• Sarah Macpherson

Marketing during coronavirus: Psychologists can help


Communication is a science and an art, and in uncertain times such as these, well-considered customer communication that leverages psychological insights can help brands to manage the delicate balancing act that is required. Dr. Hillary Haley dives into the ways brands can strategize their communications to speak psychologically to their customers in times of stress. Dr. Haley’s key takeaway, people don’t like to feel like victims, powerless in situations they cannot control. Instead, people like to feel they have agency, allowing them to feel strong and resilient. To employ this psychological insight, Dr. Haley recommends brands help their audience “do something” alongside empowering messaging.


Within the vein of empowering messaging, Dr. Haley notes there are two major camps-- ”hero messaging” and “tend-and-befriend” messaging. Hero messaging plays into the well known fight or flight response people display in stressful situations. This, however, has its pitfalls. In a pandemic there is no foe to physically vanquish or flee from and the messaging around everyday heroes has been fully played out.


Dr. Haley instead recommends kinder tend-and-befriend messaging in the current climate. This messaging emphasizes the importance of protecting and fortifying relationships with kin and allies for better survivorship of the group as a whole. Dr. Haley prefers this messaging at this time for three reasons-- firstly, messages of kindness and helpfulness easily fit into most branding. Secondly, it more accurately mirrors society’s needs at this time. No one can physically fight the virus, however we can all offer more help to those around us in small ways to strengthen community response to the pandemic. Thirdly, facilitating help, or “helping people help” actually reduces stress and can help brands develop an emotional connection with their customers.


Optimizing communication with customers is always a moving target, but using psychology to understand and empathize can separate great messaging from good messaging. Psychological insights such as these paired with psychological audience composition analysis from Pinpoint can boost your messaging to a whole new level.