Why COVID-19 may call for a brand reset (and how to pull it off)
Many of us had high hopes, and in some cases big plans, for 2020 and the decade unfolding before us.
The spread of COVID-19 is a stark reminder of how quickly plans can change, and how difficult it can be to adapt to new realities.
Suddenly, some of the marketing initiatives that seemed almost sure-fire successes in the past need to be reconsidered.
Maybe you had a series of TV ads that featured people enjoying the great outdoors or partying in large groups.
Perhaps radio listeners knew the sound of your jingle and your catchphrase so well they could recite it aloud because they were constantly hearing it in their car during their commutes.
In a world where most of us are now working from home or self-isolating, brands that might have resisted changing course face the equivalent of a blank slate. That can be scary, but it also can offer an opportunity to innovate and connect in more relevant ways.
This doesn’t always mean a complete rebranding. It’s not limited to creating a new campaign or platform.
It’s more of a brand reset, where you recognize core elements that will inform your decision-making across multiple campaigns.
Why resets are necessary
Even without the impact of the coronavirus, brands often hit a plateau after a great run with a particular approach. People start tuning out or ignoring an ad, or there’s no room to carry on from a creative standpoint.
This is not always just a matter of consumers getting bored or overly familiar with a brand’s message. Sometimes consumer tastes and needs simply change.
It would be easy, for example, to insert a few stats here from the latest survey showing that millennials and Generation Z want brands to market with a sense of purpose, or in a way that reflects social responsibility.
Going back earlier, a full-page ad that ran in a daily newspaper stopped making sense for brands whose customers were primarily reading online.
Marketers may realize all this, but it’s only human to hope that whatever got you to where you are today will get you where you need to be tomorrow.
When that doesn’t happen — when your key performance indicators dip — you need to take action. Digital technologies are there to help, but there’s probably some strategic planning to be done in order to make the most of the tools to transform.
Here’s what’s worked for other marketers, and what may work for you:
1. Dig deeper into your DNA
The phrase “digital transformation” may suggest starting from scratch — not only using new tools, but doing away with much of the branding and creative elements that worked in the past.
Don’t be too hasty. Instead, try to step back and do an audit on what’s been successful over a longer span of time. Identify that’s truly in your company’s DNA. This could be a specific theme you’ve developed and are perceived to “own.” It could be as simple as a signature tone of voice.
The point here is not to try and keep milking what was successful, but to see what could be updated to reflect new social norms and values, or what could be repurposed and optimized for digital rather than traditional channels.
This doesn’t mean your message has to focus on COVID-19. It may simply mean recognizing that people are working from home, may be struggling financially or are looking for moments of comfort amid ongoing negative headlines.
A brand reset doesn’t mean you’re going to show up in a way that customers will no longer recognize you. You should aim to communicate in ways that are fresh and relevant, but that ladder back to your past and reinforce the credibility and consistency you’ve developed as a brand.
2. Consult, clarify and codify
When you talk to marketers that have led a brand reset, the story is often the same.
You’ll hear about teams who feel disconnected from one another, where there is confusion about what the brand stands for or situations where core tenets that informed its marketing have been diluted or forgotten.
A move to digitally transform will gain buy-in and momentum more quickly if you’re able to facilitate a discussion with those teams to get their ideas and ensure your own are well-understood. Fortunately, this can be done just as easily for teams working virtually as those who could have gathered in a boardroom a few weeks ago.
This is where brand architectures are created (or rebuilt). It’s where a framework or manifesto — ideally something simple enough to fit ton a single page — can be a reference point for every single internal or external contributor.
Once a brand reset has been documented to this extent, the way forward with digital marketing becomes much more straightforward.
3. Adopt a “data or we don’t actually know” attitude
Some of the feedback from customers and employees that informs a brand reset will be anecdotal or somehow intangible. Digital transformation shouldn’t exclude those ideas, though, because they can usually be tested as you take your next steps.
Once you’ve isolated the DNA to build upon and have built the architecture and frameworks to support it, consider the metrics you’ll use to validate (and possibly iterate upon) the way you use it to connect with consumers.
This is really important because a brand reset — whether you describe it as such or not — may be difficult for some team members, customers or other stakeholders to embrace right away. There’s already added stress from the COVID-19 situation. It will easy (and possibly tempting) to criticize based on subjective impressions. Data can provide not only proof points, but a new way of thinking about decision-making.
We’re living in a time when many marketers will have to consider a brand reset to help reengage with consumers and continue to build relationships as this crisis is contained. This may be the ideal moment to hunker down and do the strategic work that not only leads to your next great success, but a success that’s sustainable no matter how the world changes.
In a professional journey that has taken her from user experience design to CMO and now CEO, Julia Amorim blends the agility of a startup founder with the professional expertise that comes with helping some of the world’s largest brands navigate the journey of digital transformation. As the leader of MediaNet, Julia stands at the intersection of strategic thinking, technological capability, business intelligence and user experience. Follow @MediaNet on twitter.