In this article, we sum up panel discussion and provide guidance on what brands can do to not only survive but succeed in the new normal.
C-19 accelerated long term trends. What would happen five years in the future is happening now.
Alignment on the brand promise and execution is required. Companies are being called out if their brand is not authentic.
With so many choices, being unique and doing more than is required is very important and will be remembered.
User-generated content (UGC) will start playing a vital role in the new norm.
With so many new people online, the primary audiences have shifted.
Product companies are no different; they too need a brand strategy.
On-line is the main-line
“Covid-19 is accelerating some long term trends,” Henry stated.
Henry opened the discussion by speaking about long term trends, which have been going on for the last 10-15 years, such as Amazon eating the world of retail, theaters suffering because everything is going to streaming, the distributed nature of the organizations, and described how Covid-19 has accelerated these trends. What he believes would not have happened until 2025 is actually happening in 2020 because of this. “Now is the time to figure out how best to jump on these medium to long-term trends that have turned into a medium to short-term trends,” Henry proposed.
Barry agreed that Covid-19 has accelerated some behaviors. What he finds interesting is the shift away from traditional chains to direct-to-consumer space. In the past, brands were having to sign deals with Target, Walmart or get bought by Unilever. Now the start-ups are seeing their cost of acquisition dropping. It’s because people are stuck at home and shopping online. Find out what role your product or service plays in people’s lives and establish that as a brand promise. The approach to figuring that out does not change other than you cannot do it through in-person interviews.
Deliver on the brand promise
In Henry’s view, the mistake some companies make is treating their brand and position as a marketing exercise. It’s something that needs to be tangible and something everybody in the company can rally around and express. This is such a dramatic shift in how the market works, you can’t help but have to look at the market and try to meet your needs instead of trying to build something that you think in your head is the right thing to do. From the suggestion standpoint, always look at these things as a company-wide initiative, process or priority and not think of it as marketing. People will call you out. This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s how you react in situations like this. You have to be true to yourself, and you have to understand who you are.
Tony continued by mentioning: Before this, brands could go out and talk about how customer-centric they were, how sustainable they were, and how much they valued work-life balance. All while not having to do anything, and they still got the credit. But now brands that do that will be called out for not taking the actual steps.
“Brands are being called out for not being authentic,” responded Henry in affirmative. He explained that it has been easier over the last 10-20 years to really understand whether a brand is delivering on its promise. “You need to really understand what you stand for, what your differentiation is, and be true to it.” One of the mistakes some clients make is that they tend to look at positioning and brand as sort of a wrap-around for what they do but not really connect with it. “Brand is your public articulation of your strategy”, Henry said. Your strategy has to be in place. No amount of marketing or brand will fix poor strategy and tactics from an execution standpoint.
Relate and Differentiate
This is a wake-up call for companies that are not well-positioned for the long term trends and are struggling with their strategy and branding. Step back and understand the direction of your company and what manifests your brand. Maryna noted that startups and companies that have not done the branding or market analysis; this is the time. Speak to their users, get their feedback, try to understand what they are looking for, see what’s valuable for them, what are their problems and how they can meet them with their solution.
Tony raised the importance of taking the initiative and being proactive. There are quick improvements that can come out of this that are going to help to push your business, product or service forward instead of waiting around on what happens.
“If you provide outside value as a brand, that will be remembered,” Barry noted.
Make UGC part of your plan
Maryna said, “user generated content has been present for a long time, but a lot of brands are pushing it forward right now.”
“What we see,” she continued, “is that more and more companies are trying to push more UGC, which also includes how the audience is battling the situation.” According to her, companies tend to show how they care about this situation and how they can help consumers in different ways.
Also, what she sees as a trend now, is that safety, security, and all those elements of support are becoming more and more critical. Like is there 24-hour support?
Rudy pointed out that users are showing the brands in the same way they see each other on social media. The trick is finding ways to align user generated content with the original positioning of the brand and showing how we (agencies) can work within both restrictions to tell the story of the brand, what they are selling, and to who. “Those restrictions have opened up a lot of new ideas. Having restrictions makes us create, bang against the wall, and find a way out of it… There are many things we used to do on a regular basis for the business that we cannot do now.” expressed Rudy.
Henry agreed that it forces agencies to truly understand where the brand fits in the world and get creative about how to solve problems their customers have.
Rethink your Audience
“The companies, who focused more on the tech-savvy audiences, are the ones that are still thriving,” observed Tony. It is a crucial opportunity right now for companies that stayed away from the younger tech-savvy demographics to get involved.
Barry added that it is essential to look at all behavior patterns that run across all age groups.
The first thing that gets cut in times like this is marketing investment. Henry agreed with Maryna that you cannot take your eye off the ball for short term cuts when it comes to strategy and your brand. “It’s like a sourdough starter for bread, you have to feed it every day.“ He believes that you need to continue to invest in your marketing even in times like this. “Do not turn off your marketing because there will be a return to whatever normal is after this,” Barry nodded.
Data should be a big part of the decision, according to Tony. Companies should invest more in data to make decisions about where to invest and how to invest. The data could show them where the impact is today and how they can shift out when things change.
Brand strategy for product companies
The tendency is just to take action, to get stuff done without really thinking about the strategy behind it. That is the danger of doing a product without thinking about the full plan. Try to start small, learn lessons, and scale-up. What marketing and branding can do is bring that outside influence.
Henry also added that what you, as the brand expert, need to bring to the table is information which product companies don’t have. What product strategy needs are constraints, otherwise you are boiling the ocean and don’t understand the data that you are given. Data is fundamental but you need to have the strategic thinking that goes with that, from the company side as well as from the product side.
If you take the time to plan, you can move faster later and with less risk. The things you take to market are usually better. They get out more quickly so you can do more, and you don’t have to take time to fix your problems and go back to the beginning later on and spend those extra dollars.
Building a brand isn’t really done by marketing. It’s done by experiences, by customer contact, it’s everything that happens with potential customers. The brand inspires both company, employees, feature development, and influencer marketing messaging at the same time.
Agencies often get very little direction from the brands they work for. That leads to a lot of wasted time. A tight brief allows the agency to focus on the main body of work and go deep, ultimately delivering a lot more value to the company that hired them.
You can sit back and wait to see what is going to happen OR you can use this time and information to get a head start planning and executing what the future will bring. We help you to rethink your existing strategy or come up with a new one on how you are going to be innovative in the new digital age.
The above is an edited and condensed summary of the panel discussion. The views expressed are the panelists’ personal views.
Pastilla is offering a complimentary consultation in our Brand Therapy program for businesses of all shapes and sizes. How can your business adapt during this unprecedented time? You can learn more here.