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How Brands Should Navigate Unchartered Waters

Adworld.ie has teamed up with Core to publish a weekly series of updates – informed by research and intelligence- which examines some of the key issues and challenges facing marketers and their brands as they navigate unchartered waters. In the first of the series, Andy Pierce, group strategy director from Core, provides an outline of the marketing framework he is advising his clients with.

“There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen”.

Even though it’s been said many times, it’s important to begin by acknowledging that COVID-19 represents an unprecedented global humanitarian challenge. Its impact will be far reaching, and it will have lasting implications on human behaviour. While marketing may seem less important at a time like this, it is our responsibility to support brands and the businesses they represent.  Especially now. There is much we can do to help both the public and our brands through this crisis, whether it is supporting frontline workers, providing vital information, meeting new needs or offering moments of relief, but tone is critical.

It is important to also acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Sectors and marketers are all experiencing this differently. To that end, we have developed the COVID-19 planning framework, rather than a hard set of principles. It is designed to help our clients navigate their way through this situation and plan a way forward. It is divided across three distinct phases:

Adaption: It’s not vital to withdraw all communications and many brands are not. But it is critical to review all messaging, which is or will be in market. Is it appropriate? And, for performance comms or tactical offers, is there demand? We are largely coming to the end of this phase.

Reaction:  This phase governs how brands will behave over the coming weeks and, potentially, months. Stunts and needless communications will be punished. Cases from China and Italy both prove that.

Emerging human needs and behaviours guide us. With two completed studies, and a third in-field, our Research Practice has a strong read on these. People are anxious, uncertain, but they also feel a sense of national pride and solidarity. They are isolated but feel a sense of community. People are fearful but also hopeful. They are glued to the news, but equally seeking distraction, entertainment and escape.

There are numerous ways brands can be helpful and make a significant contribution – to the front line – but also to the home front. Be judicious in what you say. Be slow, be cautious and be empathetic. Prioritise fewer things for today and lean on your agency partners to plan for the weeks ahead.

When it comes to sales activity, how your customers are behaving now will give a strong steer on how they are likely to continue to behave. Often there is scope to explore new propositions for existing products, services and fulfilment.

Andy Pierce, group strategy director from Core

Recovery:  Here, it is critical to move at two speeds. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this work must start now.  Where possible, separate resource will help, as it requires significant planning. In Core, we have established separate planning teams to look at this phase with our clients.

The first step is scenario planning. Outlining the different timeframes, behaviours and trading situations that may arise. From there, we move to objective setting – identifying what measures we must maintain and build for future commercial growth. This allows a range of plans to be developed, tailored to the different scenarios and built around the key objectives.

Through all phases, consistency is critical.

Consistency: Be wary of leaning too heavily on learnings from the financial crisis of ten years ago. Bad generals fight the last war, not the current one. This situation is very different. Then, the wheels of business were still turning, retail channels were still open. Maintaining or growing investment was touted as the silver bullet for a strong recovery. For most businesses in most sectors that is simply not an option today. Budget cuts are inevitable.

However, collectively we have some applicable learnings. The importance of consistency of presence is a key learning from China. Within reason, it is important for marketers and their agencies to defend a proportion of budget. Marketing investment is not discretionary spending. It serves a vital role stimulating future demand. And future is the key word.

Market share is very hard to move in the short term, with few exceptions. Econometrics shows that about 85% of purchase decisions are not made in the short term. Sustained growth is poorly influenced by tactical activities. So H2 sales (if that is to be the duration of this) will be heavily informed by how brands behave now. Brand equity that you have in 2020, will be a key influencing factor on sales in 2021. Indeed, the greatest return on marketing investment is typically in year two.

If brands are solely advertising tactically, they won’t rebuild vital equity, and they will face a prolonged uphill struggle.

It’s rarely a good idea when a marketer cites a communist, but I started with a quote from Lenin – a man determined to overthrow the system our industry is built upon. This virus is threatening to do something similar. Both will ultimately fall short of that objective. But in a very short space of time, both will have had a lasting impact on our society, and we must adapt.

The series can be viewed and downloaded at onecore.ie/covid

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