Consumers are putting brands on notice over coronavirus behaviour, study finds

Special edition of Edelman Trust Barometer found consumers want brands to act differently during crisis.

O'Neills: one brand switching manufacturing capacity to help with pandemic (Getty Images)
O'Neills: one brand switching manufacturing capacity to help with pandemic (Getty Images)

Brands' actions during the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on future purchasing behaviour for consumers, according to a special edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Consumers are demanding that brands act and communicate differently during the Covid-19 crisis, with nearly two-thirds (65%) saying how brands respond to the pandemic will have a "huge impact" on their likelihood to buy their products.

This was a key finding of a poll of 12,000 people of the world’s leading economies last week by Edelman in a special coronavirus-related edition of its regular Trust Barometer.

One in three respondents said they had already stopped using a brand that was not acting appropriately in response to the public-health crisis – a figure that rose to 76% of consumers in Brazil and 60% in India.

Globally, 62% of consumers said they did not think their country would make it through the crisis without brands playing a "critical role" in the fight against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, 90% wanted brands to partner government and relief agencies to address the outbreak.

The first thing that consumers demand of companies is for them to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees, even if it means suffering big financial losses. Fifty-two per cent of participants said brands "must" do this to earn or keep their trust, while 38% said they "hoped" brands would do this.

Secondly, 89% said brands should shift to producing items that help people meet the new challenges presented by the virus and/or offer free or lower-priced products to health workers and other high-risk individuals.

In recent weeks, companies such as LVMH have switched at least part of their production capacity to making hand sanitisers, while seven UK-based Formula One motor-racing teams, including Mercedes-AMG Petronas, have switched to engineering breathing aids as part of Project Pitlane. The F1 project is itself part of a UK industry-wide effort to make respiratory devices to help meet the national need.

In terms of communications, about 90% of customers expect brands to keep the public fully informed of changes to how they are now behaving and operating.

Eighty-four per cent of respondents now expect businesses to focus advertising on how products and services can help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges, while the vast majority expect brands to show they are aware of the crisis and its impact. Interestingly, 57% advised against advertising or comms that is too humorous or light-hearted in tone.

As for channels of communication, consumers prefer brands to communicate virus-related issues via traditional media (45%) or email (42%), rather than social media (19-31%).

Edelman carried out the research between 23 and 26 March in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the US, with 1,000 responses collected in each country.

The PR network recommended that brands should "show up and do their part, but not act alone. Brands should solve, not sell. They should communicate with emotion, compassion and facts."

A version of this story first appeared on PRWeek

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