April 7, 2020 [cresta-social-share]

Playing The Long Game

3 Points On Strategic Branding In Tough Times

Times of crisis force us to prioritise the urgent over the important like nothing else. But, while brands scrabble to put together contingencies for the unprecedented crisis the coronavirus pandemic has put us in, it’s important to be careful not to give in to knee-jerk urges.

Short-term crisis response should not come at the expense of long-term brand health. Instead, according to Ebiquity chief strategy officer Christian Polman, brands should:

“Rework their marketing strategies to focus on long-term brand building within the limitations of the current climate. The brands that can afford to resist the temptation to focus on short-term activation will weather this storm less scathed — when it eventually passes.”

Nice words, but what do they mean? How does a brand keep the future in focus when the present is so pressing?

Identify The Priorities Your Brand Strategy Must Meet

For the best long-term results, a brand’s immediate priorities (given current limitations) should be:

Brand Strength

Strong brands are more resilient. Maintain or take the place at the top of your audience’s mind.

Audience Retention & Growth

Hold onto your existing audience while, if possible, seeking opportunities to grow it.

Planning For the Recovery

Crises don’t last forever and this too shall pass.

Each of the above points, ties into and supports the others (a strong brand holds onto and grows a larger audience, better positioning it to take advantage of the eventual recovery) and every facet of your marketing strategy should be able to answer how it meets the needs of each.

For example…

Be Human In Your Social Media & Content Marketing

Even when times are easy, social media is best used to engage your audience not just make a hard sale. But when times are hard, it’s especially important to remember that people, your audience, want comfort, distractions and a sense of normalcy.

Don’t Exploit The Crisis, Relate to The Audience

In their COVID-19 Barometer report, released last month, Kantar identified 6 broad themes common across shares on social media (use of which has spiked by 62% globally). While cynical and sarcastic memes dominated at 40% of the total, the other 60% was made up almost entirely of people looking for comfort, or trying to make normal an abnormal situation.

#706f6fWe agree with the maxim that there is opportunity in every crisis, but this is not the time to come across as exploitative of a crisis that has the entire world worrying about the future. This can be a very sensitive line to toe, and that’s why at Wetpaint Advertising we have an extensive approvals process for all social media communications.

Make Your Brand Useful or Engaging

If your brand has services to offer that would be of genuine value in this time of need, by all means, offer them. If you are making special arrangements to tackle the current situation, share them with your followers – make them a part of your journey as you navigate this crisis alongside them.

We have clients who have already seen positive social media engagement, just from doing something as simple as assuring the audience that the brand is aware of the situation, and will be taking measures to protect their staff and customers. A little reassurance can go a long way.

Otherwise, get creative. Offer content that keeps with the character of your brand, if not necessarily its product line. Be helpful, offer advice if you can, and always be supportive of the struggle your countrymen are going through.

More ‘Human’ Social Media On The Brand Priority Checklist

  • Brand strength: Ongoing social media activity projects normalcy and resilience. Your brand is seen as one that can survive to keep serving its consumers’ needs.
  • Audience retention & growth: By continuing to engage your audience, and adjusting the tone of your engagement to suit their situation, your brand communicates understanding and engenders loyalty.
  • Planning for the recovery: When the lockdown is lifted, or restrictions have at least been loosened and your audience can return to the stores, positive brand equity  will stand you in good stead as a top-of-mind supplier.

Adjust Your Media Planning And Buying

We are in positively unprecedented territory at the moment, and according to a survey by the IAB, 46% of American media buyers have adjusted their advertising spend for the first half of 2020 in response to the uncertainties of the crisis.

While numbers for South Africa are not available yet, Wetpaint’s experience of the pandemic so far tell a very similar story. What this tells us is that 54% of brands in the survey (those who’ve paused their spend, haven’t changed anything or haven’t yet decided), are responding slowly to the crisis, waiting to see how COVID-19 changes the media landscape before committing to anything.

This leaves a gap for more agile, responsive brands to take advantage of.

Don’t do what you have always done, as though things aren’t different right now. At least for the short term, everything you know is out the window, and your strategy should reflect that.

For example, a lot of companies in the UK have added coronavirus-related keywords to their block lists, so that their brands’ will not appear next and therefore be associated with the virus in any way.  But this may not be advisable, since almost the entire world is keeping an eye on coronavirus news, offering potentially unmatched exposure for a very competitive cost.

And with your audience homebound for the foreseeable future, what we know about the best time slots for radio and television are likely to be outdated. Your audience is at home all day and their lives have been disrupted, but this will not stop them from consuming media; it will just change when and how they consume it. If you have not yet adjusted your media buying and planning strategy, or at least considered how you are going to update it with the times, you should.

Adjusting Your Media Planning & Buying to Accommodate Post-coronavirus Consumer Habits on The Brand Priority Checklist?

  • Brand Strength: By staying apace of the times, and being where the audience is, when they’re there, your brand projects competence, resilience and reliability.
  • Audience Retention & Growth: By taking advantage of shifting consumer behaviours before your competition does, your brand will be there for consumers that your competitors have left behind.
  • Planning for The Recovery: With a media planning and buying strategy that adjusts to the market’s needs, your brand will be positioned to benefit from the market’s eventual recovery.

Track, Measure, Monitor & Adjust

When it comes to measuring results, it’s hard to beat digital advertising. This can be a double-edged sword, however, as we’ve noticed rapid fluctuations in online behaviours can artificially skew results. While our March campaigns were largely unaffected by the coronavirus’ effect, we predict that our April numbers will reflect a change in online search patterns.

Some brands are going to go into conniptions as they watch months of SEO investment appear to evaporate as people’s search bars are more and more used to keep up on current events, and less used to hunt for products and services.

The trick here is to not respond too quickly to audience behaviour changes.

Due to their sensitivity to online behaviour, a month’s worth of digital metrics can be wildly thrown off by real-world events, making the behaviours surrounding a passing fad or perhaps an industry conference seem like a new status quo.

The trick is to resist the temptation to react too strongly to the short term; rather ride out the initial fluctuations, and take your time to determine if what you’re seeing is a lasting trend or something more fleeting.

Sure, if you’re running an AdWords campaign, driving foot traffic to your stores, you might want to put that on pause. But, armed with the analytics of a digital and social campaign, you have access to a treasure trove of data that can tell you, among other things:

  • What your audience is interacting with.
  • Where they spend their time online.
  • How active they still are online
  • What they are looking for

When well utilised, the insights drawn from a digital campaign can inform your brand’s decisions across a spectrum of operations. Knowledge is power – doubly so in times of crisis.

A Strong Digital Campaign On The Brand Priority Checklist

  • Brand strength:. Again, by carrying on with operations – albeit, adjusted for the times – your brand projects strength and resilience.
  • Audience retention & growth: Tracking online behaviours and search patterns means empowering your brand with the ability to be where the audience is – reminding and reassuring them of your ongoing presence.
  • Planning for the recovery: Hints and insights about searcher behaviours and preferences will arm you with the knowledge of their needs in real time, allowing you to better plan for the eventual lifting of lockdown.

Contact Wetpaint Advertising

There are hard times ahead, but we can get through them if we plan appropriately, adjust to the changing needs of the markets we serve, and consider strategic and creative solutions to short- and long-term obstacles to our businesses.

Contact Wetpaint Advertising if you want marketing and branding strategies to meet the needs of changing times.

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