Where do brands go in a crisis? Do they disappear if they don’t advertise? What role can they play in our today and tomorrow? And why should we care? Industry commentator Kate Smither offers her thoughts…
In “How not to plan”, the authors debunk the myth of brand lifecycles. They argue that the focus on lifecycle is misguided when it comes to brands. Put simply, brands don’t die. They are there before us in most cases and will be there after us in many more. By that logic, brands will be both our “Before” crisis, and our “After”.
And that is why we should care.
That makes them able to help navigate these crazy times in an incredibly unique way, as part of our collective cultural consciousness. They are our normal and emotionally and rationally, they are our familiar. And ultimately, the more we can see and connect to the familiar, the more the unfamiliar will feel survivable.
That might explain why people are ordering QANTAS Pjs, amenity kits and even inflight meals. It’s a yearning for the days when they could travel and an attempt to recreate experiences that they had. It’s a yearning for a familiar brand experience in unfamiliar times.
It might also explain why, two months into the UK lockdown, ITV, ran the People’s Adbreak. They’d done the Adbreak before but against the backdrop of the COVID crisis, it took on a different significance. Not only did it let people across the UK test their own creativity, it also hinted at something bigger. The craving for the normal and the role ads (and brands) play in that familiarity. The People’s Adbreak wasn’t about people making their own ads for iconic brands. It was about them remaking iconic ads.
How the familiar relates to the new is a relationship other industries have already navigated. Speaking about how digital sampling transformed music, Mark Ronson says it’s not about co-opting nostalgia wholesale but instead, blending the old and the new seamlessly. That, as a musician, you want to be part of a song’s narrative, to take something you love and build on it. Something familiar to create the new from. In the increasingly “not new, just normal” of 2020, marketers should start to think about their brands in the same way. As something we love that can be built on. As a seamless blend of old and new that creates our next normal.
Brands need to be something familiar that helps people through a year that should really have been cancelled back in March.
Let’s not forget, the brands we know are travelling through the global pandemic with us. Brands all went into Zoom calls to show us that they were with us. They all “#together’ed”. They all worked from home. They painted rainbows on windows and did bear hunts.
Now, brands like Nike with their epic spot on the human spirit are leading a brand resurgence. They’re reclaiming their confidence; their purpose and they’re getting back to the business of being the brands we love. By doing this, they are showing us a window into the next phase of normal. And they’re doing it by not just being new. They’re doing it by being familiar.
When Edelman, studied trust and brands in the COVID 19 crisis. They found a clear hope from consumers, that brands be part of the solution “Sixty-two per cent of respondents said that their country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges. Fifty-five per cent said that brands and companies are responding more quickly and effectively than government”. Essentially people couldn’t imagine getting through 2020 without the action of brands.
That means that brands themselves are forming critical parts of what McKinsey calls our “next normal”. The idea of planning for the next normal means planning beyond what has changed now, it means planning of what will become the normal post crisis.
What happens in this next normal will be up to brands and what “normal” they create for us. How they respond to the behavioural changes, the new consumer attitudes, the new ways of living, working, and purchasing. To do this, and win, marketers need to market not just for survival today but for growth tomorrow.
Peter Fields makes the point that success in this time will require that brands fully understand the “brand building” strategies proven to work for them. Emphasis here on the word proven. Not just new tactics, not just sales activations but strategies that have been shown to build brand success and human connections. Essentially, find the DNA of the brands that people love and remix it for today
So, the ask of marketers and of their brands, be the normal to our next. Don’t reinvent yourself wholesale but don’t ignore today’s reality. Take this time to understand what has worked in the past and when your brand was acting and behaving at its best Work with your strategists and agencies to find, and understand the moment that people fell in love with your brand. Then make sure you know why they did. From there, find ways to blend it into today seamlessly. Think of yourselves not as marketers but as DJs and mix the future.
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