The last few months has certainly provided seismic shifts for all areas of our personal and professional lives. I’m not going to lie, at the start it was like a massive wave of paralysis and shock. I’m sure many of us can relate to the drowning sea of uncertainty that washed over as we adjusted to the multiple roles of parent, chef, business owner, manager, employee and anti bac hand cleaner extraordinaire!
As in our lives, we have similarly had to find new ways of making our livelihoods work, showing empathy to customers and employees and pivoting our products and services to stay relevant. For some this has sadly meant pausing altogether.
And whilst things are certainly far from ‘normal’, as shops open their doors this week, it does feel like the green shoots of a new tomorrow are starting to emerge as we begin to take baby steps back to something more familiar – a new phase of covid-mania!
With no crystal ball to predict exactly what lies ahead, and with businesses at different stages of re-emergence, how do brands continue to communicate with their customers and maintain profile in line with the changing wave of the pandemic? And what can we be doing now to help our customers and ensure our brands are best placed for the future?
Here we share our key thoughts,
1) Gauge the mood and set the right tone in your messaging
As things change on what feels like a daily basis, it’s important that brands continue to gauge the mood of their clients and customers, understanding where they are in their own journey and addressing communications with sensitivity. Messages need to be timely, relevant and helpful because ultimately, it’s the actions that brands take now that will be long remembered after the crisis is over. It’s continuing to build brand equity by being authentic, helpful and socially responsible that will pay dividends far into the future.
According to research by Kantar published in Marketing Week there is a clear expectation that companies should ‘play their part’, with 78% of consumers believing brands should help them in their daily lives. 75% say brands should inform people of what they’re doing and 74% believe companies should not exploit the situation.
Adopting a reassuring tone, offering a positive perspective and communicating brand values was also noted as important as well as a reference to avoiding humour.
Unfortunately, not all have hit the right mark including Wetherspoons (with their refusal to pay suppliers and staff) and Sports Direct (through their pushy insistence to stay open as an ‘essential’ store) These are two such brands who misjudged the mood of the nation at the start of the crisis thus damaging their long -term brand equity. And despite a recent u-turn 50% off strategy offered by Sports Direct for NHS staff, the generous follow up gesture almost now feels insincere.
2) Never more important than now
Transparency, integrity and staying true to your brand values has never been more important than they are now. What you do now whether that be showing compassion, giving back, being helpful and guiding your customers and clients through the crisis will be remembered long into the future. Joe Wicks’ PE workouts, Gary Barlow’s crooner celebrity duets and Iceland’s early opening hours for the elderly are all examples of brands who hit the right spot at the right time. Shaped by their endeavour and motivation to entertain, keep us moving, put a smile on our face and the vulnerable fed, their brand bank is full of good will, reaffirming their place in their respective markets.
3) Don’t hibernate and keep investing in marketing
Customers and clients’ spending habits and priorities may have shifted through the crisis, but it’s still important for companies to keep the conversation flowing and be consistently present. There may be short term pain but as habitual creatures, fundamental buying behaviour won’t change dramatically over the long term.
Whilst some brands are cutting marketing budgets and scaling back on communications, it’s more important than ever that they stay connected and remain visible. As Brand Strategist Mark Ritson says, “It might seem like a paradox but recessionary periods actually provide fertile grounds for marketers to grow their brand’s market share, if they are prepared to think long term.”
It has long been considered that it is those brands that remain consistent through a crisis, that come out on top later on. This is backed up by data from BrandZ which shows that after the 2008/09 financial crash, stronger brands and those who maintained their marketing effort, recovered up to nine times faster in terms of stock market value than others.
Holding your nerve and using this time to consider the short-term picture against the long-term vision is also important. Use this time to think ahead. See it like strategic time to scenario plan and to trial cost effective marketing channels that warrant tangible results for the business.
4) Celebrate good news
At the height of covid-mania, many brands held off from sharing good news stories in a quest to remain sensitive to the current situation. But as the wave of the pandemic moves, this too has shifted with many consumers welcoming lighter and more positive stories. Hope and inspiration after all being more welcomed than ever. Look at reshaping PR strategy for continuity and recovery.
5) Embrace new technology and social media
With months of lockdown and working from home, the need to feel connected to others has never been greater. While use of video platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft teams, Whats App video and House Party continue to rise, social media use across all demographics has also increased significantly as people seek out connection, escapism and inspiration. This has provided opportunity for brands, not least for FMCG and online retail.
6) Back to basics
Many B2B brands are also keeping it old school and going back to basics through more traditional methods of communication – all hail the phone call! Personally I’ve been embracing socially distanced ‘walk and talk’ meetings with some of my clients which has worked really well to catch up and share ideas. At a time when we are all craving a bit of human connection, it’s amazing what inspiration you can create from simply being away from the four walls and having a walk through the park with a take-out coffee. (Special thank you to Pink Lane Bakery for keeping me in caffeine!)
7) Influencer marketing
For B2C brands in particular, influencer marketing continues to rise, becoming an increasing way of promoting products, generating consumer engagement and building customer loyalty. The power of the influencer for brands lies in their ability to make emotive connections with consumers through an intimate look into their lives, likes and loves. This in turn builds trust and through the recommendations they make… ultimately sales.
Whether through Instagram, Facebook or Tik Tok, people are increasingly reaching out to these platforms and those influencers to put some colour into their daily lives and inspiration whether that be fashion, interiors, recipes, make up or fitness.
8) Are you ok?
Through the myriad of marketing and communications strategies however, it’s often the simplest things that go the furthest way. A simple hello, how you doing? or being a supportive ear to clients has been a wonderful thing to both give and receive.
Thank you to all those lovely people.
Because as we continue to navigate change in both our personal and professional lives, it’s the small things that really are the big things.