Head of Brand Strategy and InsightKatie Vickery gives us her take on how to guide your brand through the turbulent COVID-19 storm.
These are uncertain and unprecedented times. It’s hard to get your head around what’s actually happening and its impact on our daily lives. But, in true British spirit, we’re trying our best to ‘keep calm and carry on’, while remaining at home and keeping businesses moving. While we set up our working spaces at home, we try and maintain a sense of calm as we weather the storm.
Marketing has historically been an area of business that suffers from economic downturns, usually because of a knee-jerk reaction by company directors to curb spending. In this article I’m going to give you my top tips to guide you and your brand through this ever-changing landscape, and to hopefully result in a better market position for your brand when this is all over.
1. Be genuine and authentic
You’ve probably seen some brands being hauled over the coals for reacting poorly to the current situation, but there are also brands who have used it to demonstrate their brand values through authentic, well thought out content.
We probably all sat and cringed when Sports Direct announced that their stores would remain open, despite Boris’ key announcement for non-essential shops to close. The UK-based sports retailer insisted that its stores were critical to keeping the British people fit and healthy while in quarantine. Clearly, this was a move by the business to keep trading for as long as possible and, alas, they received negative press because of this short-sighted move.
But, there are brands who are doing great things to support their customers and communities, and we’re proud to say that some of our clients are in this category:
Sparq, a technical live event production specialist, have helped guests ensure they could still watch their loved ones get married from register offices:
Saffron Building Society are offering their mortgage customers a repayment review, on a case-by-case basis, to those who have been directly affected by coronavirus
Hatch, an interiors business based in Harlow, are looking at a number of options to provide furniture where empty buildings are being opened up to create temporary housing for NHS staff.
The situation we find ourselves in is changing daily and so brands need to be agile, but critically they need to take careful consideration of the decisions and moves they make – and it’s a difficult balance to strike.
This is a time where a well-defined brand will come into its own. A brand’s ‘essence’ is a guiding light for many aspects of marketing, whether it’s usually used to decide if you’re the sort of brand that would have an app, or whether you should attend that trade show that all of your competitors are going to. But in these times, it’s the touchstone for business decisions and is not limited to marketing. Knowing your brand’s values, personality traits, vision, mission and essence will enable you to sense-check your actions and guide your decision-making.
Essentially, any decisions made which are carried out in response to COVID-19 should feel genuine and authentic to your brand. If not, consumers will see right through it and trust will deteriorate.
2. Spend wisely
If you’re an in-house marketer, you’ve probably been guarding your marketing budget with your life, knowing that it will be important for the future success of the business. It’s absolutely crucial that while you may have marketing plans in place, you are willing to adapt these – perhaps on a daily basis – to the changing environment. With the eagle-eyes within your business looking at ROI more than ever, every penny should be spent wisely at this time.
Utilise your digital channels as best you can. Often digital channels are the most cost-effective channels and allow for the flexibility that you need during a changing climate. Need to communicate to your whole consumer base quickly? Email. Need to reach out to people in your target sectors? LinkedIn targeting. These channels and tactics are cost-effective and allow you to be flexible. Not only this, but to the people in your business who are breathing down your neck, you can show them results in real time. Not only this, but your audience is potentially much more engaged in digital media than they usually would be, so this is something you can benefit from.
If you don’t currently have a Google Data Studio set up, I’d highly recommend that you do so. It provides a customisable dashboard which can be accessed by anyone who has its URL. It takes the pain out of arduous reporting and means that you don’t have to access multiple platforms to see the big picture. Your stakeholders also don’t have to wait for you to pull a report together to get the data they want to see.
3. Don’t go quiet
You know those times when you don’t hear from a close friend for a few weeks and you start to wonder if they’re OK? The same goes for brands. If you completely shut down your marketing communications to your audiences, one of two things will happen: they will either forget about you or their confidence in your business will fall – neither of these two results is good for your brand or your business.
At times of uncertainty, consumers need some sense of normality and consistency. Brands play such a huge part in our everyday lives and so having a presence – no matter how small – is a good thing. Showing that you’re there for them during this period demonstrates empathy, but please, please don’t send your entire database a generic ‘A note from our CEO’ email that lacks your brand’s tone of voice or any personality. In reference to point 1 of this article, ensure that any communication is genuine and be considerate of your tone of voice – be positive but not flippant – as people’s sensitivities are heightened at the moment.
4. Think long-term brand building, not short-term sales
Your business may be trying to maintain or generate a certain level of sales, just to break even or potentially to ensure survival. Short-term sales activation has been shown to generate narrower but earlier effects with smaller paybacks in the long term, whereas brand building activity has broad but slower effects, with bigger paybacks in the long term. Of course, it completely depends on your individual business’s situation, but by focusing on sales you may get an influx of cash in the short term, but at a time like this it could actually damage your brand’s perception in the long term.
5. Look to the future
At some point, this situation that we all find ourselves in will end. We will be able to go back to our local pub, have face-to-face meetings and hug our loved ones. This may seem like an intangible reality at the moment because of the uncertainty of the situation, but if you work in any business you’ll know that life still needs to go on.
The silver lining is that this is an excellent opportunity to do some of the projects that have been sitting in your marketing ‘bottom draw’ for ages. Whether it’s redefining your brand’s proposition or doing a full audit on your website, this can be a great time to get on with those projects while you have time to focus. They’re also projects that you can do relatively cost-effectively, so it’s a no-brainer to get them done now. It’s also a great time to execute some market and customer research while you have a digitally present audience.
Think about setting your brand up for the future so that you can be on the front foot when we’re no longer on lockdown, so that your brand’s positioning is optimised.
A final thought
These are times of uncertainty, of course, but together we can set some excellent foundations for our businesses, by having a well-defined brand and being true to that brand in all of our communications with our customers, but also with our partners and colleagues.
I’m certainly finding that the positivity between my fellow Mobees has really helped me to accept that this is the ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable and motivates me to drive our clients’ projects forward to generate success for their brands.