As the battle with the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s essential that brands not only lean in but also make a shift to best connect with consumers. The good news is that underneath this pivot is a reinforcement of sound brand practices. Firms that apply the core tenets of brand—empathy, agility, and employee focus and purpose—will flourish during this moment of uncertainty and, ultimately, will win with consumers in the long run.


Show Empathy

Consumers’ circumstances have changed dramatically in a short period of time. Brands must be acutely aware of this shock to the system, exhibiting empathy and utility in fulfilling customer needs. People are seeking answers and looking for assistance from all types of entities, and smart brands are responding. Bank of America has agreed to allow qualified mortgage customers to defer payments for three months. USAA is offering customers impacted by COVID-19 special payment arrangements on policies. Disney is also answering the call, having brought Frozen 2 to Disney+ three months early for families seeking reliable family entertainment while sheltering in place.


Embrace Change

Brands need to be nimble, continually exploring new ways to engage customers and deliver value. As social distancing has gone into effect, physical experiences are being replaced with virtual ones. Wineries dependent on tourism-related DTC sales have made the pivot to think and act more like online brands. A near 50 percent drop in March tasting room sales was partially offset by a spike of more than 200 percent in ecommerce transactions. Whiskey clubs and wineries are finding new ways to attract and “meet” with customers from a distance, delivering virtual tours, online winemaker talks, and digital tastings for consumers.


Employees: A Priority

Now, more than ever, doing the right thing for employees will reap dividends for brand owners in the marketplace, in retention, and with engagement. Companies have recognized that employees with children need more flexibility when working from home. This acknowledgment of WFH challenges and the accommodation of daily routines has gone a long way to strengthen loyalty and foster camaraderie. Think of the internal goodwill and workforce dedication generated through Comcast’s commitment of $500 million to support employees with continued pay and benefits.


Purpose and Pragmatism

Organizations must have the stamina to activate their brand promise in meaningful ways at the risk of losing relevance or appearing tone-deaf. They need to keep their brand’s promise at the forefront as they deliver experiences for consumers in this challenging environment. Constellation Brands is making sizable contributions to bartender and restaurant employee relief funds, as are Delicato Family Wines, Diageo, and Pernod-Ricard. Another top wine producer, Trinchero Family Estates, donated funds to support children of food and beverage service employees.


Act Now for a Better Future

How brands respond today will not only influence consumers’ current brand impressions but also shape their future brand relationships once we emerge from the coronavirus crisis. This may be a time of unknowns, but customers will remember those brands that were there for them. With thoughtful insight, smart management, and sound investment, brand owners can make valuable contributions while also creating powerful consumer experiences. The result, a strengthened position on the brand landscape when we emerge into the light.

Here’s to preparing now for the better times that lie ahead.




As Executive Director, Strategy at Affinity Creative Group, Bob Kersten is responsible for leading strategic engagements for client programs as well as shaping the agency’s approach to brand development and management. His expertise includes strategy, experience design, naming and messaging, and brand transformation and activation across media. Connect with him at