2020 began as every year does for marketers, with annual plans, quarterly plans, projections, optimism, hope, and eagerness for innovations. Every brand had a strategy for growth, expansion, customer acquisition, brand awareness, loyalty, and more. The rest as they say is history. With so much going on, and priorities having changed drastically for both businesses as well as consumers, does branding and strategy even matter? Let’s start with understanding the current state of mind of people, because understanding the human aspect must always be the first step. People are overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and often unsure about... well everything. I know I am one of those too. They are also exhausted. Meanwhile, businesses are focused on not going under. And understandably so. As critical as it is for companies to find ways to stay afloat, it is also important to be mindful of how your brand and business is being perceived. As the fatigue intensifies, the last thing people need is another brand selling to them, another company displaying capitalist self-serving agenda in their face while they are trying to hold their lives together. A bit harsh, but it cannot be denied.
Share stories Physical distancing and the lack of a buzzing social life has resulted in people warming up to other ways of human connection. And this is also the space for brands and businesses to find their voice. Stories that don’t just talk about them, but also reflect the life of the consumer, stories that are relatable, that tug at emotions, will be accepted openly. More than 90% of respondents to an ANA survey in April indicated they have adjusted their creative marketing messaging since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and over 89% intended to continue. Right from Nike’s latest viral commercial to Dove’s Dad On commercial and D Cut series, brands have certainly pivoted to bring more emotion into their messaging. While it is absolutely not mandatory to be heavily investing in major storytelling and brand connections, there is definitely a ‘penalty’ for businesses that completely ignore this aspect. People start questioning sensitivity, and ethics, and eventually realize the difference between brands that are ‘talking to’ consumers vs ‘selling to’ them. While the business model is of course a major driver, for brands that want to stay relevant and emerge on the other side slightly less bruised, they would have needed to engage with stories better and talk better. And be sensitive to what people are feeling.
Use this time to think ahead Brand building and strategy is not a short-term quick fix, it is a long-term plan to build and maintain your brand’s equity in the mind of your consumer. Which means, whether your business is moving ahead at full steam right now, or is on hold temporarily, the wheels of strategy need to keep moving. It’s like fueling up for the road ahead. Make sure you have enough so that once the road is clear, you are ready to go at full speed. Brands that are already doing well during these times need to strategize how to deal with the inevitable slump that will come after, and how they can still stay relatable and useful. This, is actually the perfect moment for businesses to reflect on and revive their plans. Taking stock of the past, the current, and how it will affect the dynamics of the future will be useful in order to chart a new course for your brand as well as your business. And within this planning, brand building and perception plays a huge part. What have consumers been thinking and how have they been reacting to your brand during these last few months will continue to impact your brand at least for the next little while.
You are being watched I mean the statement sounds sinister. But it has never been truer for brands and businesses. The last four months brought on not just a pandemic but also an anti-racism movement. Lip service is no longer acceptable, and people seek action from brands. Brands such as Walmart faced backlash at its ‘Heroes’ campaign as reports of employee treatment emerged. On the other hand, Aritzia who didn’t lay off employees, raised funds for them, and had healthcare professionals in each store for consults, as well as Shopify who similarly didn’t lay off employees and was one of the first to go remote along with supporting small businesses, both received commendations. People are demanding accountability, and an authentic display of brand values. The best part is they are listening, and open to communication from your brand. Use the opportunity to not just talk and connect with your consumers, but speak up, stand for something, and bring action. Forbes had published a list back in March of brands that are giving back during Covid-19, in any way. As Black Lives Matter emerged, standing in the shadows was no longer an option. Most people I spoke to admired Ben and Jerry’s stance on the issue, and definitely noticed it. In brand terms, there was tremendous unaided recall and positive perception.
Show that you care! Share stories, and show compassion. Not just for ‘consumers’, but for people, including your employees, teams, and associates. And from a business point of view (because that does matter), earn publicity and marketing dollars through word of mouth and goodwill. Imagine all the shares, the positive comments, and brand awareness boost! These may be unprecedented times, but brands have an unprecedented opportunity to be visible. What are you going to do about it?
About Haem Roy (President, BCMA Canada)
Haem is a storyteller, specializing in understanding consumers to connect their stories with brands. As a global Creative Strategist, Omnichannel Marketer, and Branded content expert, she has worked on both the creative as well as business side, leading all aspects of strategy, content creation, pitching, execution, marketing and optimization. She has worked on custom series for major brands such as Unilever, Mercedes Benz, and led and built marketing teams as well as content teams across Canada, USA and India. Haem is the President of the Branded Content Marketing Association’s Canada chapter. A speaker and panelist, she co-hosts the BCMA Canada Candid chats, and actively advocates for diversity and inclusion. When she isn't building brands, Haem tells stories with her Toronto-based improvisational comedy troupe mates ‘Eyesore’. www.haemroy.com