'Everyone has a plan until they're punched in the face': Brands prepare for 'Round 2'

Brands must take a crash course in appealing to new post-pandemic consumer rituals and a shifting value system if they are to survive this year and beyond.

The stakes are higher and the margin for error significantly lower than before the pandemic, warns Alicia Solanki
The stakes are higher and the margin for error significantly lower than before the pandemic, warns Alicia Solanki

There were high hopes for 2020. A new decade. The year when many companies held themselves to account on their climate change goals. A period of brand activism like we’ve never witnessed before. This was the year to ‘get it done’. 

Fast-forward to autumn and comms professionals have had the fight of their lives as they’ve tried to rewire their brand campaigns because the rules of the game have fundamentally changed. So, as I ponder what the final months of this roller-coaster year may look like for us, I feel oddly… hopeful. 

But stakes are higher and the margin for error significantly lower. Brands will be judged on the spot. Brand loyalty is no longer a safety net. Comms professionals will need to think differently about what consumers will think, feel, say and do. So, what are the perils and possibilities for the season ahead? 

A curb on social justice as a photo opp

Brand activism won consumers over in 2019/20. Fuelled by social media, a raft of brands tried to make themselves more relatable, distinguishable and real, in much the same way as consumers marketed themselves on platforms like Instagram. 

However, the brands that have come through intact aren’t the ones that broadcast hollow promises on glossy feeds, but served the people. Sites such as didtheyhelp.com popped up and titles like Ethical Consumer called out the brands getting it wrong, especially those seen to be throwing their staff to the proverbial wolves. It’s a time for brands to judge and be judged.

New cornerstones of the trust pillar

Trust will continue to be a buzzword into 2021, but I suspect it will take on new meaning. It will be about more than sustainability and corporate governance. As personal health and affordability become increasingly top-of-mind for consumers, the shared trauma of the pandemic will have a lasting impact. 

Brands that can reposition themselves and their products through a healthcare lens will have competitive advantage. Consumers will seek reassurance about their health more than ever. Brands must consider how to play healthcare messaging to foster trust because that is essential for a brand’s survival. 

Embracing a new culture out of a crisis

I’ve loved observing the way consumers have adopted new ‘rituals’ during lockdown, from search results for sourdough going off the charts to DIY garden bars satisfying the nation’s
craving for a cold pint. Consumers have not only welcomed new brands into their homes, but they are rewarding companies that have found meaningful ways to deliver the products and services that fuel these new routines. Appearing tone-deaf to these lifestyle changes will be catastrophic for brands.

As Mike Tyson once stated: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” COVID-19 delivered an almighty right hook, but there’s fight in our profession yet; brands just have to pick themselves up and get back in the ring for round two. 

Alicia Solanki is deputy MD, consumer brand, at Ketchum



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