June 1, 2020

Why Brand Matters—Especially During Times of Crisis

Communication, branding, and messaging couldn’t be more important as we move to our “New Tomorrow”. Knowing what your audience wants to hear, being authentic, and setting the right tone are imperative. To help provide direction for your communications, Zoo Advisors interviewed Carolyn Bugg, Senior Director of Strategy at Monigle, an independent brand consultancy in Denver, CO. At Monigle and in previous roles, Carolyn provides insight to consumer and corporate brands across various industries.  

Zoo Advisors (ZA): Why does brand matter—especially during times of crisis?

Carolyn Bugg (CB): Today, more so than ever, people are craving a different connection with brands. They want interactions that are transformational, not just transactional. People want to feel an emotional, human connection with brands they choose to champion. They want to be moved. This is especially true for zoos and aquariums.

Creating and elevating an authentic, human brand is what is going to drive desired connections to and actions by guests. It’s important to remember that brands are made up of people who show up daily to contribute to the higher purpose of the organization. Celebrate your people and the role they play in bringing our brand to life. Your people are your brand and they matter—every day—but especially during these challenging times.

ZA: What’s the right messaging strategy as zoos and aquariums get back into the market and start to re-open?

CB: Messages are powerful. As zoos and aquariums start re-opening, setting the right tone—through voice and messaging—will be imperative. But to do this effectively, you must know your audience.

As you start to put messages out about re-opening, you need to ask yourself a few important questions:

  • What do your audiences need to hear from your brand right now?

  • Do your messages meet your audiences’ needs and concerns?

  • Is what you’re saying relevant and timely?

To create a human connection, communicate in a way that’s both authentic to your organization and resonates with your audiences. One way to dimensionalize your tone of voice is to think about your brand as a person.

  • How do you speak?

  • What words do you use?

  • What attitude do you convey?

  • How do you want people to feel when they hear from your brand?

Putting your audience first and speaking as a “real person” builds a roadmap to effectively communicate during these difficult times.

ZA: What “re-opening” messages should zoos and aquariums consider?

CB: One of the most critical messages to convey to audiences right now is safety. Monigle has conducted a number of proprietary research studies and the data shows the human impact of COVID-19 is tremendous. People are anxious and they’re concerned not only for their own health and well-being, but for that of their friends and family as well. As zoos and aquariums begin to re-open, it’ll be imperative to reassure people their safety is top-of-mind for you.

One way to help people feel safe coming back will be to provide detailed information about safety protocols and procedures using a straightforward, clear, and factual tone. Outline what your organization is doing to keep patrons and your staff safe and set clear expectations for your guests. Provide rationale for the decisions you’re making as a way to reinforce you’ve thought things through and have the best interest of your staff and your patrons in mind. Finally, offer proof-points and clear action steps. These will be key signals to consumers that it’s safe to come back and visit in person again.

During this time, it’ll be more important than ever to manage guest expectations. You must control the narrative and you must be transparent with what’s going on.

Reinforce the notion that this is a fluid situation. Explain you’re actively working to make the best, safest, and most informed decisions; that you’re committed to keeping the community and your guests abreast of new information as it comes. Consumers will be accepting of changing protocols and capacity restraints as long as they know in advance.

ZA: What might be the best ways to promote the message, especially considering limited resources? Any suggestions on how best to manage what will be a smaller marketing budget for the greatest impact?

CB: Embrace new digital behaviors. More so than ever, consumers are tuned into digital channels—especially social media. Continue to leverage owned assets such as Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and your website.

In addition to your digital assets, leverage your partners as a trusted source to help spread your message. Tapping into your AZA network, community leaders, and other cultural institutional peers is a simple, easy way to band together as a community to promote a shared message.

Finally, continue to give your leaders and your animal care staff a voice. They’re seen as the most trusted sources of advice regarding when it’s safe to return to zoos and aquariums and to deliver messages around continued animal care and safety for your staff. Leverage earned media relationships (interviews, local news sources) as well as owned sources to promote your message in effective yet more cost-efficient ways.

ZA: Where does the conservation message fit in as zoos and aquariums reengage with consumers?

CB: It’s important to remind people that conservation efforts didn’t stop because of COVID. Even while your physical locations may have been temporarily closed to the public, delivering exceptional animal care and conducting important conservation-related research, education, and outreach has continued.

Let people know you’re keeping positive momentum—even if the guests haven’t been able to see it in person. Show your staff and your organization doing their part to keep your animals safe and healthy. You’re still passionate and active in conducting highly important conservation efforts.

ZA: How can zoos best leverage the increased engagement they’ve been receiving on social media during the crisis?

CB: While this crisis has prevented people from physically enjoying zoos and aquariums, digital experiences during COVID have likely engaged new audiences. You’re growing your audience and building advocacy in the next generation of patrons and conservationists.

Don’t hit pause on digital engagements once things “get back to normal”. Continue to invest in your content calendar, digital events/experiences, and explore ways to integrate your digital world with your physical one. While the intensity of these digital experiences might not be the same as it was when your locations were closed to the public, it’s imperative to maintain consistent momentum and a positive cadence. This is an investment in future patrons, and you have a captive audience. Take advantage of it.

ZA: Thank you, Carolyn, for your time and perspectives. We hope you too will have the opportunity to visit your local zoo and aquarium when they re-open!

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