In the marketing industry, it’s our job to move quickly to meet the demands and changes in the consumer market, but we’ve never had to contend with a year quite as volatile as 2020. Coronavirus. Reopening. Black Lives Matter. Widespread social unrest. COVID-19 resurgence.
With these weighty matters driving the cultural conversation, brands are wondering how to reposition their brand messaging and market effectively – if at all – in the current environment.
Determining when, how and what to communicate about your brand to consumers during this time is challenging, to say the least. As The Clash put it: “Should I stay or should I go?” Deciding when to pause, adjust or move forward with a marketing campaign is a strategic decision for your company. Here are some guiding principles to help you evaluate your way forward in this “unprecedented time.”
Repositioning Your Brand Messaging in 2020
Know Your Audience
First and foremost, assess how your typical customer is affected by current social and economic conditions. From what you know about your buyers, how might their financial situation be impacted? How has their homelife evolved with the consolidation of work/school/home into a single location? What response might they expect from your brand regarding social issues? Leverage trusted third-party reports from organizations like the Pew Research Center, Gallup and The Harris Poll to gain general insights about how your target audience is responding to the cultural and economic climate. For even more focused insights, survey your customers directly via email or your website.
Look to your website for insights as well. Google Analytics data can also help you gauge audience sentiment for your brand messaging by revealing traffic volume and popular pages. Are they researching and lingering in the consideration phase, or is buying behavior still strong? Visitation to “About Us” or other operational pages may be an indicator that consumers are interested in your company’s leadership philosophy and values. Activity on social media channels also provides direct insight into how your customers are feeling about your marketing messages.
Understand Your Role
Aside from consumer attitudes and experiences, know where your product or service fits into your customer’s life. For brands in a position to help solve a relevant problem for their customers during a time of crisis or national reflection, the decision to proceed with marketing outreach is more straightforward than for those that don’t. But even essential items should be marketed with a keen eye for proper tone and brand messaging that acknowledges the moment.
For others, take an honest look at existing communications. For a brand like Ben & Jerry’s with a long history of being a socially conscious business, a call to “dismantle white supremacy” is roundly supported by its fan base, which connects with the company’s values. The same is true for outdoor brand REI whose counter-culture #OptOutside campaign meant their early commitment to stop advertising on Facebook in July in protest of social injustice aligned with previous actions.
Consider before jumping on the bandwagon whether you’re ready to back up words with actions. Woke-washing will be rejected. Likewise, recognize consumers may also respond negatively to silence. We’re beyond “we’re here for you” and into new territory, so spend some time considering how to be responsive, transparent and authentic in your communication.
Businesses are Consumers, Too
Many companies in the B2B space have been under less pressure to be vocal about their stances on social issues – for now. However, increased scrutiny of companies’ actions on matters of diversity and inclusion or political leanings is going to drive demand for transparency on the same issues for vendors and partners. It’s likely that there will be an increased focus on ensuring that the practices and values of those supplying brands with goods or services align with the ethos of the business utilizing them and the customers they serve. A disconnect could result in a major PR issue for both the consumer-facing brand and its business partners.
To prepare for the trickle-down expectations of transparency, B2B brands should proactively evaluate how they are doing business, have a clear gauge on their clients’ needs and expectations and adjust their brand messaging – and practices – accordingly.
Be Prepared for November
We’re approaching the most contentious election cycle in decades. It’s another arena where some brands are comfortable playing, while others need to get ready to be rocked by the vote.
Now is the time to consider how your brand wants to be a part of the political sphere. If you want to take a stand, make sure you have a corresponding risk tolerance. Expressing a viewpoint will alienate at least some of your audience who holds the opposing view. On the other hand, if your preference is to remain as neutral as possible, you still need to think about your message and where you’re advertising, as watchdog organizations monitor programs catering to particular points of view from either political side and call for boycotts of supporting advertisers.
Every marketing move in the moment requires care – care for the consumer you’re targeting, care for the cultural and social implications, and care for your own reputation and integrity. Regardless of industry, business size or target demographic, businesses should, at the very least, pause to carefully review their strategy. Choosing “Go” should be steeped in your current understanding of your audience, a clear sense of how you add value to their lives and your brand’s values.