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  • Isha King

Brand Communication in Crisis: Why It Matters

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Getting way too many emails from way too many brands isn’t a new phenomenon. We’ve been feverishly unsubscribing from mailing lists and insta-muting overactive brands for a while now, but the communications keep coming. The problem is, the more brands try to break through the marketing clutter, the more clutter there is.

Now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic (yes, it's still happening).

We might be farther from one another at the moment but one thing that it seems a lot of us have in common is that our inboxes are full to the brim with email after email from every brand we’ve ever bought something from (or every restaurant we’ve ever eaten at, everywhere we’ve ever worked out, you know what I’m talking about).

Brands droning on and on and rolling out what seems like the exact same carbon-copy COVID-19 response email in March/April of this year is part of what, for me, made really unique brand communications stand out. But I’ll be honest, there haven’t been that many examples to choose from.

Reformation was the first brand that really struck me. They've maintained a thorough, regularly updated COVID-19 response page, but that’s not what made me take notice. Instead of the cookie-cutter “virus response” e-mails that I had grown used to ignoring by mid-March,

Reformation reached out and asked its mailing list how they wanted the brand to communicate with them going forward.

Maybe that’s what made this particular message more powerful to me – Reformation didn’t have to, but they put the choice into our hands at a time when just about everyone is feeling pretty powerless. It was nicely done, I thought.

That is, until June, when Reformation employees outed founder and former CEO Yael Aflalo for racism on a personal and systemic level within the company. Suddenly, a brand that I had been impressed with was shown to be just another brand jumping on the COVID-19 response bandwagon (we make masks now, weeeee!). An ethical initiative isn't genuinely ethical if it's only done for PR purposes while simultaneously ignoring the firm's built in power structures that disadvantage minority groups.

There’s also the matter of brands putting money where their mouths are, if you know what I mean. Kind words tend have a lot more meaning when they have a dollar value. Another Californian brand, Gorjana, offered 20% off site-wide to healthcare workers and first responders during peak lockdown. Yes, a site-wide discount would've been relatively easy to execute and might not actually have cost the brand anything, but

something simple like this shows us that there are people behind the brand who care.

You’ve also got brands like Everlane, whose entire image is built around ethics and sustainability, being publicly outed for having allegedly illegally laid off unionized employees while continuing to post all over social about new arrivals as though nothing was going on. Doesn’t sit right, does it?

I think specifically the callouts of Reformation and Everlane hit particularly hard because sustainability and ethics are so intrinsically linked. It really feels like a betrayal of consumer values for 'sustainable' brands to be shown to have unethical practices throughout their business.

The thing is – we know that brands sell more and build a following faster when they seem like they’re people. When they have ‘personalities’ so to speak. So, in a time as tumultuous as 2020, brands have to communicate and operate with the same empathy and consideration that we’re all trying to give to each other.

This is what breaks through the clutter and leads us to actually opening that email, watching that story, reading that post, making that purchase.

I think it’s pretty fair to say that brands right now are uncertain, just like the rest of us. The fashion brands you’re following might seem cool, calm, and collected at the moment, but really they’re all scrambling to figure out the best way to maintain communication and interaction with us in a meaningful way while fashion sales take their biggest hit in the 21st century. That’s why they won’t get out of your inbox or off of your feed. They’re begging you to still care about them after all of this is over.

At the same time, crisis communication itself is becoming clutter on our feeds. I'm bored of fashion brands deciding to mass-produce masks. It's almost an impossible choice for brands - they need to respond to the crisis in order to remain interesting and to be perceived as a good corporate citizen, but how do you do this in a way that's meaningful and innovative? Dunno.

I think the point of this is that the world isn’t going to be the same when we come out of 2020. Fashion brands, being in what is already a rapidly changing industry, are going to be on the front line of having to adapt to this brave new world we stumble into on the other side of COVID-19. The rest of us, as shoppers, have a great opportunity here to support the brands that are supporting us – and maybe not support the ones who aren’t.

Thoughts on this? Send us a message!

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