Winners at the 2019 Sunday Times Generation Next Awards. Picture: SUPPLIED
Winners at the 2019 Sunday Times Generation Next Awards. Picture: SUPPLIED

The crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity for brands to live their purpose. They need to manage their response to the crisis carefully if they hope to build brand loyalty during this period.

Communication is more important now than ever. The tone of communication needs to be empathetic, focusing less on self-promotion and more on how the brand is helping to make a positive difference. Get it wrong, and brands risk losing consumer loyalty.

Speaking at a Sunday Times Gen Next Financial Mail Redzone digital event, Bongani Chinkanda, CEO of HDI Youth Consultancy, said he was tired of hearing from brands about the need to stay at home and the fact that “we’re all in this together”. It was around a decade ago that Unilever first started talking about sustainability and leading the conversation about purpose-driven marketing, he pointed out, adding that millennials in particular prefer brands that have a social purpose and do good. But how exactly should brands be interacting with young people in particular during the lockdown, he asked a panel of young professionals.

These are unprecedented times, said Pat Mahlangu, MD of Paton Brands. Brands will be judged after this crisis on how they behaved and communicated during this period. Did they show consumers empathy, particularly given that many people won’t have earned a salary or will have had their incomes significantly reduced. Brands that are deemed to have profiteered or who have taken advantage of consumers during this period will face a backlash. This is not the time for brands to go quiet, he said. Instead, they need to show up and have a voice. Post the crisis, he added, brands will need to provide some light relief to consumers and should consider creating delightful experiences. Chicken Licken, he believes, is getting it right with relevant but entertaining content.

Many companies are very uncertain about the correct tone to adopt in their communications, pointed out Robynne de Waal, a graphic designer at Iconic Collective agency. Not every brand will be able to align its communication to Covid-19. Content should not be for the sake of it. What consumers want to know is that the brands they support care and have done something positive that makes a difference. Critically, every brand should have an online presence.

Asked whether alcohol brands have adopted an appropriate tone given government’s ban on the sale of their products during the lockdown, she said that in her opinion, these brands have responded appropriately.

While they have largely kept a low profile during the lockdown, those that have had a voice have used it properly. They include Carling Black Label, which chose to put out a message about gender-based violence.

Self-employed social media manager Pamela Mtanga said many brands have succeeded at purpose-driven marketing and have adapted their social media strategies to be appropriate for Covid-19. Tailored content during this period is imperative, she said. However, a brand’s communication must align with the brand and its purpose. It should come across as authentic. Brands that have been getting it right in recent weeks include Cosmopolitan and Metropolitan, she said.

The big take-out

Purpose-driven marketing, done authentically, is more important now than ever.

Asked how brands can leverage influencers at this time, Mtanga said brands need to use all forms of digital marketing now and not just influencer marketing. But she conceded that influencer marketing – or what she calls word-of-mouth that lives digitally – will continue to flourish. However, brands need to allow influencers to provide their followers with honest and authentic feedback, rather than dictating the tone of the feedback. Brands should be using more nano-influencers, she urged.

Consumers are hungry for content right now. They want to hear that brands care and how brands are making an effort to support people. But it is critical for brand communication to be authentic, she concluded.

For more information on the Sunday Times Gen Next Awards, click here.

For information on sponsorship and activation opportunities at the 2020 Sunday Times Gen Next Awards please contact Cortney Hoyland at


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