We can feel how tough these times are. We are going through an emotional rollercoaster every day. We had to learn how to work from home with pets, children running around and demanding our attention. We had to close stores, adjust our communication and manage daily fears of our team members. Yes, we all feel it. It is hard.
But every crisis is also an opportunity. The nature of crisis is that it forces us to gain perspective on our daily life, to re-evaluate, to take stock, to innovate. It might seem difficult to think of the future now, yet it is precisely a perfect opportunity to pivot your business and brand in order to build foundations for new success in the new post-coronavirus world.
We spoke to many of our clients and friends in retail industry and they all see it too. We live in unprecedented times where some brands won’t survive and others will thrive. The difference is simple: those utilising this opportunity with agility and togetherness will thrive and help to shape the world post-coronavirus (we hope it will be a better world). If you want to be one of these brands, here are some of our recommendations on how you can take advantage of this newly discovered perspective. We are presenting them in the order of importance we believe will be most beneficial to follow.
Please recognise that these predictions are based on the current situation and our overall knowledge on human behaviour as well as our experience working with consumer brands. We will be monitoring the shifts in human behaviour and as many macro- and micro-factors which can potentially shape consumer behaviour in the coming weeks and months. We will post insights and examples of businesses doing a great job.
Every project we ever worked on is only as good as the brand strategy of our clients. We have been very fortunate to work with many brands on their strategy and help them translate it into design, experience, marketing and much more.
Seeing the reactions of many brands in these tough times, we can clearly recognise those that have a robust brand strategy with clear purpose and those that are basically undergoing identity crisis. These times are like a lie detector for brands. We loved this article by Matthew Valentine in Marketing Week on brands living up to their purpose and those massively missing the mark.
Purpose is like a compass, it helps you find your way, especially when you feel lost, like in a crisis. If you don’t have a purpose, it’s harder to know where you’re going, and every decision takes you a very long time.
Agility is one of the biggest strengths for brands right now. If you don’t have a clear purpose that is fully ingrained into your internal culture, your reactions simply can’t be as agile as is now required from brands. We have seen LVMH and Pai Skincare producing hand sanitisers much earlier than any other brands. We’ve seen Pret a Manger supporting NHS staff with free hot drinks and 50% off food. Yet, other brands that we came to love over the years are only recently starting to make some effort to help the world. For example, Zara only just started to offer to produce scrubs for doctors and nurses, an action good in itself but much too late, especially for a brand who can easily turn over a new collection in few weeks.
This is a great test for brands purpose and agility. Many start-ups, owner operated SMEs and DTC brands are better prepared to take quicker action and will likely end up coming out of this crisis as heroes.
If you feel you don’t have a clear purpose and brand strategy to guide you in this crisis, this is a perfect time to identify one. It can help you bring your whole team together and inspire them in the tough times.
We like to call it human experience as we look at a holistic human being with all its quirks, fears and beauty. We also like to look at all humans in the equation, not only customers; so employees, suppliers, or even random passers-by’s.
Once you have a clear brand strategy, you can decide on your unique flair for your brand experience. Some experiences are more about entertainment. Others more about growth. Some about human connection. And some are a mixed bag of various styles.
Your experience depends on your purpose, mission and brand personality. Every moment a person interacts with your brand, they should be coming closer to that ultimate promise of yours.
As we mentioned, current times are a great test for a brand’s purpose and how it is delivered across different channels. Use each channel to present different aspects of your brand personality, to get people to experience different facets of your brand, to allow them to connect in different ways. This will build deeper relationship between you and them.
So, use this time to re-evaluate the role of each of your channels in building relationships with your humans, new to your brand and those who already love you. Think of it like it is a friendship or love relationship. You communicate through texts, phone calls, going out to dinner and drinks, visiting a museum, having a picnic in a park or sitting next to each other on the kitchen table while working from home. All these moments are providing different meaning to this relationship, giving you a chance to learn new things about your friend/partner, allowing you to experience different things.
The nature of each channel dictates a focus on different aspects of your brand and your relationships with people. Social media is more conversational. Websites are more for information gathering and transactions. Stores are more about connection with a brand and building more meaningful bonds. But you don’t have to stick with these standard ways of doing things.
Every crisis forces people to reframe their mental models about everything they knew till this moment. Human psyche is ready for change now and they expect it. It is a new status quo. This is therefore the time to truly innovate all usual ways of creating omni-channel experience.
Branding, Communication and Marketing
Over the last few months, we have been working on updating brand strategy and branding of a few brilliant smaller brands like Snug, a sofa in a box brand, or Dearest, a diamond jewellery brand. Snug has actually launched their new brand on their 1st birthday on 26th March and are continuing to innovate in these tough times (an interview with their founder Robert Bridgman coming out shortly).
Especially if you decided to update your brand strategy, fresh look subconsciously conveying your new purpose, brand personality and values is key. As much as it might be hard to spend money now, many amazing freelance consultants will work now for much lower fees just to survive this crisis. We have ourselves considerably reduced our fees to ensure we can support as many of our clients as possible.
Even if you are not changing anything in your brand or customer experience strategy, you inevitably have to adjust your communication and marketing. There are so many brands, especially in fashion, that continue to communication as if nothing changed. Some people refer to that as being ‘tone deaf’. Even brands that we’ve come to know as the most innovative, seem to follow that style, for example Farfetch. This is not only unacceptable but indivertibly will damage the brand love and customer loyalty.
There are many great brands out there that continue communicating with their customers using all possible tools from social media, through chats, to clienteling apps and WhatsApp (we will be posting much more content on what various brands are doing that we believe is worth emulating). It is a perfect time to get to know your customers, to send them relevant content, to set up virtual yoga class or wellbeing panel discussion. Support them in these tough times and do not sell! People will buy when they can but they will always remember that you were genuinely there for them. So, change your tune in line with your brand purpose and personality and you should do great.
As many brands had to close their stores, this presents an unlikely opportunity to reinvent the store experience. As people will be coming out of self-isolation, they will look for even more amazing experiences. After weeks of having their senses considerably under-stimulated by watching Netflix, scrolling through social media and shopping online, their minds will be more finely tuned to pay attention to what is truly magnificent and even transcendent experience.
Consumers will be hungry for multisensory delight, social closeness, feeling of community, moments of peace in the again busy days and so much more. We also believe they will be looking for an even greater differentiation between experiences across all the brands they shop from or even just visit.
As all stores are now closed yet construction is allowed to take place, although in limited capacity, it is a great time to introduce at least small updates to the overall experience. We saw some smaller businesses on a high street already taking advantage of this. These don’t have be drastic changes. We are firm believers in marginal gains approach. You can make very subtle, almost imperceptible, updates that yet have a fundamental effect on the overall experience.
We have included it after physical stores as planning for store redesign and construction can take a bit longer than for online updates.
Online shopping has been ripe for innovation for a while. Now, that customers are only able to shop online, they are becoming even more aware of how usually boring and overwhelming that experience can be.
E-commerce websites are often not very stimulating and usually contain plenty of meaningless friction such as too many product categories, too many customer journey steps, or difficulty finding simple information like delivery costs.
Many people think that you can’t achieve multisensory experience online. When looking at science, we know this is a fundamentally wrong belief. Various research shows us that imagination of a sensory sensation activates the brain in pretty much the same intensity as really experiencing that sensation, like a taste or a smell. In fact, the more sensory expressions a brand can introduce in a manner consistent to their brand personality, the higher the emotional engagement, the better the memory and the higher the value perception. It can be as simple as utilising more sensory language. The specific solutions will be dependent on the brand and the products they sell. However, with a minimal effort, you can truly create a much more engaging and interactive e-commerce website by even changing some product descriptions and few images.
Now, we can’t forget about innovation across the whole brand in these times. The most important starting point is a really good insight on how your specific product category will be impacted and how consumer behaviour is likely to change. Some of our clients are already asking us for advice on how we believe consumers will behave after self-isolation ends.
It is not only about looking at how you should pivot your brand strategy, customer experience or marketing now. You should also look into how can you innovate in product development.
Many brands will suffer in terms of access to the right manufacturers as so many of them will simply go out of business. Those brands that decided to create their own small manufacturing facilities and produce limited-edition product lines before gauging real interest in the product are likely to become winners in the world post-coronavirus.
The way people are shopping and what they will choose to buy will definitely change. We all know it. We don’t have a crystal ball here however. We can see few different consumer behaviours we are likely to encounter but this is still unsure as it will depend on so many different macro- and micro-factors, including how brands will continue to communicate in the upcoming few weeks. We do however believe that there will be huge opportunities in beauty, wellness, sustainable fashion, drinks, snacks and hospitality categories. Many new products can be now invented or, better yet, co-created with your customers.
We have also already seen a huge rise in focus on brand community creation and growth. We have ourselves worked on few brand community strategies over the last few months and our founder Kate Nightingale spoke at many conferences on precisely this topic and has an upcoming article in a peer-reviewed journal presenting her unique model of brand community for multi-brand retailers. In such times however, when focus on relationship building is crucial to brand survival, investment in creating, managing and growing your brand community is one of the best strategic moves any brand can do.
How Will You Pivot?
We hope that some of our above thoughts have inspired you to make the best of these times. We will be putting more content out with further advice and predictions as the situation changes.
We also would love to hear from you. So please share your experiences, thoughts, ideas, wishes and challenges. Together we can create a much better world.