Brand Marketing in a Post-Covid World: Business As Unusual

Opinion and Insight 34 Add to collection
Honesty, flexibility, and compassion are going to be more important than ever, writes Marco Iannucci of Firewood
Brand Marketing in a Post-Covid World: Business As Unusual

Not so long ago the word 'disruption' was something every startup and tech worker aspired to. If you accomplished disruption, it meant you’d seen and taken an unprecedented path forward that changed the expectations of how consumers use products and services.

These days, in the drawn-out middle of a global pandemic, we’ve all become acquainted with what true disruption looks like: empty offices, closed storefronts, faces hidden behind masks, and pockets of Covid-19 related social unrest.

Recognising that we’re not out of this pandemic yet, we do need to see a path forward and focus on a new reality—for brands and consumers alike—as we emerge from sheltering at home to make our way back into the world. 

 

Listen. And then communicate what your customers actually care about.

Covid-19 will cast a long shadow into the foreseeable future. Working remotely will become more common. Some form of social distancing will be the norm. And safety—both for individuals and the community—will remain front and center in everyone’s minds.

One thing we’ve learned from research throughout this pandemic is that consumers want to know that the brands they choose are there for them when they need them most. And they’re interested in hearing how brands and companies are taking care of their employees—what safety measures you’re putting in place to ensure that your employees and the community are safe. 

Why? Because as a society, we’re going through the stages of grief. Our focus and fears have shifted over time from one thing to another throughout this crisis—and will likely shift to many other things as we make our way out of this. So to truly be there for your customers, you need to understand what’s top of mind at any given point in time. It may be your product; it may not be your product. They may need something else from you or nothing at all. But they do need to know that you have their best interests at heart.

 That said, there are plenty of brands out there beating their customers over the head with messaging that all sounds exactly the same. So you must continually shift the way you’re talking with your customers, keeping your finger on the pulse of what they need and want from you. Address them in new ways. Ways that acknowledge their anxiety, grief, frustration—and whatever new emotions and complexities they are dealing with on a daily basis. And find ways of talking about safety—and the things they’re worried about—in the context of your brand.

 

Be 100% honest, 100% of the time.

But here’s the key: any brand messaging needs to come from a place of transparency, trust, and honesty. If you come across one way when you’re truly not that way, or try to be empathetic in a situation where it doesn’t require you to be empathetic, you’re going to suffer significantly more than you would with just a bad marketing message. If you get the 'trust' message wrong, or the 'anxiety' message wrong, or if people think you’re messaging 'safety' just to get them in the door, you’re done.

So now, more than ever, you—as a brand—need to be 100% honest, 100% of the time. If you get something wrong, admit it, offer a sincere apology, offer a solution, and move on.

People and companies are going to make mistakes—and there will be a lot of them over the next several months. But by bringing real solutions to the table after a blunder, by handling mistakes with grace and authenticity, you can move on while making a meaningful contribution toward larger goals.

 

Get your digital marketing house in order.

Digital needs are going to shift dramatically in the new reality of a pandemic-possible (or fill-in-the-blank-catastrophe-possible) world. Is your brand set up to pivot campaigns and marketing tactics to be adaptable for future situations?

Now’s the time to set up your marketing organisation to be agile, to understand the different tactics and levers you have access to, and when to use them. And that can be an infrastructure challenge. You’re going to need to deeply understand what your marketing tech stack is and how all of the metrics across all of your campaigns—paid media, events, social media—work. And make sure they all talk to one another to avoid having a hundred different contingency plans based on every potential catastrophe.

Brand marketing in today’s world—a world we’ve learned can host true disruption in the blink of an eye—has to be mapped out with the understanding that the plan is likely not going to go according to plan. So adopt technology and create strategic plans that enable adaptability, agility, and flexibility, because, to paraphrase Dwight D. Eisenhower: plans don’t matter; planning is what’s essential.

 

What’s next?

No doubt this pandemic has forever changed the way we’ll work and live. But Covid-19 is not an outlier. The history of humanity is the history of plagues, and modern day epidemiologists had been warning about a global pandemic for years. So the one thing we can be certain of in all of this uncertainty is that true disruption will happen again. It may come as a pandemic, or a worldwide internet hack, or a power grid blackout, or some other adversity we haven’t thought of yet.

What seems clear is that honesty, flexibility, and compassion are going to be more important than ever. And the abilities to pivot quickly to stay effective and to listen with open ears and open hearts will be critical skills for weathering whatever comes next. 

 

Marco Iannucci is senior director of strategy at global digital marketing agency Firewood. This article also contains contributions by Mark Daws, senior art director; April Huff, director, strategy; and Vanessa Zucker, senior communications and marketing manager at Firewood.

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Firewood, 22 days ago