As nations of the world are slowly recovering from the pandemic and pushing towards returning to normalcy, the buzz word being thrown around is “change”. The Covid-19 pandemic is said to have changed a lot about how we buy, eat, live, and work.
Branding, which is the process of telling a compelling and emotive story about a product, place or person consistently and cohesively is not left out in the forced change heralded by the pandemic. The process of building brands have been greatly impacted, because the customers have changed, their lifestyle have changed, how they buy and their perception of value have been greatly altered; a concern which informs the needed shift in the entire process of branding and rebranding.
Beyond the shift in consumer behaviour and consumption pattern, the realities of the post-pandemic economy and its impact on business operations strongly calls for a rethink of the entire process of brand building. It’s imperative for brand owners to invest in better branding initiatives in order to be able to reach the post Covid-19 consumers and adapt to the economic realities.
The following are key considerations for effective branding post-Covid-19:
PURPOSE OVER PROFIT
At the peak of events that rocked the Covid-19 era, products and services were clearly divided into two dimensions: essential and non-essential services. According to the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce Force for Covid-19 in Nigeria, essential services include medical personnel, journalists, fire service personnel, and telecommunications workers. But beyond the visible dichotomy established by the government, consumers with doomsday mentality decided what is essential to them, and the brands they considered essential were given attention to. The consumer’s perception of essential is built around two constructs: their greatest fears or greatest regrets. According to Mr Patami Longi, a civil servant in Lagos State, ”I really wish I travelled to Dubai before all this happened and see for myself the glory of the world. Now I can’t, but I am saving my money for when the lockdown will be called off, I’ll be the first to buy a ticket”.
For Patami and many others, luxurious lifestyle is essential because it responds to their needs for self-actualization. This goes to say that the pandemic may not have killed consumerism, it has merely allowed consumers time and space to reconsider their choices, evaluate their options and probe their choices. It therefore follows that building a brand post covid-19 starts with answering the “why” questions. Consumers want to know how your service truly adds value to their lives. How it will make their lives better and make their existence worth something in case they are no more. As a result of this, brands need to have a re-think on their value proposition, considering the compelling reason why they have to be in the market and the ultimate life enhancing value their products bring to the consumers if they want to enjoy heavy patronage going forward.
To the post covid-19 consumer, spending money is not the problem, but spending money on things that really count especially in times when the chips are down. This is a more important paradigm to evaluating purchase for consumers. This is not time to cajole consumers and entice them with freebies and incentives, this is the time to pursue purpose and demonstrate to consumers the value of that purpose. The clarity on brand purpose will be communicated with consumer-centric brand programs and relatable brand campaigns. It’s not enough to declare purpose. Walking the talk is twice as important as the declaration.
PARTNERS NOT CONSUMERS
Going forward, brands need to recognize their customers as partners rather than consumers. If there was anything the consumers are fully aware of, it’s their power in this season. The consumer have discovered alternatives to the solutions they previously get from brands, most of which are DIY solutions. They’ve brought themselves into creating quick fix for brands that were unavailable, and have seen firsthand that if they don’t buy businesses will not make sales. So they are determined to maintain that sense of self-worth, and freedom of choice. Consumers don’t just want to be passive, they want to design their experience and are willing to patronize brands that opens its doors to that level of partnership.
LEGO recognize the co-creation trend earlier and leveraged on it to build a formidable brand. LEGO doesn’t have a R&D department, the consumers are the R&D. They allow their fans to submit proposed designs for new playsets and the design with the most votes is selected for production. Aside from the joy of been selected as a LEGO Grand Prize Winner, the winner also enjoy 1% of the net sales of the playset which gives an incentive that drive participation every year. Also, LEGO has an inexhaustible pool of design ideas to create more products. `
Building brands post Covid-19, will demand that brand prioritize personalization and customization. Brands must allow consumers see themselves in the story and also complete the brand story. The brand building process must become open-sourced with priority given to user-generated content, consumer insights for R&D and consumer production or packaging support. Consumers must feel connected to the idea of your product and services. They must be allowed to contribute to the brand success and apply their initiative to the product or service journey.
Speaking with Ree Ekwere, a celebrity private chef in Abuja, she confirmed that her customers are not just giving her their kitchen to create mind-blowing meals, they are demanding for recipes and spices. They want to get involved and co-create their experiences. Business must build brands with an open-source thinking, one that allows the consumers discover new use cases on their own and which empowers the consumers to create and extend their experiences.
Every day, as the pandemic raged, people became more vulnerable and emotionally dependent, trying to find balance and stability in institutions, places and things that mater to them. Empathy quickly became an overused word, heartfelt conversations and actions were demanded with the slightest opportunity.
From consumer generated campaigns on staying safe during the pandemic, to the anti-rape and anti-racism uprising, people took a stand for what they cared deeply about and demanded that the brands they patronize should also take a stand and lend their voice to the issues. Particularly on the Black Lives Matter anti-racial campaign, Marketing Dive reported that most Americans say brands should respond to social issues related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Almost three-quarters (71%) of U.S. adults said brands have a role in responding to the issues of racial injustice and police brutality. To clarify further, they also reported that, Twenty percent of Americans said they would stop buying from a brand perceived to have behaved hypocritically on the issues of racial injustice and police brutality. Only 6% would stop buying from a brand that remains silent on the issues.
EMPATHY IS NON-NEGOTIABLE
Building a brand post Covid-19, regardless of the archetype of the brand, empathy is expected. This can be demonstrated by taking a visible stand on social issues that affects the daily lives of consumers, helping and showing consumers how to deal with these issues. Brand programs that supports Branding for sustainability and impact are a key component of a post-covid-19 brand strategy. The consumers need to feel connected to a responsible and responsive brand, employees need to know they are supporting the growth of a people-first brand and the government needs to know that they are creating opportunities for helpful brands to thrive. If there is any time when PR expert must work closely with the Brand managers, now is that time. Beyond the ongoing social issue campaigns, brands are expected to bring to the fore and champion cause campaigns on real issues consumers are dealing with both the one’s they are aware of and the one’s they don’t even know they are struggling with. Beyond participation, taking an active lead in issues campaign will be how most post Covid-19 brands will win.
There are tremendous opportunities for brands post Covid-19, to attract the right audience, create sustainable value and push their brand equity through the roof if they will prioritize purpose, hold hands with consumers as partners for their brand building process and demonstrate empathy while at it.
Gidyon Thompson is a brand strategist and storyteller that has committed the last 8 years helping brands in Africa and in the diaspora to tell compelling stories, onboard consumers and thrive in the marketplace. He works full time with eikon grae, a strategic brand development and management agency, as lead brand strategist and managing partner.