Our own Scott Gardner was recently a co-panelist on a virtual forum, Marketing & Branding in a Time of Political & Economic Turmoil. He was joined by Mike Lee, CEO of Manticore, in discussing how brands are staying upright in an upside-down world.
A huge thanks to the Association for Corporate Growth, Silicon Valley, for organizing the virtual forum and to all who participated in the discussion of Marketing & Branding in a Time of Political & Economic Turmoil.
If you were unable to attend, listen or read the recap below.
When Uncertainty Is a Certainty, Marketing Strategy Adapts
In an uncertain economic climate, companies have historically scaled back, gone conservative or focused on core customers. Scott noted how many brands have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in phases. The first wave of brand messaging simply informed customers that business was still open, still delivering the products and services that consumers needed. Next, many companies shifted to brand messaging that conveyed consumer empathy, reminding audiences that in challenging times, we always overcome adversity together. Currently, brands are moving into a new phase of introducing products, services and offerings to compete in an unstable marketplace.
One of the many positive stories to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic is the e-commerce surge. Scott has seen firsthand how Walmart, a Liquid Agency client, continues to innovate around its e-commerce business aligned with its brick and mortar footprint. This evolution fulfills the consumer’s need to buy what they want, how they want, when they want. Whether a customer wants to shop in the store, have their purchase shipped, make their purchase available for in-store pickup or have their order drop-shipped, the new customer standard for delivery has exponentially accelerated during the new normal.
Spend Money to Make Money
Mike shared his observation of how he’d seen a lot of organizations initially react to the COVID-19 pandemic with employee layoffs and furloughs. But as of late, Mike has noticed companies transitioning to a more active position with their marketing. Organizations are realizing that they need to drive more business, which translates to connecting with more customers. What’s fueling companies’ decisions to invest more in their marketing efforts are government loans and funding. More organizations are now feeling compelled to spend money in an effort to make money.
Cornering C-level Audiences
Scott mentioned how Liquid Agency turned the new norm of working from home into an opportunity with their B2B client, Coupa Software. Knowing that Coupa’s target audience of C-suite executives, as well as investors, were spending much more time at home tuning into financial networks like CNBC, Liquid Agency devised a media plan and launched a global TV campaign aimed at increasing more brand awareness. By doubling down on the creative production and media, Coupa is already seeing huge returns from the Lemonade campaign. Liquid Agency is also at work extending the campaign into news and sports.
Events Close, Budgets Shift
Some of the larger marketing spends are also coming from reallocated budgets. Mike and Scott both pointed out that in-person events and travel have come to an abrupt halt. And with large-scale events like SXSW and Consumer Electronics Show (CES) being canceled, many companies are moving those budgets into digital spaces.
Brand Messaging Made to Understand
While reallocated spends are driving more brand messaging, companies have to be careful about re-entering a new, more nuanced climate. Consumer sensitivities are more heightened than ever with COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. Scott explained how important it is for brand strategy to help guide brands through dramatic shifts in the landscape. Early on in the pandemic, consumers reacted adversely to a lot of hollow brand messages. Brands ended up being attacked in the marketplace for being insensitive or lacking relevance. As Scott pointed out, the translation of brand strategies to marketing communications should include empathy and transparency, so brands can be very clear on what they stand for.
Brand Values Connect with Customers
Scott noted Dove and Adobe as brands that proved their social stance through action. Dove’s Courage Is Beautiful campaign included a $2M direct relief donation toward personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers. Similarly, Adobe made its Creative Cloud available to K-12 students for free to supplement distance learning. Scott pointed out that the brands’ goodwill isn’t a commercial move. Instead, it does more by creating new consumers, engaging existing customers and giving brands a more meaningful way to share their values.
Courting Controversy Through Brand Strategy
Sometimes, a brand’s social stance can be controversial. Scott pointed to Patagonia outdoor clothing and gear as a recent example. Patagonia has long stood for environmental activism, but it went more aggressive with its brand messaging by featuring the line “Vote the assholes out” under the tags of its clothing. Its brand strategy resonates all the more with its tribe, keying in on a contentious election and a world that’s showing the strain of global warming. Now Patagonia fans feel like they’re a part of something bigger and are much more compelled to love the brand versus leave it.
Pivoting an Agency
Liquid Agency found itself in need of pivoting during the early stages of the pandemic. Scott and his teams quickly realized that some clients might not be interested in six- to eight-month engagements. Instead, they’d likely want something that could be out in the market in a matter of weeks. The Liquid Agency strategy team gathered for their own workshop swarms and built a program called Pivot to What’s Next. The one-week sprint swarms are designed to help clients identify and address immediate business challenges. Each session serves as a launchpad for moving organizations forward, from identifying the business problem to finding future opportunities to creating initiatives and roadmapping actionable plans. Scott explained how the Pivot to What’s Next offering is designed to address different sets of needs for clients and to ultimately create new value.
With more digital consumption and more competition for mindshare, there has been some surprising shifts in media. Mike explained how he’s seen a re-emergence of print. With working from home becoming more the norm than the exception, many brands are adjusting their campaigns to include direct mail as an unexpected and personal alternative to the digital deluge.
Small Businesses Should Take Cues from Big Brands
As Mike put it, sometimes it’s better for brands to stay quiet and listen. Paying attention to how big, visible brands are leading or failing can be instructive, particularly for small businesses who can’t afford missteps or seven-digit donations. Scott agreed with Mike’s point on small business entrepreneurs, adding that there are fewer resources and there’s more pressure to be creative in shifting their business models. Finding a pivot and acting on it can mean the difference between succeeding or succumbing.
Brands and Politics: Potential for Problems
Given the currently polarized social climate, politics are a slippery slope for most brands. Scott was wary of brands making a political statement unless they have an acute understanding of where their audience stands on the subject. However, brands that commit to a political statement also risk creating conflict within their own organization. Most employees represent a broad spectrum of political beliefs, making it impossible for an organization to reflect all internal perspectives. Scott warned that a brand that dives into politics can create a cultural divide within its own company, impacting not only personnel and business but the brand as well.
Get a Marketing Strategy That Gets Creative
Mike and Scott wrapped up the conversation with a simple message to brands of all sizes: be scrappy, get creative. While advertising is an expensive medium, there are smart ways to develop new and engaging marketing strategies that build audiences, customers and revenue. Finding resourceful ways to differentiate your brand and deliver a great customer experience can go a long way in building your core consumers and growing new customers. At the end of the day, creativity wins.
If you need bold, new marketing strategies and brand messaging, we’re here to help your brand find its footing and make strides. Contact us here.