For marketing teams working hard to keep things moving, a thorny paradox has emerged: an uncertain time can also be the right time. Some sectors are still shut down and their pain looks set to continue. At the same time, other products, brands and services are ‘having a good war’ posting record sales for March. The majority, then, must fall somewhere between the two, experiencing a quantum state of both disaster and opportunity at the same time. What you can afford to do, what you have the capacity to do and what’s the right thing to do have become a melting pot of issues to deal with.
To cope, brand strategists have fast, and publicly, organised things into phases. In this first phase, brands are offering to ‘step-up’; re-work ad copy at speed to raise funds, pivot to manufacturing useful things, make donations and the like. Noisy brands, like BrewDog switching into hand sanitiser, or Leon into deliveries for NHS workers, led the charge. The alternative, however, has been to ‘step back’, meaning if you can’t do those things, do nothing at all. Certainly, it’s seemed wise to pause or delay key activities if that hasn’t been forced on you already for other reasons.
“The current market trends are unlikely to be durable whereas the experiences we have with brands now, both new and existing, could well be.”
The future isn’t a phase
What’s becoming clear, however, is that this situation isn’t neatly phased in any way. It’s a rolling thunder creating very different cycles for different businesses. The only constant is finding ways to keep sales, and cashflow, going. Survival depends on it. Seemingly, there has never been a better moment to build a brand. Media rates are incredibly low as media consumption skyrockets. The world is stuck looking at itself through a screen, if it wasn’t sufficiently already, and this means valuable interactions are available at a fraction of the usual cost. The statistical evidence is clear, those that advertise during downturns see significant gains short and long term.
There are few clear answers, but it is time to start feeling out the way forwards. Thinking about the types of relationships we want to create is as useful a place to begin as any. After all, the current market trends are unlikely to be durable whereas the experiences we have with brands now, both new and existing, could well be. The future will judge the present.
New relationships are forming
The Stackline data showing e-commerce growth circulating last week had some interesting surprises. The bread-maker has experienced over 650% year on year growth, second only to disposable gloves. Others, such as hair dye were also up over 100%. Whilst this can be passed off as end-of-the-world panic buying, there is a deeper clue as well: people are open to new connections and discoveries, not least because they are currently starved of them in so many other ways. Language learning app Duolingo is finding all sorts of new fans it struggled to reach previously. The lesson is this: don’t underestimate what new value your brand might take on as habits reset, in many cases never to go back.
The types of relationship are changing
All things direct is of course dominating. Even Amazon is creaking, at the time of writing announcing 75,000 new job hires. At the other end, local coffee shops and even some pubs are offering home delivery of essential shopping items or home-cooked meals. For scale-ups and direct-to-consumer brands, the moment is now, and many are already over-subscribed, particularly at the meal kit end of things. Deliveries that come with personal, hand-written notes with instructions and well-wishes feel more connecting than ever. But where large existing subscribers are being prioritised over new customers, reactions will be mixed amongst both parties. And heritage brands which we seek comfort in can either confirm what they aren’t or remind us why we loved them in the first place. Heinz-to-Home allows us, and Heinz, to accelerate towards a different kind of future, if we both want it.
“Heroics are amazing but finding a simple way to say ‘hello’ might be just as welcome.”
Value and values
Celebrities have fallen foul of late in spreading #positivity from their large, luxury cribs. Brands are earmarked for the same. Spoof videos are already doing the rounds; ‘we understand you at these times’ or ‘this will all make us better together’ is disconnected from a lot of people’s realities. It’s easy to be caught between a rock and hard place: going dark isn’t an option but being ‘tone-deaf’ by actively communicating is definitely worse.
The Heinz-to-Home example signals that having value doesn’t have to come with fanfare. For sure, creating the service will have taken deep, unforeseen effort and change. What’s more striking though is the basic utility and humility of the gesture. Yes, Heinz is making delivery free for all Blue Light cardholders, but first and foremost it is a box of 16 tins for £10 delivered directly: nothing more, nothing less.
As we go forward, keeping a focus on both a core value and core values is a way to grab the marketing paradox by the thorns. Innovation isn’t a future we imagine and work our way towards, it’s a present reality to work our way through. And one that’s more likely to emerge from commitment, courage and kindness rather than calculation. Heroics are amazing but finding a simple way to say ‘hello’ might be just as welcome.