From downtown to lockdown; from vacations to staycations; from going out to staying in; from broadcast to narrowcast; from all things physical to any or all things digital... In short, our big picture, pleasure-seeking, thrill-filled ambitions have migrated from drum rolls to eye-rolls within the short span of a mind-numbing, heart-wrenching year.
In an unprecedented first, there is not a single country on the planet that has not been affected by the pandemic in some way, shape or form. Covid-19 has upended the way we work, rest, play and pay. Consequently, its impact can be felt right across the branding spectrum too — with many of us hardly having a clue of what to do next. But not trying or doing anything is certainly not the way to welcome 2021.
If, like most business leaders who have taken to flight over fight, you are also putting your brand building prowess on the backburner, then you will be in the company of the 80% (or thereabouts) of brands who have deferred their marketing according to the World Federation of Advertisers. That is understandable. Covid-19 didn’t come into our lives with a user guide – leaving many of us in a helpless state of astonishment. Yet, there are serious brand health implications when marketing is rolled back. According to the Advertising Research Foundation, brands that ‘go dark’ in a downturn can take up to five years to recover their former glory. Put another way, brands that go dark, run out of bite and bark.
So even if you (like Google mind you) have slashed your budgets by half for this year, it doesn’t mean you cannot repurpose and re-focus your brand for the post Covid-19 world. It simply means shifting your approach from standard tactical marketing to a more enterprise-wide effort and attitude with an aim to cultivate the context and culture of your brand for the benefit of your stakeholders.
Everything you do is branding. Whether it is employer branding or your community and corporate social responsibility work, your social media activity or a bulletin by your CEO about health, safety and environmental initiatives, everything you do shapes people’s opinions about your brand and whether they will engage with you or not. Which is why, in this downturn, ensuring that every touchpoint reinforces and interprets your brand’s positioning and personality deliberately and accurately will go a long way towards inspiring confidence.
You can do this in many ways. Think about how each interaction can be amplified with employees, business partners, communities and customers into powerful messages and cues (visual or otherwise) about your brand. When you can transform ordinary everyday actions into extraordinary everyday moments, attracting attention, improving perception and accelerating word-of-mouth become key drivers in exercising the future you want.
It might even mean thinking about brand storytelling as ‘story-doing’. That is, to let your actions do the talking. Instead of running ads about what a great corporate citizen you are, taking timely action to help others in deed and spirit will consolidate your brand and your reputation far more effectively.
Lastly, because the lockdown has transformed the way customers engage with the new normal, there is only one more shift to make. As more and more customers are fast-tracked into researching, browsing, shopping, and paying through digital channels, developing your digital customer experience (or CX) is paramount. So much so that CX is likely to become your primary marketing channel as customers will likely continue with their newly minted habits of digital convenience well after the contagion has died down.
This also suggests that you are now at eye-level with others who have capabilities in e-commerce, mobile-first design, cashless or frictionless payments and cross-channel logistics and fulfilment. Even here, success lies in how you apply creativity to your operations and develop new ways to engage customers digitally while building on brand new experiences.
This might look and sound like the winter of discontent. But instead of hibernating, now is the time to ensure that your brand’s positioning is further activated and crystallised for the future by treating everything you do as marketing and taking your CX to the next level of success.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.