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Establishing trust in periods of crisis

14 December 2020 | By Brandwell

6 Steps For a Successful Brand In a Changing Economy | Part 5

CAUTION: This article references the phrase “unprecedented times” which may be triggering for some readers. Brandwell does not support the overuse of this phrase for generic, meaningless marketing activities. Read on for how to avoid falling victim to this phrase.


As Australians suffered through the devastating fires at the beginning of the year followed by the introduction of COVID-19 soon after, there’s been no shortage of bumps in the road of 2020. With the pandemic and the climate emergency wreaking havoc on the best laid plans, businesses have been forced to review their ‘business as usual’ marketing strategies on the fly.

Brands across all industries and sectors- from cars to confectionary- trotted out the phrase “we’re here for you” like a choir all singing the same dull note. Businesses clamoured for relevance as consumers tuned out, numbed by higher priorities, changing lifestyle needs and a shifting perspective.

The fact of the matter is that in a crisis is not just another marketing challenge to overcome or an opportunity for profit, it’s a real human experience. So rather than focusing on driving your business agenda forward, think of it as a time to maintain the existing connections you already have and future-proof your business.

If we’ve learnt anything from this time is that sometimes saying nothing is sometimes better than saying the wrong thing. This is because consumer trust takes a lot of work to earn but only seconds to lose. In order to steer clear of that fate, we’ve pulled together the four most common ways that customer trust can be eroded to help you avoid any brand marketing blunders in the midst of a crisis.

Things that erode brand trust

  1. Virtue signalling:
    Whether it’s choosing your footy team by the ladder or creating content based on the news headlines, jumping on the bandwagon last minute demonstrates a reactive mindset, not a tactical, responsive one. For example, celebrating Earth Hour but then not taking the steps to address your business’ carbon footprint suggests that you’re more concerned with the perception rather than the reality. To avoid virtue signalling, first consider how these themes, events or causes can be meaningfully integrated into your business structure and brand values, not just your marketing to avoid tokenising important issues for commercial gain. Savvy customers respect integrity so don’t compromise yours just for appearances.

  2. Sweeping generalisations:
    To have gotten this far into the article without using the most popular phrase of 2020 is quite a feat but it’s time to talk about the well-worn phrase “unprecedented times”. Not only is the term kind of untrue given that history and science suggested we were perhaps overdue for a bout of global havoc, but it quickly lost it’s potency through ubiquity. The ones that got away with using it made sure to validate their reassuring message with tangible assistance such as paused mortgage repayments, reduced insurance premiums or even as simple as free shipping. Create cut-through by providing specific, targeted assistance for your current customers rather than intangible, sweeping generalisations such as “we’re here for you”.

  3. Pushy sales pitch:
    No matter how you spin it, it’s always going to be a hard sell to shell out cars to a population that isn’t able to travel beyond 5km of their home but that didn’t stop them trying. In situations such as this, sales-driven tactics are not just a waste of marketing spend but it’s also tactless and tone deaf. There’s a time and a place for sales campaigns but a crisis is not one. Avoid ‘calls to action’ that promote sales and instead focus on brand awareness through content or resources that add value to the customer’s current lived experience. Coming on too strong when someone isn’t in a position to purchase creates a negative association that may put them off your brand. You may not feel like you’re making ground right now but at least you’re not scaring them off for opportunities later- play the long game.

  4. Inauthentic messaging:
    When every brand and it’s dog rolls out the stock standard covid-response video from a previously invisible CMO or CEO, Westpac proved themselves king of corporate marketing by rerunning a campaign bookended with a brief acknowledgement of the pandemic. The fact that the campaign was still relevant stood testament to their long-standing support of Australians for a message that felt authentic, sincere and appropriate. In contrast, the vast majority of corporate ads felt stale, contrived and generic as an insincere attempt to convince customers (but probably mostly themselves) that everything would be ok. Westpac nailed it by drawing on long-standing values and repurposing a memorable and effective campaign- how refreshing.

A crisis is not the time to gain or grow but establish your business by affirming your positioning. Rather than focusing on building trust or attracting new customers, doubling down on your existing customers ensures you’ll come out of periods of disruption no worse off than you went in. Avoid the reactive, generalised and off-brand marketing campaigns that erode trust and instead check back in with your brand strategy and values. So when the next “unprecedented” event happens you’ll have a resilient business that can ride out of the waves of whatever happens next.

Give us a shout if you’d like some help on brand strategy going into 2021- just don’t mention the word “pivot” or “unprecedented”- we’re leaving the 2020 jargon behind us. 

Brandwell – Creative Branding Agency Melbourne


Stay tuned for the final instalment over our 6 part series as we dive deeper into the do’s and don’ts of communicating with your customers.