This year everything changed. Almost overnight we saw businesses go from optimism to survival, thriving to dormant and whole sectors put into stasis. There is no running away, no hiding from it, no insulation from its effect. The situation demands a response from every brand and business leader, with the open question to us all, what do you have to offer the world right now?
It seems like a different age in which we started the year joking about having ‘2020 vision’, with a sense that this year was the point at which we fully emerge from austerity and gaze into the future with hope. Now we know 2020 vision is actually the reality of knowing how we should respond in a crisis, right now. There is a sober reality to the current climate that requires equally sober judgment and action. Some of our businesses will not make it through this crisis, like the virus itself, it is a respecter of no man, no position, no reputation, and no historic success. We’ve already seen established high street brands such as Laura Ashley and BrightHouse enter administration and with the OBR forecasting a 35.1% decline in the economy this quarter, many more are facing a bleak outlook. At times like this the brutal business realities of cash flow, overheads, and liquidity are our first focus for attention. Decisive and directional leaders will literally in many cases decide the fate of their businesses over the next few months.
WINNERS & LOSERS
Despite this sobering and gloomy outlook, there are things that brand leaders can do to emerge in a more positive position. Disruption on this scale creates opportunity for new brands to make huge gains, smaller brands to step up and existing brands to gain market. In fact research* shows that brands that maintain or increase marketing spend during a crisis are able to capture 3x more market share through a downturn, turning a potential disaster into competitive advantage. So although this crisis is asking extremely tough questions of our businesses it is also creating the environment for the best and bravest brands to make significant gains. With pandemic based downturns historically v-shaped*, the steep decline will lead to a steep incline for those brands positioned to capitalise. Winners and losers.
“…it is also creating the environment for the best and bravest brands to make significant gains.”
With such widespread disruption many brands are left asking themselves, what now? This is the case for brands large and small. No longer do we live in comfortable times where we can hide behind rhetoric and empty promises, brands are having to answer difficult questions about the value they bring to the world, especially if they are in an industry that can no longer service their customers. Brands have been happy with marketing lead, transactional relationships with their customers, whereas now there is a need to shift from brand theory to brand reality. Right now what value do we add for our customers, what do we stand for (outside of our product), why are we relevant and ultimately who cares? These questions are leaving some brands with clear action and some coming up blank. If you want to know what a brand or your own business is really all about, then you are finding out now. If you look around at what different brands are doing you’ll see them showing their true colours. If you are willing to lead, to stand on your values, to be brave, and to be visible then now is the perfect time for you. This is the time to stand up and show that you are braver and more valuable than your competition.
BRANDS THAT LEAD WIN
We have already seen some great examples of brands that have acted quickly and decisively to the new Covid world. These brands have a clarity within their core of what they stand for and what value they bring to the world. This clarity has enabled them to act in a purposeful and authentic way, the answer was always within them, there are just new circumstances to express it. Brands such as Brewdog and Dyson were quick to respond to Covid with solutions that reflected their values and their value. Brewdog switched production to their ‘Post Modern Classic’ hand sanitiser, delivering desperately needed essential supplies to the NHS with an attitude and tone that reflected their punk aesthetic. In a similarly admirable move, Dyson quickly innovated and started supplying ventilators, again something that is completely consistent with what they’ve always been about. The clarity at their core enabled them both to be brave and to move briskly.
The clarity at their core enabled them both to be brave and to move briskly.
Another brilliant example we can draw insight from is a little further in the past. Watching the brilliant Dieter Rams documentary that aired recently (and can be found here) it is fascinating to see how Braun was able to emerge from their own crisis event as an integral part of the new world. Braun was forced to abandon manufacturing their civilian products during WW2, completely shutting down their pre-war product range. At the end of the war, they were faced with decimated production lines and a nation that needed rebuilding. Braun answered this challenge by doing what they knew best, the technology that met everyday needs. A clear purpose that they knew needed to meet the needs of people in the new world not in the pre-crisis world. Alongside a clarity of purpose was clarity of philosophy, their how. Artur & Erwin Braun had this simple mantra ‘make things better’ which to them meant ‘more modern’, redefining their products for the new world and new demands. They bravely looked forward, where others looked back, they employed architects and designers to reimagine their products with new materials and technology. Their answer to crisis and how to be a positive change in the world, was to be a part of crafting and shaping the new world to come. They focused on what they already did well, their simple brand philosophy, and giving people the best solutions they possibly could. Braun took up the challenge that their crisis gave them, was brave in their response, and helped define the era that emerged in their space.
STOP GUESSING START DOING
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of trying to predict the future. With so much information and data at our fingertips and case studies to draw on, the danger is that our action is stalled by our need to find a sure thing. There are no guarantees, nobody can tell you exactly what new normal will look like or how you evolve your products for emerging customer demand. Although there are lots of trends to draw insight from, it is unlikely that these will answer the questions being asked of your brand right now. They can provide some direction but specific answers for what your brand should do next will come from two places, knowing your customers and knowing yourself. Speaking to your customers, hearing their challenges, phoning them, running surveys will help you to see where you can still add value and decide the next action to take. Live out the values your brand is built on with your customers in the now, one step at a time and answers will begin to emerge. Just start.
This crisis will pass and you will not get this chance again to stand up and demonstrate your value to your customers. Now is the time to make brave and purposeful decisions for your brand, to position your brand as a solution for the emerging new world. There are three key areas to consider as you take action to position your brand that I will cover very briefly below:
1. Brand Proposition. Your value and reason for being, what problems does your brand solve. We approach this with clients by looking at two components, Them and Us. When looking at them we are looking at your market context, competitors, market positioning, and your customer motivations, needs, and pain points. With that insight, your proposition should draw a line between your customer and what you do, who you are, and what differentiates you. How does your brand become an answer to their needs? Just like Braun you should have a simple driving philosophy that you can act on, that answers the new world problems. What is your philosophy of better? Answer your customer’s needs with that.
2. Find opportunities to be you. With the brands I have described above, they have found a way to express their brand by being an answer to the now. Don’t be a brand of theory but of action, deliver for your clients better than you ever have, be the best expression of your brand you can be, and share it wherever you can. Whatever drives your brand, whatever you believe in, there is plenty of opportunity to be generous with what you have at the moment.
If you need help being creative with that it often helps to run scenarios that help us to be objective about how our brand should respond, here’s some examples relevant to now. Rather than thinking of achievable action think about how your values and proposition would express in these scenarios. If my brand was asked to; Create a hospital, Save jobs right now, Motivate the NHS
3. Plan over three ‘time horizons’. We are currently working on a compressed timeline, things are changing quickly and answers are needed for a variety of challenges. To avoid knee jerk responses or making decisions that solve a challenge now but reduce your ability to capitalise when demand increases again, plan different activity across 3-time horizons:
Short term (responding in crisis) –
Innovate – Be braver and more decisive than your competitors, innovate your product delivery
Start aiming higher – Clarify your core brand proposition, establish your philosophy
Medium term (emerging) –
Align your brand and your product offering to your customers
Lead the conversation in your space – Be thought leaders
Long term (The new normal) –
Own the conversation in your space – Be the go-to expert
Continual brand evolution – The new is not static and will require continual innovation
By taking on these three steps you will already have put your brand in a better position than most of your competition. This is a time for serious, necessary decisions but it is also the time for the brands that will form our new world to emerge and lead in confidence. We can see from those brands already acting and brands from the past, that having clarity within the core of your brand enables swift and purposeful action which, as we emerge from this current crisis, will lead to exponential growth. There are simple things that you can do now to start that process, now is the time for action, waiting for your competitors to move or for the answers to arrive will reduce your opportunity and leave you catching up for years to come.
Reference: *Source: Tony Hillier: Successful Competitive Strategies For Recession And Recovery & Harvard Business Review