Making the emotional connection: Brand 101 for post-COVID life

June 2020

The last few months have been a bit crazy. Personally, I sort of put my head in the sand and ignored the overwhelming happenings of the outside world for a while, taking care of the craziness happening at home. Lockdown was definitely not the time to be mid bathroom renovation!

– Sarah Delany, Creative Director at Mount Deluxe

For many Kiwis, the past couple of months have proven to be a real trial. What’s dominated the conversation has been loss, or a lack, of something – finances, work, contact with friends and family, or emotional support. It’s left something of an anxious, uncertain gap. Looking back, especially now that we’ve handled the worst of COVID (touch wood), it’s been fascinating to see a whole bunch of brands try to fill that gap. And the results haven’t always been successful.

So, as we continue to move down alert levels and into whatever this new normal looks like (something I suspect won’t be too different from the ‘old normal’, let’s be honest!), what have we learned? What can your brand can do to fill the emotional gap – without fear mongering or exploiting your customers?

Connect with your audience: Kudos to The Engine Room

I can tell you now, the products aren’t the reason we return to the same shops or make the local bar the go-to. It’s the service, care, and connection.

What this crisis has reiterated is that the relationship between the client and the brand is everything. That’s how our favourite local restaurant proved why they’re our favourite over the lockdown. Despite the fact that they weren’t able to open for nearly five weeks, The Engine Room kept in touch with customers throughout. They shared their personal story and what they were up against, so that their customers could understand the real people that make their restaurant possible. We learned about how the business is family owned; they asked for suggestions for ways to improve. They laughed about the terrible luck of their coffee machine dying on the first day back. As we’ve followed their story, we’ve got to know the team who care so much about their people and customers.

They’re completely raw and authentic – and it’s paid off. As a result of their great comms work, Allpress Espresso jumped in to help them with another coffee machine and locals came out in droves to support The Engine Room. They’ve been able to build back up the business and see it through the tough times. That connection with their audience goes beyond serving great food and drink to customers – it’s a community of support.

Missing the mark in a big way: Wilson Parking

What worked with The Engine Room, and others like them, was seeing an opportunity to reach out to customers in a way that was genuine, honest, and built relationships. By comparison, Wilson Parking’s communications have made them seem short-sighted.

In a serious error in judgement, Wilson Parking thought it would be a good idea to see in Alert Level Two by suggesting people should “skip crowded public transport” to keep their bubble safe. While Wilson claims that their message is consistent with official recommendations to avoid crowded transportation, they’ve been called out for fearmongering and misleading the public into thinking that public transport is currently crowded (quite the opposite is true). It’s a case of seriously missing the mark.

I definitely wouldn’t want to be getting the media coverage they’ve been getting for it (the old adage ‘any publicity is good publicity’ isn’t always true) and it’s a great example of why you always need to look at any advertising from your audience’s perspective. Rather than seem genuine or showing some engagement with their audience, they’ve come across as opportunistic and lost some credibility.

The lessons: Don’t be afraid to go personal

Too often brands want to look bigger than they are – as if they have more sway and wider audiences. But right now, being personal works. Kiwis are keen to shop local, because they like supporting the people (and by extension the communities) they know, like and respect.

During this time, I truly believe that it’s the little businesses that have shone – and it’s the bigger brands who have struggled. Bigger brands have come across as being able to weather this crisis more easily, while the SMEs we love are putting in the extra miles and showing us why – and for whom – we should spend our dollars. So take your lessons from the smaller businesses – go personal, be authentic, and highlight the people behind your brand. Celebrate the local and your place in the community, and you’ll have customers flocking to you as someone who makes the unique, local experience possible.

Speaking of personal, a bit of personality wouldn’t go amiss! Now’s not the time to be super corporate or impersonal. Show us who it is we’re going to be seeing behind the counter or helping us make our decisions. Don’t be afraid to have a bit of humour or to be a bit different – it all helps you and your brand stand out and make people want to return. After all, it’s about building your brand’s reputation and the personality (or personalities) that keep the doors open.


Even though I reckon we’ve heard enough of the phrase ‘We’re in this together’, it has been pretty incredible to see the collaboration happening over this time – and my hope is that continues. One successful approach has been the ‘Together Today’ campaign that saw brands such as Zambesi, Karen Walker, Deadly Ponies, Barkers, and Kathryn Wilson come together to offer amazing one-off deals on Thursday 14 May to celebrate moving into alert level two and promote Kiwi businesses.

There’s huge potential for brands to collaborate and link up in the months to come, whether that’s through developing new offerings together, cross-promotion, or just shouting out when you think another brand’s done an awesome job (like in this great ‘Support Local’ video by Stanley St). It leverages multiple networks, and helps us acknowledge the companies doing good work during this time – and beyond.

Move beyond COVID

I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve all got a bit of COVID fatigue. I don’t need to be reminded every two seconds of it and really appreciate those brands starting to talk about other things (I do recognise the irony of saying that in this article…). So, now’s a great time to start to move your brand beyond the lockdown – to think about where you and your customers are heading and look towards the future.

Image credit: Facebook