For countless brands and influencers in China and around the world, any brand communication plans that were in the works prior to the coronavirus outbreak came to a grinding halt. With the economy at a standstill, consumers staying at home, and companies concerned for their employees’ safety across their entire supply chain, brands have had to vastly improvise their communication strategies—and fast. With digital now the primary mode of engagement, brands are speaking to a customer working away from the office, feeling fearful, anxious, and stressed, faced with job loss and new financial burdens, and an uncertain future.
Below, we’ve highlighted four brand communication strategies used in response to this new normal and looked at the reasons why these moves likely won’t be going anywhere once the pandemic is over.
Four Brand Communication Case Studies
Nike Training Club
In the eyes of activewear brand Nike, quarantine life should be anything but sedentary. That’s why Nike opened up its premium subscription workout app to all of its followers in the U.S. and China. Using the hashtags #playinside and #playfortheworld in the U.S., Nike made available its repertoire of training programs from master coaches, which included workouts and yoga, in addition to advice and guidance on nutrition, exercise recovery and sleep. According to Bloomberg Business, Nike’s approach seemed to have some effect on its recovery in China—weekly active users of its workout apps rose 80 percent, buoying digital sales of its gear by more than 30 percent. The company was just one in a slew of fitness influencers and gyms that adopted a similar strategy, but brand recognition was likely a decisive factor helping Nike to stand out from the pack.
Why it’s here to stay: Though technically this programming was already available to premium subscribers, it’s likely that Nike and brands as it will continue to offer at least teasers of its training sessions to add value to its content going forward. Even after the coronavirus pandemic ends, it will be hard for consumers to forget just how much health and safety are a priority, more than ever before. Nike’s brand communication strategy provides a level of engagement and community that is crucial during a period of uncertainty and instability, but it’s a formula that tends to work no matter the circumstances.
Follain’s Live Programming
In the U.S., clean beauty brand Follain has been offering its lineup of cruelty-free makeup and skincare products since 2013, with six brick-and-mortar stores across the country. In that time, the brand’s Instagram feed has mostly comprised a mixture of informative posts about skincare ingredients, memes, inspirational imagery and product introductions—at least, until March 18, when the company announced a line-up of “Virtual Hangouts” on Instagram Live. When the business announced its stores would close just days earlier, Follain founder Tara Foley initially promised customers that team members would be available for online chat as well as virtual 30-minute consultations, but this soon opened up into a jam-packed calendar of online programming. Their schedule was not limited to beauty tips and tricks, instead featuring live interviews with fellow lifestyle brand founders and thought leaders on managing life during the lockdown. Shows included guided meditation hosted by Alice Hu, the founder of Woo Woo Company, nutrition, and meal planning tips for boosting immunity, non-toxic house cleaning with author and blogger Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, and virtual date night makeup tips with clean makeup artist Tara Vaccaro.
Why it’s here to stay:
Beauty brands no doubt often work with KOLs to deliver messaging around their products, from reviews and tutorials to makeovers and explainers. But Follain opted to take this opportunity to add value for its customers that connect with them beyond the particular products they’re selling—almost as if they were a KOL themselves. Months down the road, consumers will still remember these value-adds and life lessons gleaned from the time spent with the brand, and Follain will likely continue to build this bond with their customers by continuing to run shows either online or offline. Holistic wellness, in particular, has been at the top of consumers’ minds even before the pandemic, and countless brands and retailers are finding ways to provide wellness as a service to their customers beyond their usual product offerings. Thus, Follain’s brand communication strategy is one beauty brands anywhere can learn from and build on.
Net-A-Porter’s Virtual Outfits
While consumers around the world are sitting at home gaming, luxury fashion retailer Net-A-Porter saw an opportunity to make itself part of their virtual world. On March 20, Nintendo released a new game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which became an immediate hit. According to Jing Daily, Net-A-Porter linked up with local Chinese designers to create skins for users’ avatars, becoming the first company in China to do so. Designers Shushu/Tong, Short Sentence, Calvin Luo, Marchen, and staff-only all participated in the project, which, of course, gave players the opportunity to purchase real-life versions of their clothing on Tmall.
Why it’s here to stay: While it’s unclear if Net-A-Porter planned this collaboration prior to the pandemic, its timing couldn’t have been better considering that spending on video games has surged amid the quarantine. In China, for example, net sales of mobile games increased by 32 percent in the first week of February alone, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence review of data by the San Francisco-based company Sensor Tower. Gaming and luxury fashion crossovers are picking up steam as brands recognize the brand communication opportunities gaming presents for engaging with Gen Z, and it’s certain that new creative collaborations will continue to thrive going forward.
Madewell’s Sunday Suppers and Digital Concerts
The denim-turned-clothing retailer from parent company J. Crew has got in-store engagement down pat, hosting frequent workshops, demonstrations, and parties for its “insider” loyalty crew. However, all that came to an abrupt halt when stores were forced to close across the U.S. in March. Madewell swiftly took its activities online and even expanded its reach to stay relevant to the moment. In early April, they introduced Sunday Suppers, where they enlisted food experts from the New York Times and other media outlets to share comforting recipes for quarantine times. And in addition to its wellness and nutrition content created in collaboration with popular influencers, the brand has invited numerous guest musicians to perform live for customers on its Instagram feed—each wearing shoppable Madewell merch, of course.
Why it’s here to stay: Madewell, like many Western and Chinese retailers across China, prioritizes offline interactivity to boost customer experience, but the circumstances of the pandemic helped the brand create dynamic content available to its digital shopper at the drop of a hat. Brands that want to make a lasting impression with mobile-first consumers will need to find ways to do brand communication, and create engaging online entertainment that delivers a memorable brand story and makes their customers feel part of a tribe. Companies like Madewell, who harnessed their digital platforms while they had everyone’s attention, will likely want to keep the momentum going long after quarantine is over.