COVID-19 Being a helping brand

Being a "helping brand" in hard times

Some thoughts on brand-building in the time of COVID-19

Being a "helping brand" in hard times

In uncertain times like now, “brand building” (at least, the way we typically think about it) can easily be tone-deaf. It can reek of selfishness. And it just plain isn’t likely to work.

Overt selling will work even less well.

We know this, right? But we don’t know what else to do. We still need to be visible. We still need to sell our products and build equity for future sales. We still need to do our jobs.

For decades, RPA has helped our clients grow through what’s proven to be a timeless perspective — People First. This guiding philosophy helps us help our clients make smart decisions, even when (and perhaps especially when) times are tough.

It’s as simple and complex as this — we must empathize with people and understand their behavior. And that must influence every decision we make.

Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, and the answers become clear. People are confused, fearful, frustrated and nervous. Many have lost jobs or are fearful they will. They have much more free time than they’re used to. Schedules are out the window. Self-discipline is all over the place. Many are frustrated they can’t be around other people. Some are feeling cripplingly lonely.

So, whatever it is that brands are selling — with the notable exception of toilet paper — people probably don’t care very much about it right now.

Unless you can help. If you can help, then people do care.

In keeping with our People First philosophy, RPA’s perspective on how to survive (and hopefully thrive) can be summarized this way: Be a Helping Brand.

Research across several industries indicates helpfulness is the leading contributor to brand trust. This is even more true right now. A recent article from World Advertising Research Council suggests, “Brands that want to build trust and equity for the longer term could thus benefit from demonstrating their concern for people’s everyday needs in tangible ways.”

People are already inundated with brands telling them they care and that times are tough. That’s not helpful. Telling people that you care isn’t the same thing as showing you care.

So, here are three initial ways to think about it doing just that:


We’re seeing many businesses shift how they operate in order to be helpful. Perfume-makers have reworked their factories to make hand sanitizer instead. Drive-thru windows might soon double as testing places (assuming we ever get a decent supply of tests).

And, of course, when the business itself is doing something helpful, there’s an opportunity to highlight and amplify what they're doing with paid media.



Every brand has a unique set of resources and connections that could be leveraged in creative ways to add value to people, communities or other businesses in need.

Insurance companies have networks of agents — how could we mobilize them in a helpful way? Car dealerships often have big, open lots — could we host testing pop-ups or open-air markets temporarily?



You don’t want to disappear, but you don’t want to be tone-deaf and act like everything’s hunky-dory either. So, think about how the advertising itself might be helpful to your audience. Can it teach? Inspire? Help people relax? Connect people with other resources?  

Another reason this approach is worth considering is because marketing teams aren't aren’t always easily able to influence the core business operations or other departments. As brilliant as our ideas are that fundamentally alter the way brands are doing business, the folks who would have to implement those ideas are busy dealing with their own headaches.


Importantly, across all these approaches, creativity is still vital. Being the 253rd brand to show people how to properly wash their hands isn’t helpful. And the bar is higher than ever, because people are quickly becoming exhausted of talking about all this. They need solutions that nobody else is doing or thinking about.  

And also vitally, the opportunities to be helpful need to match your brand. Does it feel like a valid place for the brand to be — or does it risk coming across opportunistic or false?

When we provide real value, we are building brands and giving people a reason to buy from us now and in the future.

So, how can we help our clients be helpful?

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