The COVID-19 pandemic revealed who my (brand) friends were.
Note to readers: for the rest of this article, substitute the word “brand” every time you read “friend.”
Friends started coming out of the woodwork to “touch base,” as we went into work-from-home isolation. I was shocked that I had so many. Some I had not heard from in ages.
Over 350 friends contacted me -- and after seeing what they had to say, I’ve noticed there are three types of friends in a crisis. Each type sheds light on how brands should and should not act.
Type 1: The All-About-Me Friend
The vast majority wasted no time making this crisis all about them sharing what they were doing in response to the virus.
State Farm is very concerned and is doing its part; Enterprise Rent-a-Car is standing by helping doctors, nurses, and me with my mobility needs (that is, renting cars); Uniqlo is closing its stores but available online.
I had never had more than a transactional, skin-deep relationship with any of these friends. Yet here they were, clamoring to tell me how socially responsible they were. It was hard not to feel they were using the occasion of a global pandemic to insert themselves into the story.
Lesson 1: Before reaching out, think if the communication adds value to the consumer. This is not a time for a sales opportunity.
Type 2: The Helpful Friend
Without asking for anything in return, a handful of friends reached out to see if they could make my situation better. Rhone -- a friend all about active and healthy living -- sent me useful content, such as reading suggestions, in-home workouts, tips for adapting to working at home, and even shows to watch.
Some of my friends have pointedly tried to reduce anxiety. Two that serve my community -- Berkshire Bank and Rhinebeck Bank -- popped up to see what they could do in case I was feeling an economic pinch, such as offering to relax spending limits on cards and removing early withdrawal fees.
Lesson 2: If you want to reach out to consumers, make it about them. What can you do to help relieve their anxiety? They will remember who gave them support when the crisis ends.
Type 3: A Friend in Need
Friends that I typically count on are now showing how they rely on me. I got messages from my barbershop and from my dog walking service. These two came to me with a direct and heartfelt appeal.
They asked their supportive customers for financial help using creative solutions such as a GoFundMe page to help furloughed staff, or offering “virtual walks” to help part-time dog walkers.
I rely on these friends -- and I realize they depend on me, too. I’m happy can help them get through the uncertainty of this crisis, in the small ways that I can. What are friends for, after all?
Lesson 3: Your loyal customers are looking for ways to give back. Don’t be afraid to ask. Perhaps set up a foundation to accept donations for those impacted?
In times of crisis, people see who their true friends are. For brands looking to build strong relationships with customers, make sure you provide help and service, and aren’t just in it for yourself.