Grocery store shelves have been in the news a lot lately. They’ve become the star of countless COVID-19 headlines for good reason. They’re a source of comfort and relief as consumers stock their pantries and refrigerators with their favorite foods and drinks to prepare for mandated sheltering in place and quarantines. They’re also a source of stress and anxiety when found empty, in disarray and out of fan-favorites or other essentials.
As a result, the brands and companies behind the products on shelf are in a paramount position. They have a unique and fleeting opportunity to connect with consumers in a way that helps settle and bring them comfort – something much needed during a time when there are more questions than answers.
As brands take advantage of this opportunity to connect with consumers in a new way, it’s critical they tread lightly. There is heightened awareness about how to communicate – and there is a right and wrong way to do it. Following are a few guidelines for brands and communicators to consider as they decide how to engage with consumers during this time.
- Give Back. CPG food + beverage brands that have experienced a surge in sales as consumers stock their pantries can use funds and resources to support those who struggle. Brands that can do their part to give back, must do so with no strings attached. Whether consciously or not, consumers want brands to step up, and being a good corporate citizen during this global pandemic will have a lasting impact on how consumers think about and support brands in the future.
- Continue to Share Brand News, But Be Authentic. As food + beverage brands rethink their social media tone and content strategy to respect sensitivities, many use these channels to highlight scheduled product launches and find ways to relay their messages in an appropriate manner that is careful, considerate and relevant in today’s challenging environment. Brands looking to introduce new products or SKUs can still do so by leaning into a tone focused on bringing more lightness and brightness to the world, while also responding more directly to the pandemic and acknowledging the current issues the public faces.
- Encourage At-Home Brand Engagement. There is a tremendous uptick in sharing creative food dishes families make at home due to widespread social distancing recommendations. This introduces opportunities for food and drink brands to source creative recipes that tap into ingredients many already have at home and can test, create and enjoy. Consider leveraging a network of friendly social influencers who still develop unique content for their channels to help co-create these recipes and push out widely. Or consider taking it a step further and use social listening to identify consumers using your product and send out surprise-and-delight mailers with product to deepen the relationship.
- Over-Communicate. Consider leveraging social media to keep consumers up to date on product availability to combat disappointment at the shelf. Use this channel to share where and when product can be found. Or if possible, consider pivoting to direct-to-consumer product deliveries as needed, even if in a limited capacity.
While the COVID-19 situation evolves, consumers will continue to look to the brands they know and love to find comfort during a trying time. If done with a tone of empathy, humanity and understanding, brands can not only strengthen the bonds they have with current brand advocates, they can also connect with new consumers and make them customers for life.
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Cheryl Weissman brings 15 years of experience to Allison+Partners’ Consumer Brands practice and leads the agency’s food and beverage specialty. She is responsible for the strategic management of account teams within the category across the agency, supervising client activities, providing counsel and helping some of the world's leading food and beverage brands navigate the ever-changing world of public relations.