Article first published on Financial Mail’s The Redzone
Managing brands for short term without compromising on long-term growth
How do your actions of today affect your brand outcomes tomorrow? The world is dealing with the unforeseen challenge not only of understanding the coronavirus but also its economic and consumer behaviour impact, and how to keep building brands as we prepare for growth in these uncertain times.
Concern in SA is among the highest in the world. These concerns are rooted primarily in fears about financial security and fuelled by the government’s stringent measures, as well as media exploding with the debate around the economic impact.
Facing challenges from panic-buying to lockdown, many brands have been paralysed in the face of the pandemic, but recovery is in sight.
BrandZ’s top 9 insights include both short- and long-term implications, as well as aspects of trust and media investment. Brands that have evolved to help people over time need to offer a recognisable guarantee of quality, as well as simplified decision-making and an expression of reliability. But in times of crisis, where the environment is in constant flux, it’s the agile brands that are best able to adapt that come out as overall winners. It’s essential to create action plans — not just for today but for future recovery as we move towards the light at the end of the tunnel …
Amid the global Covid-19 crisis, the BrandZ strong brands portfolio has been better insulated against losses than others.
Brand-building expenditure is an investment, not a cost
This varies by market and sector, but trend data from the great recession of 2008 is instructive as to how brands can regain growth. That said, some sectors will be permanently affected in the new normal, so we need to focus on innovation as strong brands recover nine times faster after a crisis.
SA’s informal sector, for example, sees an annual turnover of R85m. Many of the brands that are active in this space are quickly adapting to the changing times to offer WhatsApp ordering and delivery by runners.
Manage the short term — easy to mind, easy to hand
The quality of simplifying decision-making for consumers relies on the ability to bring to mind a rich set of associations, but with uncertainty and disruption all around, the natural inclination is to pause and delay big-ticket purchases.
However, as the Covid-19 disruption is expected to last for 18 months, you need to ensure your brand retains salience in mental and physical availability without compromising its core values. The primary need is mental availability, which advertising will deliver, so don’t go dark.
Plan for the long term and optimise your brand’s meaningful difference
Beyond day-to-day functionality, we need to look beyond the short-term and plan for plausible futures based on changed behaviours and the desire to return to normal. Meaningful difference is the key growth driver of strong and healthy brands, comprising five vital signs: Purpose, innovation, communications, brand experience and love.
Note that while corporate social responsibility (CSR) alone garners goodwill and helps build corporate reputation, it cannot do enough alone to step-change brand preference. At its best, societal impact goes deep into innovation and how we do business to offer new solutions, creating potential for long-term incremental growth.
With 53% of South Africans saying they now pay more attention to the origin of products and 69% more in favour of products with SA origin, now’s the time for local brands to shine.
Trust and integrity as a powerful platform at corporate level
Brand purpose is the foundation on which the brand is built, with leadership and responsibility the core pillars of reputation — never more so in times of crisis and shown by respecting employees, environment and supply chain. Reputation matters more than ever during times of crisis as it affects future purpose intent, which in turn blossoms into consumer trust that drives demand growth.
With sustenance and security threatened during this pandemic, South Africans have a renewed drive to keep their basic needs intact and to protect these into the future. There’s a renewed respect for basic needs, never to be taken for granted again. Reckitt Benckiser has amplified its portfolio’s role in keeping families safe by bundling together packages of home care and personal care products like Harpic, Jik and Dettol as part of their “stay safe” initiative.
Brand purpose is about the brand foundations
Faced by a world in crisis, consumers expect brands to impact broader society by taking action to build a better world. This is all about the expertise your brand offers, how you practise what you preach and how that corporate response will eventually “halo” your brand. About 90% of South Africans say brands should talk about how they can be helpful in the new everyday life, and the Covid-19 ads that talk about brand actions that genuinely help people are the ones with the most brand power, as they make consumers feel more positive.
Societal purpose has shifted from a “nice to have” to an essential for brand growth, so there’s no better time for SA brands to amplify an authentic relevant brand purpose.
All brands benefit if they set the trends, lead the category and adapt to changing circumstances quickly to meet new consumer needs. So, consider how your offer could be upgraded to benefit customers, as creative solutions can also apply to rules of engagement that will enhance the customer experience.
For example, Snapchat launched “Here for you” as a mental health app two months earlier than planned as they saw the need across the world as a result of coronavirus anxiety. Locally, KOO is sharing daily inspiration with 995 different ways to use KOO products in various meals and recipes.
Now is the time for your brand voice to be heard, so keep advertising if you’re still selling. You can be playful, as humour provides relief, but note that it has to fit your brand character and style; and be careful as all communications are now under more scrutiny than ever.
Steer clear of the stock footage and phrasing that we’re already seeing everywhere and rather create new icons of safety specific to your brand, to include in your communication.
The delivery of service and quality of product in this era of shared humanity is crucial in meeting consumer expectations, as it drives the strongest mental associations needed to build brand equity. So, learn from customer expectations, as an enhanced experience can strengthen that all-important relationship going forward.
In particular, think “inclusive commerce” or omnichannel, as results of Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer study in SA shows that 85% of connected consumers who have started to buy online during the crisis say that they’ll continue to do so in future.
Covid-19 has been an undeniable catalyst for changes to retailing and customer experience, as a force that will change the way we buy, shop and engage with brands today and after the crisis.
But Africa will not be digitised overnight, though consumers are increasingly using online sources to reduce shopping trips and access brands in new ways. This accelerated trial of digital channels will create new expectations, so be mindful of the overall brand experience you provide. New behaviours will only stick if the experience is consistently more convenient and rewarding.
Emotional brand qualities are the most powerful, as loved brands provide welcome escape. We see local brands coming out tops with aspects of provenance and community pride enhancing connections. Remember that empathy and practicality are a potent combination.
Now more than ever, we need to redefine purpose and reimagine customer experiences as we build brands beyond profit. It’s the brands who listen to and learn from consumers that will do best.