After the obvious and serious health concerns, the first thing on many people’s minds when the challenge of COVID-19 was understood was its effect on business and the economy generally.

The financial impact of the pandemic has devastated global economies. As a result, the desire to hold onto cash, coupled with the fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing has spread a blanket of silence across industries, with marketing investment being cut, paused, or pulled altogether.

We wanted to determine which—if any—of these strategies was the best way to go. And, as a PR firm with global partner capabilities, we had the ability to ask consumers that question directly. So we joined our partner, Arlington Research, in a major study asking 13,000 consumers globally—including 2,500 in the U.S. alone—for their insight and opinions on brand communications during the coronavirus pandemic.

Highlights of the findings include:

  • Just under a third of consumers perceive no news as bad news. That is: If consumers didn’t see communications from a company that they routinely hear from, they assumed that company was in financial trouble. This, in turn, gave them second thoughts about spending with that company.


  • Almost 4 in 10 consumers (38%) said their sentiments about specific companies changed during Covid-19, based on the nature of that company’s communications. If the communications demonstrated healthy concern for people’s well-being and sensitivity to their needs, it had a powerful effect. Tone-deaf communications alienated consumers.


  • Almost half of respondents surveyed are desperate for non-COVID-19 news—regardless of age or gender. That number has undoubtedly increased since our results were collected a few weeks ago.


  • Almost half of consumers are consuming more content than ever at this time. This is the result of people spending more time away from social gatherings and focused on their media devices.


  • During this crisis, brands that inspire consumers and generate hope are the ones people want to do business with. In short, when you lift people’s spirits, you also lift your sales.


  • More than a third of employees were concerned for their future if their company has gone quiet. Like consumers, the lack of communications was seen as an indicator of financial trouble. In this case, people thought their jobs might be imperiled.

All of this underscores the centrality of business in the life of society. Products sold and services offered are—in many ways—the common ground on which our society is built. For this reason alone, businesses have a certain responsibility to communicate with customers and prospective customers.

There is a huge demand for content right now and engagement is at an all-time high. People are responsive to authentic and relevant content that doesn’t necessarily dwell on the dark. As with any form of marketing, the key is to listen, whether you’re communicating with your staff, customers, community, or future customers.

Brand-building is not just about selling. It is as much about a company’s values and its connection to the lives of the people it serves. Thoughtful and respectful communications now may bind companies to their markets for many years to come.

The full report—as well as specific recommendations for how to apply the learnings to your own marketing communications—can be downloaded here.