Now is the time for brands to consider their position in the marketplace and see what they can do to help in times of crisis while also look to the future and what the “new normal” might look like, writes Charley Stoney.
We are now aware of the practice of mindfulness and recognise that in this hectic world, it has become increasingly important. For those that do practise regularly it helps them with the pace with which we now have to work and, nowhere is this pace more apparent then within the marketing communications community and their agency partners.
A number of extraordinary efforts by leading Irish brands have been celebrated over the past few weeks as Ireland works its’ way through the crisis as best it can. (I believe we’re doing a pretty good job at it too.) Shining examples of what we have already termed “Saviour brands” such as the HSE, An Post and Airbnb have been written about and exalted for the way they have leaned into societal needs and put their employees and citizens ahead of their own commercial gain. “Supporter brands” including all the main grocery retailers as well as companies such as Aer Lingus & Irish Distillers, have also come to the fore.
The Consumer Mindset
MCCP, the independent strategy agency, carried out Covid-19 Consumer Research within the first two weeks of lockdown and shared at an IAPI Insights webinar on 27th March. It provided us with ‘hot off the press’ insights into how consumers feel about brands during the crisis. “This is not about who you are or where you’re from, we’re all in this together, Ireland’s collective spirit is coming to the fore and getting stronger every day. It’s the brands that join us for the collective good that will be remembered and those that don’t will be remembered as well.” says Kay McCarthy, CEO, MCCP.
“Consumers are looking for proactivity from big brands, they want brands to step forward and support those in need. It is time for brands demonstrate their values for the good of our nation. This can be both small and big, from reaching out to a customer having difficulty paying a bill to providing lifesaving equipment to those working on the frontlines. The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.”
To support these findings Edelman provided us with further insights in their Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic which forms part of the highly regarded Edelman Trust Barometer 2020. It shows that 1 in 3 people have already punished brands by persuading other people to STOP USING a brand that they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.
“Looking at things through the Covid 19 lens is not a temporary issue even if things normalise in a couple of months. The effects of this will be long lasting and I predict that consumers will be viewing brand behaviours through the Covid 19 lens for another two years at least,” said Joe Carmody, Managing Director of Edelman Ireland when speaking at the IAPI Insights webinar on Tuesday 31st March. “Brands now have to consider their manifesto, not just from a product and services viewpoint but from a behavioural view as that is how Ireland’s citizens will be appraising them.”
So, you may be saying to yourself that it’s all very well for those brands that have the obvious connection to the community but how can you provide a practical, positive solution for your own brand communications? For instance, how can you create authentic and empathetic social activity for your automotive, homeware or yoghurt brand that will make a difference right now?
Embrace the Relationship
Well, given what these research findings are showing us, now is the opportunity to completely reassess your approach. And, for those brand owners and marketers who find themselves frozen, this could be a huge opportunity if you consider that it’s for the first time ever you can embrace embrace strategic planning without the hectic pace of business as usual.
And now, more than ever, is the time to embrace the relationship you have built up over years with your agency partners so please reach out and share your problems with them. It is the time to remember that your agencies have as much vested interest in your brand and keeping your ship afloat as you do. Your success is their success.
I use the term ‘Brand Mindfulness’ as I believe this phase of marketing is precisely that. On the acknowledged premise that commercial results will follow in recovery phase, (see both MCCP & Edelman’s research on www.iapi.ie/latestnews), what we need to be doing together is creating and innovating ways to keep brands active through authentic, proactive and positive engagement. And I use the term together with emphasis.
What not to do right now is to batten down the hatches and shut your agency partners off from your inner circle. They are the very people that will be thinking constantly about ways in which you and your brand can remain relevant in this crisis. They are the creatives, the planners, the strategists, the traders, the brand technologists and the business men and women who live and breathe your brand every day alongside you.
They are also your friends and friends stand by each other in times of need. And yes, your budget may have been slashed, and let’s hope this is temporary but, meanwhile your agencies are all still there, willing and able to help you. Your partnership is strong enough to sustain a period of uncertainty so please use them and join together for Brand Mindfulness sessions.
The Collins dictionary definition of Mindfulness as a noun “is a way of training your mind to concentrate on the present, in order to feel calm and improve your mental state. The practice of giving complete and non-judgmental attention to one’s present experience.” Translate that into a Brand context and I hope you can see how apt it is right now.
My stab at the definition of Brand Mindfulness during the Covid 19 crisis would be as follows: “The practice of giving complete and non-judgmental attention to a brand in the present crisis. A way of training your mind to concentrate, not on the products and services you produce, but on the ways in which those products and services can be used to help society.”
Outputs from Brand Mindfulness sessions don’t need to involve huge investment such as the initiatives undertaken by Airbnb who have committed a whopping €250m fund to recompenses travellers and host over this time period. Bear in mind that re-purposing doesn’t have to cost a huge amount. An Post have repurposed their postman to check on the elderly and report back. Yes, this has been a logistical feat but the goodwill for the brand and for their postmen who now feel at the centre of the community again is priceless.
It could be that a car dealership re-purposes their demo cars and lends them to carless families so they can deliver food to their cocooned loved ones. If you’re an FMCG brand why not use your booked media space to highlight your own local heroes who are still working in your factory or delivering your product to grocery stores so that we can all still buy food. Both MCCP and Edelman’s research shows that companies that look after their employees during this crisis are seen as stepping up.
There are a couple of standout sectors that come to mind right now that are very noticeable for their absence on mainstream media and I believe this will prove damaging to their brands over the long term. Firstly, the financial services sector. They’ve introduced a few products aimed to help people who have been impacted by Covid 19 but isn’t that just business as usual? They could be providing us with local community initiatives that focus on people’s need right now, galvanising their workforce and really helping businesses with cashflow problems. They may argue that they are highly regulated, that they have a massive network, that deploying thousands of staff is logistically impossible.
But that doesn’t really hold up when you consider that An Post have done exactly that they also are highly regulated, carry cash around the country and have the biggest by far retail network of over 900 outlets as well as the largest workforce in the country.
Equally, the big tech companies Facebook, Google, Twitter & LinkedIn have probably never been so busy coping with the massive uplift on their platforms during lockdown. While they are undergoing a lot of CSR activity globally, we haven’t really seen a huge amount of pro-active, societal care going on in Ireland, beyond their own employee care. Given their scale here compared to our indigenous companies, it would be interesting to see them step up here. I believe they have both the funds and bandwidth to be truly supportive to the business community.
Heading for the New Normal
And what if you decide that there really isn’t anything you can do right now that your Board will sign off on? That you have an executive team that still haven’t understand the growth potential that comes from excellent brand strategy as well as the positive impact it will have on the bottom line? Well then, think ahead. When we get to the new normal what do you want from your brand? Now you have the opportunity to take the time to overhaul, to make your mark, to undergo those basic roadmaps that you’ve been too busy to get to for a while. And believe me, your agencies will come on the journey with you.
Charley Stoney is the CEO of IAPI