The unexpected rapid outbreak of COVID-19 created a large gap of uncertainty across the globe. Consumers were introduced to new daily problems, such as maintaining a work-life balance with the remote lifestyle, anxiety induced by the pandemic, having the proper supplies to continue a somewhat normal life, and understanding which information to follow. These changes created an unprecedented gap in how brands and organizations engage with consumers and, as a result, created a need for innovative solutions created using human-centered design thinking.
Human-Centered Design Thinking: The Value of Empathy
During times of crisis, empathy is more important than ever. Brands can show their understanding by communicating clearly and consistently their actions to adapt to changes brought on by the crisis. Messaging should be authentic, consistent across all channels and aligned with consumer needs.
Coca Cola, for example, has a mission to bring people together. As social distancing became a requirement across the globe, they realized that messaging needed to evolve to fit the situation. Rather than going silent, they adapted and shared “Staying apart is the best way to stay united.” on a Times Square billboard. This updated message was not only a great branding solution, but it also encouraged social distancing and sent an uplifting message to one of the hardest hit cities in the US.
The Importance of Trust
Trust is at risk during a crisis like COVID-19. With increased uncertainty and the lack of knowledge a crisis brings, consumers struggle to find information they can rely on. While brands may not be able to solve everything, there are simple things they can do to help alleviate consumer concerns. During times like these, brands and retailers need to clearly articulate any changes they’re making to how they do business. For example, how their return and exchange policies will be impacted, their new delivery and in-store procedures, and how they are keeping their workers and supply chains safe and healthy.
Target added a webpage to their website dedicated to their commitment to improve the consumer experience during COVID. This includes their goal, the measures they are taking to prevent virus transmission in their stores, and blog posts that share recent activity on how they are improving local communities.
Find Ways to Provide Value
Being authentic and providing value is important at any time, but even more so during times of crisis, such as COVID-19. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it can also be beneficial for brands. During stressful times, many consumers forgo brand loyalty as essentials tend to be sold out. Brands and retailers who are able to provide value to consumers, either through how they communicate, offering news goods/services, or through supporting their community will reach and win consumers who they may not typically be able to reach.
Sweetgreen did a great job with this earlier this year when they announced that they would be providing free meals to front-line workers during the pandemic. Spectrum announced that they would be offering free internet services to families with K-12 students to help them access online learning. If consumers learn that a brand is supporting their loved ones, they are more inclined to convert their loyalties to show their appreciation.
Embracing a human-first yet structured approach can help improve the efficiency of producing solutions in a timely and effective manner during the relevancy of COVID. It’s critical to be forward thinking as the problems created during the outbreak will change the needs of our users tomorrow. Utilize this variable state to your advantage by understanding your organization’s flexibility with rapidly changing needs that are calling for innovative and creative human-centric solutions.
Contributions by Sara Morris and Shatakshi Shekhar.