The consumer landscape is always changing which is why a flexible yet focused marketing plan will yield the best results. Even beyond a change in trends or an uptick in popularity, larger movements or crises can take brands by surprise and demand a shift in their messaging efforts. Turning a blind eye to your consumer needs is perilous, as a shift in desires or values is a key indicator that your followers are moving with the times, and more than likely, they are demanding that their favorite brands lead the way.

Keeping it simple

It’s not always about filling your consumers’ feeds with lengthy and wordy messages regarding current events. Sometimes the simplest message can be the most effective. Take Coca Cola’s ad in New York’s Times Square as an example of simplicity. Their ad featured their logo, with the letters spread out, to promote the message of social distancing during the pandemic. The message read, “Staying apart is the best way to stay connected.” Notice that the ad only featured their tweaked logo, staying within their branded colors, and a simple message that doesn’t refer to coronavirus directly. The simplicity behind this ad is what makes it effective, yet meaningful. It also is such an ironic juxtaposition that the ad is only running in one of the busiest parts of the world.

Losing the fluff

Another simple, yet powerful, message recently came from Nike. The sportswear brand didn’t need a cool drone shot or a celebrity voice to capture a video that captures the moment. The video ad featured straightforward copy in black and white using the phrase “For once, don’t do it” as a play on their slogan, “Just do it.” Its call-to-action is simple: to be part of the change and fight against racism. Nike didn’t have to mention George Floyd’s name or delve any deeper into the issue to make their position known. Brands are breaking processes just to get ads out there, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Fluffy language doesn’t belong right now; direct and sincere copy will have the same, if not more, of an impact on consumers. Your followers don’t want a lot of noise or distractions. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to be there.

Pairing it with action

Words are not enough. Messaging must be followed by action. The Covid-19 pandemic and the protests against racism are impacting consumers on many levels. In regards to the anti-racism movement in response to George Floyd’s death, a blacked out square on your Instagram and a group of words just won’t do it. The Bachelor announced that they will have a black male lead for the first time in their television history. Companies such as Nike, Twitter, and Vox Media have officially made Juneteenth an observed company holiday. Country group Lady Antebellum has changed their name to Lady A, in response to fans’ requests. A new social campaign called #ShareThe MicNow is giving black activists the chance to speak out on social accounts of famous people like Julia Roberts and Elizabeth Warren, for example. What is your brand doing to back up that social content that you post? Action is a message that will always resonate with your audience.

Limiting humor

While it may be tempting to throw in a joke to lighten the spirits of your audience, humor may not be what your followers are looking for right now. When a furniture company sends you an email promoting “the perfect WFH desk,” they are dancing on that line of insensitive promotion and helping their consumers. According to Time Magazine, Coors Light planned to run a campaign during what would have been March Madness, touting itself as “The Official Beer of ‘Working’ Remotely.” Even though millions of people are working remotely, the brand decided not to air the campaign, out of a fear of appearing insensitive. “Humor is just not something that’s really resonating with people right now,” says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for San Francisco-based ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners. It’s tricky when circumstances widely vary; a slightly humorous message might be just what one consumer needs, while it could offend another.

Being consistent

Consumers aren’t looking for their favorite brands to jump on the bandwagon for the moment and they aren’t impressed by a one-time action with no follow-up. Followers are looking for authenticity and consistency when it comes to messaging regarding the coronavirus, anti-racism, or any other movement or crisis that arises. Ben & Jerry’s has operated as a purpose-driven company before #BlackLivesMatter, and also became a Certified B Corporation in 2012, which makes customers really believe in their current messaging. In their “Silence is not an option” message, Ben & Jerry’s gives four calls to action, reflecting its decades of advocacy work, which they followed-up with “12 Ways You Can Help Eradicate White Supremacy.” Your brand’s messaging should not only reflect your current advocacy or supportive efforts, but you should also think about how you’re going to continue your work in the future. Your followers will want to hear about how your efforts will not stop once the protests stop, and Ben & Jerry’s is absolutely focused on that goal.

There is an overlap between doing good and looking good. You can still drive revenue growth and remain sensitive. You can still sell your products and services while fighting for change. A title of a Time Magazine article captures the issue succinctly: “Companies are going to be walking a tightrope.” Brands of all types are being forced to make judgement calls, and while brands around the world are responding, their actions and messages remain under high scrutiny and are not all well-received. Reflecting everyday life while still being sensitive to issues, while also continuing to promote your brand without being overly promotional (whew!), is a delicate balance. How are you altering your messaging to keep up with the social and health issues that are the most important to your community?