By Guy Corbet, Fourteen Forty
Survival has been the name of the game, but it is not an end game.
For many firms, the main focus so far has been to batten down the hatches in the face of rising uncertainty.
It is time to start rebuilding. Gradually, the economy will start to splutter back into life. We will be at the foot of a tall mountain.
How should businesses and brands start to rebuild? What should they do differently? Where is the solid ground to build on? Will they regret cutting marketing spend?
The answers to these questions, among others, will depend on what we have already learned from the crisis.
1. Brands build themselves in this crisis
In the past two months, there has been increased scrutiny in how firms behave. Not just whether they live up to what they say they do, but whether they meet a higher standard that the public have rightly set.
The media, and customers, will tell the stories of heroes, villains, and drama.
How businesses behave in practice says a lot about them, and that will become what brands are known for. That will be the base camp from which every brand will start to climb.
2. Reassess what you are doing
For many firms, 2019 plans will be ancient history. The rules have changed, and plans must adapt. It is not just that the commercial goal posts have moved. It is a different game, played on a different field, and with different kit.
Brand value will not be based on the carefully-crafted words of the business strategists and marketing teams.
It will stem from what firms do, to look after their customers, to look after their community (and society) and to look after their own people.
This is an opportunity for reinvention. Brand narratives should start there.
3. Be mindful of how all stakeholders see you
Customers are kings, but they are not the only audience that matters. While economic survival, and recovery, are paramount, it will be important to balance short-term sales and long-term brand and reputation. They will not always be the same.
Firms should think about how they want to be seen in a year’s time. Then think about all the audiences that will have a stake in that understanding. Ensure the approach to building and protecting the brand will meet all their needs and expectations too.
4. Reset what you are known for
Just as 2019 plans have changed, so have the perceptions of value. Not all propositions will still be fit for purpose. During the lockdown, customers and partners needs may have changed, and they may change some more.
Make sure that the product or service you offer is framed to support current demand, not last year’s.
5. Review how to reach them
With such massive social disruption, there will have been all sorts of hiccups in the best laid channel strategies. To state the obvious, out of home and cinema advertising will have been underperforming. Social channels, content marketing and communications will have absorbed more than the usual attention.
But it is important to look beyond the channel strategy alone, and to think about the difference between saying and doing.
In the new communications environment, climbing back to recovery tone and attitude will be everything. Being seen to be human will be every bit as important as the content of what brands say.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The final consideration is perhaps the oldest one. During times of change and disruption it is far better to over-communicate than not to communicate at all.
That might mean focusing on internal communications, about weighting the merits of ongoing remote working, bringing furloughed colleagues back, or even facing an uncertain future.
It means ensuring there is clarity around the brand, value proposition and messaging, and ensuring that the business and marketing strategy are understood. Only that way can each individual understand what they need to do to help.
And it means looking outward, ensuring customers and stakeholders have a clear and simple understanding of what you stand for.