Top 10 Ways to Grow Your Brand During Crisis and Beyond

Hummingbird CreativeAdvertising & Marketing, Branding & Creative, Business Strategy, Graphic Design, Market Research, Social Media

“At a time when decision-making and the trade-offs of running a business are more challenging than ever, and the need for leaders to advocate for all stakeholders has never been more paramount, [we are] here to light the path forward.”

Apple or Berkshire Hathaway, reassuring investors? No—Fortune Magazine, soliciting subscribers… and offering to help.

As we experience a flood of crises—in public health, the economy and social justice—we can stand by and watch the rising water. Or we can lead the way to higher ground. On the other side of crisis, people will gravitate toward brands they’ve learned to trust. Brands that offered to help, that stayed true to values, that showed concern for their communities.

Marketing is a promotional transaction: “This is what my products and services will do for you. Come do business with me.” It’s what you say about yourself.

Branding is what others say about YOU. It can’t be bought or sold but…exhibiting a leadership position and brand differentiation can enhance your company’s value.

The other side of crisis is too late to stand tall, so we’re offering ways to grow your brand right now in four key areas: strategy, identity, awareness and loyalty. Brand is who you are. Even during tough times, you can BE—and grow—your brand.


1. Review Target Market and Positioning

Remember who you want to reach and what you want them to know about you. Compare Adidas and Nike, similar brands with similar markets. As COVID-19 shutdowns began, Nike led the way with broad, compassionate positioning: “Play inside, play for the world.” But Adidas chose not to close stores, telling its employees, “We have to keep the company going and open for business to pay our monthly bills and salaries to everyone.” A cringe-worthy, profit-first position that was reversed 24 hours later.

Nike has also done a good job with its “For once, DON’T do it” video in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Nike approaches its consumers, stakeholders and the world with consistent, stand-tall positioning.

2. Send the Right Message

As our public health crisis began, KFC’s “Drive-thrus open!” message was pretty meh; it said nothing about the brand. But Domino’s “contactless delivery” messaging and its ads with franchisees and workers sent brand messages of safety, care and hard work.

Tokyo 2020 branding will not change for the 2021 Olympic games. Some have slammed the decision, calling it a missed opportunity or just plain cheap. But the continuity in messaging honors athletes who worked hard toward 2020—and continue to work toward competing in 2021. We call it a smart decision.

3. Define New Niches

During a crisis, some verticals suffer, some do well. If you need to pivot to a new niche, get a subscription to solid industry and market research. Sit in on some webinars. Niches that have risen to the top this year include pharma, business process management and startups. If you can’t make a big shift, you could try a micro-pivot within your niche. For example, shifting from bars and nightclubs (shut down) to fast food restaurants (staying open with mobile takeout, and curbside and delivery services). Shifting away from gyms, toward running apparel. You get the picture.


4. Revisit Your Graphic Identity

You should review your graphic identity often, not just during a crisis. Last year saw a surge in new logo designs. Brands decided to go old school, reverting to one or two colors for a simpler graphic identity that was easy to read and didn’t fight with other elements on a webpage. Full color is being reserved for photography, backgrounds and transitions. If you find yourself with time on your hands right now, revisit your graphic identity.

5. Develop Brand Standards

Many businesses will get their logo done, maybe choose a font for headings… and then stall out. But there are many working parts to a graphic brand identity. You can get more sophisticated now by developing a style guide. Define fonts for different levels of headings and types of copy. Rethink logo colors (see #4) and backgrounds, icons and photos. Herban Kitchen’s brand book lays out a style guide, complete with brand mantra; let it be an inspiration!


6. Rethink Online Strategies and Tactics

If you’ve been racking your brains for social media posts—what could possibly catch people’s attention right now?—flip it around. Think strategy first, then let your tactics follow.

Thought leadership is strategic trend and a golden opportunity to help others during a crisis. Create a study… start a podcast… begin a conversation. Many people have been reluctant to take a stand on Black Lives Matter or COVID-19 for fear of saying the wrong thing. (See #1.) But people expect a lot from brands; dodging political corporate social responsibility (PCSR) can be seen as compliance with the status quo. If you’re not ready to declare yourself, at least think about where you stand.

Minefield alert: Companies that hastily jumped into social media’s BlackoutTuesday were criticized for a slacktivism that took attention away from BLM. Thought leadership should be… thoughtful.

7. Work with the Media

Pretty self-explanatory. If you’re doing something good, let the media know! A local award shop that starts producing face shields for frontline workers? That’s newsworthy. A vineyard that creates a new label with sales dedicated to coronavirus research? A cosmetics brand that makes grants to black-owned beauty businesses? Newsworthy.

8. Launch a New Product or Service

Now’s a good time to launch a new service, an online community, a podcast or a video blog. A lull in business-as-usual = opportunity. Entire companies have launched during downturns: Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Apple, Airbnb, Square… Not too shabby.

In early 2019, ahead of the curve, Dove’s Project #ShowUs began depicting women and their beauty in more inclusive ways. Much more recently, Hindustan Unilever (subsidiary of Unilever, parent company of Dove) decided to rename its Fair & Lovely skin-lightening cream, which came under fire for promoting negative stereotypes about darker skin. There’s a lot going on in the world that you can respond to!


9. Create WOW with Rituals that Build Brand Advocacy

Smart brands use rituals to create a sense of fellowship, fun and reassurance. Consumer brands are better known for this, but B2B brands also do it well.

  • Apple devotees have stood in long lines outside its stores and devoured “opening the box” videos for new products.
  • Yorkshire tea has created Zoom backgrounds for its fans.
  • Hummingbird hands out bells to new clients, who ring them to celebrate a win. (À la It’s a Wonderful Life.)

10. Engage and Ensure the Team

Internal teams are key to building brand loyalty, so take care of your teams! Online yoga classes and workouts that teams can do together… WalshTrivia games for a needed break during work hours… special-delivery gifts to employees who haven’t yet returned to work… Thoughtful touches like these let teams know they’re remembered and help build the same engagement and loyalty you nurture in customers.

Opinions differ on whether crisis will forever change the way we do business. But responding to crisis has already changed us, and since brand is who we are… We at Hummingbird think it’s up to us to adapt and grow our brand, even during tough, uncertain times. To adapt to new technologies and workarounds, to rethink and push out messaging in different ways, to lean into social changes. It’s up to us to light our own path forward.

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At Hummingbird Creative Group, we build business value through better branding. Contact us to find out how we can build your business’s value:

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