Tuesday 31st December 2019, a day most us celebrated with a positive mindset; the cusp of a new year, and all the promise it encompassed. A year that would bring us opportunity and change, with so many positives to look forward to but little did we know the year would kick off into a turbulent cycle.
Instead, the world is experiencing an unprecedented number of challenges, on multiple fronts, flipping normality on its head. Changes that will be felt by virtually every brand in every category imaginable. Sadly, it took a novel coronavirus and the global humanitarian, health and economic crisis it has precipitated to wake us up to the need to change: to acknowledge and address the way the way we live and force us to look at the societies we live in from a different perspective.
Cooped up at home - human resource management, restructuring of retail capabilities and the considerations of brand readiness for crisis management comes into question. Amidst the doom and gloom, there are opportunities for brands to act positively and make a real and lasting impact. Soberingly, the legacy of what they do - and more importantly, don’t do - during these testing times may long outlive the crisis itself.
However, with so many reports and opinion pieces floating in the marketplace, the question remains: while companies need to protect the reputation of the brands they own, will the end of COVID-19 simply mark the end of a turbulent first chapter in an era of change and shifting global priorities?
So many challenges, so little time
Whilst business reputation and growth are important objectives, we need to build sustainable models that will be able to stand up to and prosper in these new realities.
Marketing activities are being put on pause, budget allocations safeguarded for the times to come or raided to cover immediate operating costs. Business leaders may be de-prioritising marketing in favour of what they see as critical business operations.
However, our role as brand experts is to remind marketing leaders of opportunities and considerations that should not be overlooked. Brands that keep going - and keep going in specific ways - emerge from economic shocks ahead of their competitors. Here are some key thoughts - For the worlds of today and tomorrow.
• Whatever your brand has been doing to steer change - keep going
Whether it was your support in driving climate change or gender equality, keep at it. Don’t lose sight, don’t redistribute budgets so aggressively that the momentum from these efforts is lost. Those challenges and changes still need to be addressed.
• Embrace the new normal
The sooner we accept the changes needed, the sooner we will be able to address them. There is no way we can go back to life before the implementation of the public health interventions and act in the same way. Your leaders, your teams – everyone in your organisation needs to be informed of what ought to happen and what we should do together to ensure that some normality can be achieved.
Demonstrate your value proposition to your staff, figure out how to apply work-from-home practices to be part of the new normal. Be realistic: what productivity will you achieve if your teams are sitting around your offices afraid of being infected by one another or the journey to work? Will they even show up at all, or simply call in sick or sign off with stress related conditions?
• Be the architect of change; lead the conversation
Consumers are looking to businesses to lead the response, according to a study by GlobalWebIndex on 26 March 2020. The study added that consumers are now more receptive to seismic changes in the ways businesses work.
Majority of consumers (83%) think brands should provide flexibility in payment options, while 81% think they should offer free services to help pitch in.
This first opportunity is a simple one: reassure your customers and users that your service and product quality has not changed.
That you are meeting or even surpassing their expectations as you adapt to the health and safety norms and policy requirements of this new business environment. COVID-19 may be a disruptor, but it is also a time for brands to build lasting relationships, through positive and proactive communications policies.
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• Review your content strategy
We won’t return to business as usual once this crisis eases. Marketers and agencies have to be mindful not to take commercial advantage and profit or hard sell products and services. Brands more than anyone else have an opportunity to strengthen their bond with consumers. It isn’t necessarily about clever brand ads or creating content for its own sake.
It’s about asking yourself difficult questions and trying to determine what value your brand can offer, over and above your product or service.
Offering? What can you do to make a difference? How can you create campaigns, content and stories that contribute positively and help to diffuse the tension? Many brands have already responded. Alcohol manufacturers switching to the production of hand sanitisers. Dyson and other engineering and automotive companies retooling their plants to supply critical components for the supply of ventilators. Or like Crocs, supplying your products free of charge to workers on the frontlines of COVID-19.
There are no neat, one-size-fits all solutions and how your business ultimately responds will depend on many factors. But if you brand is in a position to make a difference, why wouldn’t you? That’s a question consumers may be asking for many years to come.
• Reimagine the consumer journey and innovate
One thing is certain, adapting your content strategies and maintaining your brand’s quality and consistency will only take you part of the way. To prosper post-COVID-19, businesses will need to reimagine the consumer journey and innovate. Right now, every business is thinking how do I survive this? Do I go digital? How do I go digital? Am I digital ready and present enough to address the change in this journey? It will take more than being digitally present to operate in this new climate.
Now is the time to reimagine the consumer’s path to purchase or experience. From virtual showrooms for car makers to decisions about robust eCommerce platforms and partnerships for FMCG brands. Volkswagen has moved quickly into the purchase-at-home space, but situations may require much more. How do you create face-to-face experiences for high consideration products ways that your consumers will have confidence in? Should you be investing in Internet of Things technologies to track and identify health and safety threats within your retail environment?
It’s also the perfect time to disrupt yourself. To make the transition from bricks and mortar retail to digital-first online sales and delivery services. To relocate education from the classroom to mixed platforms as early learning experts Wonderbly have demonstrated is possible To reinvent car sales and ownership as car clubs and sharing services.
In the early 2000s we saw a surge of brand collaborations with even more in recent times with “hipster” brands co-creating experiences and content with the more global and mass products. With the arrival of COVID-19 marketing, sales and distribution challenges are becoming even more apparent and the concept of collaborations may see yet another series of expansions. Collaboration with artificial intelligence bots - to interact with your prospective customers and immediately provide them with the information they need had already seen an early take off early this year, and we now see a growth in data collaboration and creation across content platforms and co-branding between brands and distribution channels. This opportunity can address consistent brand relevance across categories from co-branding on delivery packages to innovations of restaurant food and platforms like Masterclass.
• Reconsider your brand’s involvement in the people’s economy
Any models you had for growth or expansion in 2020 are now out the window. That doesn’t mean that retail businesses should stall, or that your restaurant should pull down its shutters. Growth is not impossible.
There is now an opportunity to be part of a people’s economy: a more consumer-need focused version of your business.
One that may rely less on your business starting new franchises or expanding its retail outlets and look more to its logistics chains and distribution hubs. Expanding your digital outreach and hiring more delivery staff to drive the online to doorstep purchase cycle. And thus, providing a larger pool of job opportunities.
• Give back when you can, where you can and leverage on local where possible
Messaging isn’t just about advertising or PR, it includes the ways we act as a business. Giving back to the less fortunate, assisting them in these troubled times, celebrating frontline operators and local heroes may look like an easy way to generate some positive coverage for your brand. But ensure that it isn’t misconstrued and that you are acting authentically rather than opportunistically. Consumers will be slow to forgive in the aftermath of this crisis.
Giving back is also about supporting the local economy and local talent.
As the current climate affects everyone, especially small businesses and SMEs, there is an opportunity for us all to support local businesses. Look for ways to involve local organisations, manufacturers and agencies. It is time for brands to help rebuild economies. A key difference in the advertising landscape between the last crisis and today is the rise of e-Commerce and digital marketing. Combined, they have encouraged a drift towards short-termism. Don’t fall into that trap.
Also, don't forget to embrace micro-trends which are critical to our day-to-day
• Embrace the possibilities virtual launches offer to expand audience
Clients should consider allocating budgets for several bursts of activity across multi-platforms, including the engagement and education of brand ambassadors at both the macro and micro influencer level. Ask PR agencies for their integrated digital and social media content strategies as well as their digital partnerships; don’t just bank on their track record with “traditional” media. How do we capture attention and wow an audience on a mobile screen? Well-conceived and produced vignettes will create a lasting impression.
A virtual experience economy will indefinitely see a surge as we move into uncharted territories and we will need to embrace a digitisation of event experience. Through merging technology and human experience, we want to apply immersive tech such as AR and VR, live streaming to replace the physical experience. A really good example, is the Giorgio Armani Fashion Show 2020 that live-streamed its runway during the start of COVID-19 in Italy. Staged without an in-person audience, the brand still generated more earned media value than its conventional show in the previous season.
• Press briefings via teleconferencing will be the new norm
In countries such as Japan, the Philippines and Thailand, where the preferred interaction with journalists is through face-to-face interviews, a mindset shift is unavoidable for media outlets and brand owners alike. New media training for live broadcast interviews should be a priority. This is especially true of senior executives of publicly-traded companies and domain experts whose opinions may be urgently sought during a crisis. Live interviews can take place in offices and home offices; branding, connectivity and spokesperson image are important considerations.
Don’t fear Zoom, its exponential growth over the past four weeks was fundamentally driven by need. Sure, its safety features may not be robust enough for your businesses but don’t let one platform deter you from venturing onto others. Find a platform that suits you best and work around ensuring the security measures are put in place.
• It is time for influencers to give back
Influencers can help brands that have engaged them before, especially those smaller brands that may be struggling to re-establish themselves.
Opinion leaders must rethink their content in an era where events and launches are few and far between.
And to be creative in their presentation of partner products and services. In the same spirit, brand owners should consider producing various storylines, decentralised approaches and an assortment of props for Influencers to use so that their product presentation remains interesting and varied.
• Doing more with less
An evolution of the creative industry where doing more with less has already become a trending topic but as marketing budgets are further slashed, agencies need to become creative and nimble while creating impact. Brands will continue to seek higher ROIs and being able to design a more efficient single-minded, well-planned, perfect session that speaks to hundreds of consumers will become the new-norm. We should aim to empower our clients to use these new mediums in the right way and to make sure that the content is really truly adding value.
Keeping industries together - this opportunity also allows collaboration between niche boutique agencies to support and assist them through the financial turmoil caused by the pandemic. While it’s right to say that we don’t know where this future will take us, all is far from lost. For canny brands there are still opportunities to pursue. Taking a more considered and flexible approach to our use of technology, embracing global connectivity a d promoting a less polarised view of the world that centres on life’s simple pleasures can help turn us back towards the positives we thought 2020 had in store for us last New Year’s Eve.
The article is co-written by Beatnk's Tanner Nagib, Kultupop's Matt Armitage, Tish Events' Shermaine Wong, McGagh Communications' Audrey McGagh and TJT Creative Lab's Apiwat Pattalarungkhan and Irvine Prisilia.