The pandemic is completely uncharted territory for us. Sure, we’ve lived through some significant events over the past few decades, but COVID-19 has upended lifestyles and lives, in ways many of us have not only never experienced, but could not have even imagined.

But it’s not just people that have to navigate COVID-19, brands have also found themselves in a precarious position. To stay afloat, businesses need to sell, which can be difficult, particularly in our current climate. You want to be sensitive to everyone’s circumstance, but also communicate with your customers. How do you find the right balance? You can’t afford to disappear, but you can’t be too promotional. 

It may seem counterproductive but stop selling.

Okay, you can’t stop selling in the literal sense, but now, more than ever, people expect you to connect with them on a human level. No two people are the same, and the pandemic has impacted everyone differently. You need to reinforce that you distinctively understand your customers and have their best interest at heart. Be genuine; speak to their priorities and concerns. Be creative; find unique ways to help them address their most pressing needs. And be timely; reach them when and where they are. The more you can deepen your connection, the more trust equity you build. 

Access to data and insight into consumer sentiment is a critical component of that process. But brands need to be smart, relevant and authentic. For example, based on a general survey of the U.S. population, we found 32 percent of respondents were spending less or trying to cut back on spending—but that number varies greatly by region. Thirty-six percent of respondents in rural parts of the country shared similar sentiment, while only 26 percent of those in urban areas are trying to accomplish the same task. Add to that, 21 percent of Millennials believe their situation as a result of the pandemic will get better in the next month or so, compared to only 13 percent of Generation X.

Businesses need to leverage data and insights to understand what matters most to specific customer segments and help them address their most immediate challenges. You need to show that you understand their circumstance and demonstrate how you can help them manage through their situation. For example, many frequent gym goers are now restricted to exercising at home. With that in mind, if you are a fitness company, you might share helpful tips and resources or offer virtual classes—and you may even find that some clients will continue to prefer and use that format well after gyms reopen.

But remember trust and data are privileges. A consumer’s trust is one of the most valuable assets a business can have. Trust is dependent on the perceived value you provide, and it can erode quickly if you don’t establish a sincere connection. If your messages and actions make your customers feel isolated and unheard, then brand disconnect and mistrust are the end results. And that could cost you a longer-term relationship in a post-pandemic world. 

The situation for most will continue to be fluid for the months ahead. As a brand, you have an opportunity to reinforce your connection with your customers—to show them that you’ll always be there to meet their needs. The only way to do that is to prioritize the long-term relationship over the short-term gain. You need to understand how your customers will react to the pandemic and how it will shift their behavior. The more you reinforce that you care, the better positioned you will be for a lifelong relationship with the customer after the pandemic. These are unprecedented times, but for those of us in industry, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to help our customers manage through it.