ITL #375   Covid-19 in Africa: steering brands through challenging circumstances

2 weeks, 6 days ago


Three steps communicators can take to build brands and reputation. By Robyn de Villiers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major disruption, damage and loss in the lives of millions around the world. For Africa, the situation is no different and is further hampered by inadequate and constrained healthcare systems, densely populated urban centers and insufficient infrastructure.


For many marketers across the continent, 2020 has been a year of cancellations, re-schedules and putting things on the back burner for better days.  It’s a trend to guard against if both corporate and consumer brands are to come out the other side intact and investing in brand health has never been more important.

BCW Africa believes there are three things communicators can do now to continue building brands and reputation during Covid-19 – focusing more than ever on internal communications, repurposing communications to be relevant for these difficult times and reaching out collaboratively to make a difference.  

1       Focusing more than ever on internal communications

  • There’s no such thing as too much communication to employees at this time, so provide lots of information as often as you can, particularly around job-security.
  • Go big on recognition. Acknowledge the IT people who are keeping everyone connected. Thank the people who are placing themselves at physical risk to continue delivering essential services.


  • Make employees proud to work for your organisation by stepping up in ways that make a meaningful contribution to fighting the pandemic.


  • Repurposing communications to be relevant for these difficult times


  • Look at every piece of external communication through a lens of what’s suitable now. Channels, messages and audiences which worked in the past might be wrong for the ‘business unusual’ in which we find ourselves.


  • Be intuitive and read the constantly changing tempo right. Generally, hold back on the advice – it’s best left to the World Health Organization, to government entities and to those delivering essential services to tell people what to do and offer reassurance.


  • Running parallel to, and almost as dangerous as Covid-19 is another pandemic: fake news. False information is more sophisticated than ever and with Africa’s huge increase in internet subscribers in recent years, its potential spread is alarming. Take special care as communicators to check facts and avoid proliferating misinformation.


  • In a world turned upside down, bring value to audiences who are struggling practically, financially and emotionally. Use creativity to develop concepts that make life easier during lockdown and capitalise on people’s increased time and headspace for learning, skilling up and trying new things.


  • Reaching out collaboratively to make a difference


  • Across Africa, companies are joining business coalitions and donating millions to support the Covid-19 response and deliver to those most vulnerable in the region. According to the UN Global Compact special emphasis in Africa should be on protecting and supporting workers in the informal economy and recognizing and addressing the many ways women are disproportionately impacted by the crisis.


  • From a public affairs perspective, engage with government and relevant bodies to get the concessions or support you need and to offer the help you can.


  • Get leadership out there – being visible, in-touch and brave. CEOs are emerging as chief brand officers and people need to see them in action.

Long term strategising may not be possible given current uncertainties. But start considering what lies ahead. Spend time scenario planning on the potential impacts of the pandemic on your employees, customers and business. Africa is likely to emerge from Covid-19 with many new norms:

  • A changed workplace – with a permanent switch to remote working and demand from employees for greater flexibility
  • A shift from global to local as people select to support local enterprise in the face of economic hardship
  • Intensified focus on health and wellbeing of people and planet and expectations of heightened levels of sustainability and responsibility from brands
  • Increasing digitisation – if you are not able to deliver online, you’ll be left behind


Covid-19 has called for a new face of humanity in brand-building. Looking forward, brands in Africa will need to be more audience-centric than ever as they promote less and protect more. Winning brands will be those that care for and contribute to society in ways that are authentic, distinctive and memorable.




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The Author

Robyn de Villier

Robyn de Villiers is Chairman and CEO of BCW Africa

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