Five steps to get a brand back on the front foot


Most brands went into defensive mode during Q2 and Q3 as the world went into lockdown but as we emerge into a new normal, especially one that is likely to be recessionary, here’s how a brand can get back on the front foot.

First, set the phasers to volume share

Evidence from multiple downturns strongly points to the need for brands to focus on volume share right now. Protecting volume share today is the key to value share growth tomorrow.

That doesn’t mean lurching for the price promo lever. It means marketing tried and tested products and services. This is not a time to focus on new product launches. NPD is hit and miss at the best of times but right now it would be foolhardy to focus efforts behind launching new lines unless they bring guaranteed incremental turnover (and even then the ROI versus established lines needs to be considered).

Second, invest in advertising

Lots of evidence shows that treating ad spend not as an expense but as an investment in the future pays dividends. And because many firms will give in to their first instincts and cut back on their advertising as we enter recession, a firm that maintains spend can benefit from an increase in share of voice.

During tough times people go back to brands they know and love. Supporting these brands with emotionally relevant messaging will hit the mark, both attracting lapsed customers and cementing the loyalty of current customers.

Just make sure that what you’re spending your money on is differentiated and meaningful. Spare us corporate platitudes and focus instead on some good old-fashioned advertising that explains why your product/service is better than your competition’s.

The likes of Unilever will be emerging from lockdown with the intention to not only increase ad spend but to focus it on supporting their power brands. No doubt they will be seeking to make savings in areas like agency compensation and production costs but that’s another story!

Third, learn to adapt faster

Even organizations as unwieldy as the likes of Unilever will be learning to adapt more quickly than they’re used to.

Unilever is not a business built on e-commerce, but it has seen online sales jump significantly during lockdown and it’s busily pivoting to ensure it takes advantage of the change.

For example, its ice cream business was hit hard by a sharp drop in out-of-home consumption but they pivoted brands like Ben & Jerry’s towards a new home-delivery model powered by e-commerce to take advantage of increased in-home consumption.

And in response to sky-rocketing demand for health and hygiene products, Unilever has rolled out its Lifebuoy handwash product in more than 65 new markets. Without the pandemic this sort of move would have taken Unilever years to achieve but they’ve done it in just a few months.

Those are macro decisions taken at the corporate level but companies like Unilever will also be developing their agility skills in a multitude of micro ways. They will be constantly adjusting marketing spend in channels, geographies, and categories to meet local conditions and ensure they minimise waste and maximise growth opportunities. They will also be using more agile asset-creation techniques, and re-using existing advertising assets, edited to fit the new normal.

Fourth, get real with brand purpose

I have been critical of many brand purpose initiatives in the past, particularly ones that are divorced from the function of the brand. I really don’t want to know how a brand intends to save the world, only where it sits in the world and what it contributes to it. But when it’s done correctly, brand purpose can be highly motivating to both consumer and employee alike.

And the power of brand purpose done correctly has never been more relevant. For brands to demonstrate their positive contribution to society and address the issues that consumers care about in an authentic way is a powerful use of marketing investment right now, and one that will repay itself many times over.

Fifth, protect brand culture

With people on furlough or working from home or leaving the business, a brand’s culture could easily be disrupted. Brand mojo is a powerful force for good but it’s also delicate so think about what initiatives you can do to foster team spirit and a sense of brand belonging. This is not about virtual away-day tree hugs; it’s about investing in what could be a tangible competitive advantage for a brand.

So, set the phasers for volume share, invest in advertising your tried and tested lines, learn to adapt at warp speed, get real when it comes to any brand purpose initiatives, and protect brand culture. This, combined with a pinch of salt and a following wind, will help you get your brand back on the front foot. Good luck!

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