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Major brands must behave in a positive manner during the COVID-19 crisis in order to shape future customer loyalty, says marketing professor Mark Mayer.

Brands are attempting to continue daily operations during the pandemic, but these corporations must remember that once the economy reopens for business, consumers will remember their crisis management, said Mayer, an assistant professor of marketing in the Miller College of Business at Ball State.

He speaks from experience. Prior to starting a career in academia, he was a brand manager at Kraft Foods and at Wyeth Healthcare. His brands included Planters Nuts, Nabisco new products, and Advil.

Mayer offers five pieces of advice for brand teams during the COVID-19 crisis.

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1. Be authentic.

Brands play an important role in people’s lives right now, but if your brand image, brand personality, product category, etc. doesn’t really fit with a message about the pandemic, don’t try to move brand positioning or messaging there.

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2. Be steady.

Consumers have a whole lot of change going on right now, and most of it isn’t good. They don’t need confusing messages from brands, or dramatic changes to attributes such as logos, slogans, or package design. They need consistency.

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3. Spend.

If sales are down, there’s often a temptation to cut marketing costs, but this isn’t the time to go silent. Your customers are consuming media right now, and they are seeing your competitors’ messages.

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4. Find your target audience.

COVID-19 is a worldwide pandemic, and it’s very likely that your customers’ lives have changed substantially, regardless of where they are. That means that the advertising media they are putting their eyes on have changed as well.

As much as possible, work with advertising agencies and media placement agencies to switch out media plans in the short term (through the summer at least).

Platforms such as billboard advertising, out-of-home, etc. simply won’t work. Move those dollars to media that will work for you, such as digital, television, etc.

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5. Avoid messaging disasters.

It’s not the time for shock, fear, dark humor, etc. regardless of your brand positioning and/or consumer target. It’s time to be careful.

Internet usage is up — people are living more of their lives online — and a tone-deaf Twitter response, mocking customers, etc. might turn into a huge backlash and extremely quickly. So, don’t quit being creative and fun — your consumers need diversions right now — but definitely think before you post or place.

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