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  • Writer's pictureLesley Gold

What Should Your Brand’s First Response To COVID-19 Be? Empathy

One of the most essential aspects of branding is connecting with your audience. You need to show them that you understand their problems, their needs. That building block, upon which trust emanates from, goes far beyond branding. Within your business, that level of understanding will create happier, longer-lasting employees.

Empathy figures centrally in both of these instances. Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy—this isn’t about feeling bad for someone—it’s about understanding where someone is at and what they require. And now, more than ever, it’s time for your brand to show it.

We’re all navigating this fear, this anxiety, this uncertainty together. At this point, I think it’s fair to assume that every person, every business in the world is wondering what will come next and how it will affect them. You are, right? We all know that in times of crisis, some people rise to be their best, while others devolve into something much less honorable. Brands are the same. Be the first of those. Rise up.

How to show empathy to your clients and customers

Whether you’re B2B or B2C, the person at the other end of the chain is likely stressed right now. First, and most importantly, we’re all concerned with our health and that of our loved ones. And if that wasn’t enough, the economy is putting people in a serious pinch.

Communicate with your clients and customers to show them that you understand this, and are monitoring the situation to see how you can best assist. Don’t price gouge. When at all possible, work with people to find a solution for what they need, even if it’s a bit outside of how you normally do business. Don’t let this uncertainty turn your brand into Gollum, clutching your precious fishes on your perch. Be open, honest, caring, and human. People will see it, and they’ll remember it once this has all passed.

How to show empathy to your employees

If you’re an executive, you’re likely under a particular kind of stress right now, trying to come up with a coherent strategy to the dual threats of COVID-19 and an impending recession. From a business perspective, you’re likely looking at ways to limit the damage, to stay afloat, to figure out liquidity. It’s not an enviable position. But here’s the thing: Your employees are likely wondering how long they’ll have a job for, whether they can pay their rent or mortgage, for some, even if they need to cut back on essential items like heat or food. Do what you can to work with and for them.

This looks different for every business. Obviously, if it’s at all possible to allow them to work remotely—even if it requires a bit of investment—do so. On top of the income, work is a welcome distraction from news cycles and anxious thoughts right now. If remote work isn’t possible, it becomes trickier. If you can afford to pay your people while they can’t work, do it, even if you can’t afford their full salaries. Many businesses are already doing so. Facebook is taking the extra step of paying all contractors in full until this passes (I get it, your pockets aren’t as deep as Facebook’s, but the example still serves).

Most importantly, communicate what you’re going to do and keep people up to date. While you’re tasked with incredibly tough decisions right now, there is agency in that. For those who don’t get to make these high-level decisions, the uncertainty is even greater. Nothing will heighten this insecurity more than silence. The situation we’re in is so fluid, keeping an open line of communication to let your people know that you’re listening and reacting accordingly can go a long way to easing fears.

We’re in an unprecedented situation. It requires extraordinary responses. In the same way that we’ll remember those around us who rise up right now, as well as those who act selfishly and stoke fear, brands will be remembered for their responses. Speaking and acting with empathy is generally something we should all strive for, professionally and personally. And it’s more important now than ever.


Joel Hathaway is a senior copywriter at Moonshot—a story, strategy and design shop turning big missions into powerful brands. His editorial perspectives focus on emergent cultural trends, disruptive markets, and his favorite place to be — the outdoors.


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