Staff Writer
Jun 23, 2020

Brands in a time of pandemic

The worst that a brand can do is stay silent during a pandemic. A look at how The Wall Street Journal | Barron’s Group is helping brands speak to their customers during unprecedented times.

Brands in a time of pandemic

While the question might have been ‘should we go dark or lean in’ during the early stages of the pandemic, the discussion has now pivoted to ‘how should we speak to your consumers in a compassionate way’ for many marketers.

With lockdown measures, news organisations have seen a spike in readership. The Wall Street Journal | Barron’s Group has, for example, noticed an explosion in subscribers across their publications.

There is no better time to capitalise on an engaged audience.

Marketers however, face another challenge: budget cuts.

While that’s understandable during a period of uncertainty, past studies indicate that blanket cuts to ad spend might do more harm than good.

According to a 2002 Thomas Kamber study, which looked at the performance of 822 firms over a six-year period, companies that sustained or increased advertising spending during the 1991 recession had a five-year sales growth — 25% higher than companies who did not.

The fact is, consumers do want to engage with brands during this period, with 92% saying they accept advertising provided that they weren’t exploitative, per a Kantar study. The same study finds that 74% do want to hear from helpful brands, with 72% feeling companies have a social responsibility to offer aid.

That said, the scrutiny to marketing spend is also very much a reality. In other words, how could marketers do more with less? There is no easy or one-stop solution, but one strategy among brands is the “shift from performance marketing to brand-building," noted Salman Tariq, client director, WSJ|BG during Campaign Connect, a two-day virtual festival organised by Campaign in early June.

He further said that the pandemic is the time for organisations to both build long-term associations and for marketers to proselytise the impact of new technologies.

The Trust, WSJ|BG’s intelligence-led consultancy, appears poised to help clients ride out these difficult times.

The Trust has always prided itself on delivering targeted and empathetic campaigns for clients. Its performance-led strategy had been in place since the beginning, but one that has risen in importance at a time of budget squeeze.

The Trust leverages proprietary insights, third party research to develop content and experiences that not only resonate but deliver, with its 100-strong content team, comprising editors, designers, video producers and more, complemented by its data solutions. While DJID is a patented taxonomy tool that gauges users’ intent, Safesuite is The Trust’s proprietary solution that uses context and sentiment analysis to assess if a brand’s messaging is suitable to be served alongside a piece of news content. Powered by first party data, Project Insite allows insights into what specific audiences are reading.

All of the above have allowed The Trust to adapt very quickly to changing situations, with regards to content, format or tone of voice.

Video  real-life or animated — remains one of the most powerful story-telling tools, but in the last few months, the team behind The Trust has also noticed a rise in demand for virtual events and podcasts.

The agility of WSJ|BG’s branded content unit is manifested in a series of videos for a cloud computing client. The original brief was to develop documentary style videos to explain the client’s offerings across financial services, healthcare, sports and media. When lock-down measures made that impossible, The Trust swapped that out for an animated series to promote the brand. The team also worked with the client to add ‘entertainment’ to the list of offerings due to the surge in streaming services and esports during this period. For another client, The Trust was supposed to launch a series of articles on an automotive festival in Europe. When the festival was replaced by a virtual event, The Trust pivoted its content strategy to a virtual interview series with the CEOs of luxury car manufacturers.

The Trust isn’t only doing good work for its clients  it is also helping to evolve WSJ|BG’s own content offerings. The Wall Street Journal Health Forum on March 24 drew more than 700 executives, investors and health professionals. Meanwhile, the company’s virtual event series, Next Wave: Respond & Thrive, featured such heavyweights as Sir Martin Sorrell, Harper Reed and Wesley ter Haar.

During these fast-changing times, those who succeed are saying ‘recovery isn’t good enough, we need to come up with future-proof solutions.’ As Tariq said, the company’s strategy isn’t just to provide short-term solutions “over the next six months...but show how we are going to be relevant to them two or three years down the line.”

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