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  • Pat Browne

Driving brand health during difficult times

We all know that brands are more than colour schemes and logos, but in today’s whirling reality of constant change, we also can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. What we cannot be is paralyzed with indecision. Regardless of industry type we must be able to directly respond to the situation in a timely manner. During a recent Rueters’ webinar: Realizing a new norm for marketing; Customer insights and expectations, 60% of participants felt they could respond within 30 days to shifting marketplace dynamics. As admirable as that may sound, six months is woefully slow in today’s environment. So how do you respond quicker without risking irreparable damage to an established brand?

Your brand’s identity consists of different strategic elements tied back to your strategic imperatives: what you do, why you do it and how you are different from everybody else. Protecting your brand’s integrity starts with knowing what your brand stands for. And standing for something gives you integrity in your voice. You enhance brand integrity with more relevant and deeper relationships with your customers. Actions that reinforce a brand’s core values speak much louder than words. 

Brand owners around the world are grappling with the same questions and challenges. As we learned to negotiate a worldwide pandemic, Black Lives Matter (BLM) took to the streets. Alongside the business impact of interrupted supply lines, shut/or nearly shuttered manufacturing facilities, the challenges for staff and homelife, there are other challenges of how to promote your brand during unprecedented times of change. What do you do? Do you reduce marketing spend and try to shore up the bottom-line, do you engage or ignore the conversation on Covid-19 or Black Lives Matter?

MARKETING AS A TOP PRIORITY

Marketing may not seem like a top priority at the moment, but history tells us that in moments of crisis, it is important to keep brands in the minds of the public. However, staying in touch, saying the right thing, is not straight forward.

Knowing your brand voice will make it easier to pivot in extraordinary circumstances. Authenticity, transparency and sincerity are all critical elements of today’s brand experience. Knowing your principals and sticking to them, allows brands like Nike to respond in real-time to the Blake Lives Matter movement. Nike, who for years has told people to “Just do it.”, now said “For once, Don’t do it” https://www.marketingdive.com/news/nikes-for-once-dont-do-it-ad-seen-as-empowering-exploitative-study/579095/. This represented the new reality the world was facing and the need to sometimes step back as well as forward.

In March the world changed,” said Andrew Strickman, SVP Marketing for Realtor.com “Business had to evolve and change in real time. We had to quickly shift and activate new digital access for consumers to interact exclusively in a digital environment. It had a huge impact on our marketing. We were a company that had built our consumer brand around humor and whit. During the initial phase of the lock down no one was responding to humor so we shifted from “marketing ourselves” to creating messaging and content around our shared experience. While remaining true to our brand we creatively reframed efforts to advocate for the importance of “home”: https://bit.ly/threadingtheneedle. We produced an entire campaign in quarantine that helped ease consumers back into home search as the country began to open up.

A TIME OF CONSTANT DISRUPTION

We’re living in an era of constant disruption, innovation, and uncertainty surrounding “what’s next.” Thanks to this challenging climate, trying to hone your predictions about the future of your business can feel a bit daunting. “Smart brands are treating this as an opportunity to get to know their consumers better,” says Jonathon Morgan, CEO, Yonder. “Knowing drives the need for real time information gathering. Prior to the pandemic brands participated in consumer insight discovery processes annually or semi-annually, now this needs to move to a much more aggressive cadence. As digitization has accelerated, brands are now using the platform to reach out for a fuller, more developed 2-way communication.

How we market, and the resources that we use have changed,” says Strickman, “In addition to evaluating risk, we consider what our future customer looks like, cares about, and thinks about. We are planning for how our story will evolve. Content development is planned at least 2 steps ahead so that we can move quickly if the market demands. We are also aware that we may need to take a couple of steps back. Constant customer awareness is the only way we can pivot in this volatile market. Social media – our channels and general public channels as well – provides a huge channel for us to listen to our consumers.

POLARIZING OPINIONS CAN BE AFFECTING YOUR BRAND

Everything is polarized. Engaging exclusively in a digital environment creates both great risk and great opportunity,” says Morgan. “The digital environment provides a voice to your consumers. On one hand, people who are passionate about your brand, or share your brand values, are huge advocates and can give your brand credibility and authenticity in conversations where your brand needs to be. On the flip-side, people who disagree with your brand values also have a voice and can be socially hostile. Even without effort on your part, your brand can become a target and your brand platform co-opted. To mitigate the risk, our customers actively monitor conversations, have intelligence about online factions and are developing subculture diplomacy. They are reaching out to stake holder groups, understanding who are allies and adversaries; what are the narratives they are engaging in, where are they deploying their passion and influence. Where can we partner with groups, or how can we avoid them, or side-step them or inoculate our customers from influence they may have so that we may re-establish control protect and safeguard our brand while also identifying opportunity for brand-building."

In most business environments, speed is key. For projects to move forward without bottlenecking, leadership needs to feel empowered and able to make hundreds of decisions -- both big and small -- with confidence. Being nimble means having the right information as a constant flow. Use today’s volatility to your advantage by establishing real communications with your customers. Employ all the tactics within your reach. Traditional broadcast and longer-range brand initiatives will take more than a few days to roll-out, but digital communications can and needs to be utilized for more immediate communications. Use this time to get closer to your customers by opening feedback loops. Digital allows you the flexibility to respond and build communities.

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Sometimes timing sucks. That’s what happens in the messy world of real-life.

You plan, you look for the appropriate signals and you leap. Then the unimaginable happens – Covid-19 and a world pandemic. That’s what was happening when we launched ideasLAB as a hub for a newer, smaller way of doing business.

The economy was growing, lots of new avenues for customer interaction and relationship development and yet I was hearing a disconnect between what a client needed and what an agency was providing. It’s not a new cry – we’ve been hearing it for years – clients need help coordinating the entire marketing function. They need a way to work with their agency partners to ensure that all the marketing tactics are aligned for synergy. CRM has to talk to automated marketing, brand campaigns need to drive to measurable ROI, digital needs to be the pivot tool that allows for fast response to changing times. And all tactics need to be deployed to reach a strategic goal – they are not the strategy in themselves.

Pat Browne is a passionate leader with a proven track record of building high-performance teams and developing strong relationships with partners. She is a senior level advertising executive with integrated experience across a range of sectors including healthcare, retail, skincare/cosmetics, CPG, financial, travel, digital, social and direct marketing, database management, CRM and interactive marketing. For more, go to ideasLAB.ca

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