In the marketing world there has always been the long & the short game – long term strategy and equity building or short-term sales. The misconception being that you need to choose one or the other. And often at the request of senior management, the focus is all about the numbers today, not next year. And it is understandable, they want results and a nice juicy ROI to feel their investment was worthwhile. So, its easy to get caught up in the here and now and put off longer-term planning.
But then suddenly the game changed
Covid-19 has left marketers in a sweat. How should brands respond? Should you carry on as normal? Does that campaign have the right tone for right now? What if consumers think the brand is insensitive? Could you do lasting damage to the brand? What lies ahead? Is marketing the right thing to invest in right now?
For brands large & small these are hard questions to answer. But one thing is clear, investing in your brand is the ONLY way forward.
Don’t lose sight of the long term
As unprecedented as Covid-19 is, it is not the first-time epidemics or disasters have rocked the world, and sure enough we have always bounced back. But it is the brands with strong saliency that will do the best. Brand equity database firm BrandZ, part of the Kantar Millward Brown family, looked at the effects on brands following the 2008 global financial crisis. They found that the strongest brands - those with the most saliency and thus substantial brand equity - would recover nine times faster following the crisis that weaker brands.
Salient brands are those which standout and focus on being distinctive to consumers. Saliency not only plays a key role in building brand equity but also on the consumer’s decision making process. However, salience alone is not enough. Successful brands also provide a meaningful difference vs competition. A meaningful difference can be seen in 5 ways:
- Firstly, with brand purpose – why the brand exists and how does it make people’s lives better?
- Innovation is next, does the brand provide a superior product or service, is it more creative or disruptive?
- Communication style can also create a meaningful difference – connecting with consumers at a personal level.
- This also links to no.4, brand experience – providing the best experience & meeting consumer’s needs, whether that is off or online.
- And finally brand love – creating loyalty and affinity with your brand.
All in all, marketing should be seen as an investment not a cost and a tough financial environment will make this clearer than ever.
So, what’s the right thing to do right now?
Recent research from Kantar shows consumers don’t want brands to stop advertising but they mustn’t be seen as exploitative or insensitive. 30% said they wanted brands to be practical and realistic and help consumers in their everyday life. In recent weeks we’ve seen many brands support the government message of social distancing and staying at home like McDonalds & Guinness. Others have been able to divert manufacturing capabilities to make hand sanitizers or PPE like beauty giant LVMH.
There is of course a place for humour, and consumers definitely want to be uplifted by brands, but only if it fits within your brand’s DNA, like this example from Nando’s. Overall, it’s all about relevance to the situation and using your brand character to build salience in a meaningful way.
Right now, brands have a duty to stay close to consumers, be relevant and show solidarity. A chance for brands to really live and breathe their brand’s purpose and look at their wider societal role. For consumers it will be what you do, not what you say that will be remembered.
Of course, not all brands have the right product, service, or tone of voice to come across as relevant and genuine at the current time. I can’t imagine a BA advert for your next tropical holiday being received well by consumers, even if its light-hearted and talking positively about the future. For those brands now is the time to take stock, look at long term planning, take the time to really think about your brands long term strategy and how to improve your meaningful difference
It’s important to remember the future of our economy needs you; it will rely on brands to re-energise the market and encourage demand when the time is right. Brands must see brand building expenditure an investment not a cost. We see from experience that brands with the strongest equity not only grow value but recover the fastest. So now is about managing the short term, if your category is not inactive due to ‘lockdown’ policies, you need to ensure your brand retains strong mental and physical availability, but without compromising its core positioning. And you must plan for the longer term, focusing on that meaningful difference - as salience will only bring your brand into the conversation.