customer first, creating a human connection. Instead of empty sentiments, they offered innovative solutions. They demonstrated empathy and got personal, seeking to address real needs during the COVID-19 crisis and connect with their customers.

During the initial stages of the pandemic, the emails that flooded into our collective inboxes were almost identical, using platitudes such as “In these unprecedented times”, “Your health and safety is our main concern”, “We’re all in this together”.

Blah, blah and blah.

In fact, string all those generic phrases together and you too can draft your own COVID-19 brand-centric response.

We heard from companies we hadn’t interacted with or visited since 2009 (hello, one-time online purchase!) via automated eDMs sent to reassure consumers ‘we’re here for you’.

But during the panic-buying meltdowns and stress of lockdown, these bland platitudes and identikit messaging failed to address the real concerns of consumers who wanted practical information and relevant interaction from brands.

Consumers are increasingly loyal to brands that align with their values. Companies that connect with customers on an authentic, emotional level and demonstrate empathy are the ones that will emerge from times of crisis as trusted brands.

Bunnings was named Australia’s most trusted brand during isolation, praised for its innovative delivery and collection services and fast-tracked digital transformation. Sales increased 19.2 per cent year on year during the lockdown period as people spent more time at home working on DIY projects.

Supermarket retailers Aldi, Woolworths and Coles also responded quickly to demand and panic buying during COVID-19 by keeping stores open, being transparent about supply chain issues and building trust by providing structure and consistency to customers during uncertain times.

The supermarket chains were also widely lauded for making good on their corporate social responsibility principles, caring for vulnerable members of the community by implementing new procedures.

Following a plea from The Sunday Project presenter Lisa Wilkinson after panic-buying brawls, Woolworths was the first retailer to respond to public feedback and impose quantity restrictions on necessities and introduce a community hour for the elderly, people with disabilities and essential workers to shop, with Coles and Aldi following suit.

Brands that do the right thing by their staff and suppliers also earned the trust and support of shoppers. Qantas, which came in at number six in the Roy Morgan Risk Monitor report, was recognised for arranging stood-down baggage handlers to work as shelf packers at Woolworths, while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s decision to allow staff at Twitter and Square globally to keep working from home forever has also been widely praised.

That’s not to say brands aren’t fallible. Human brands are only human, after all, and make mistakes. The difference is being authentic and transparent with your customers, to own your missteps publicly and avoid virtue signalling and replace with meaningful conversations that align with brand values.

Brands that show their humanity will be remembered for all the right reasons.