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Keep calm and carry on? Brand behaviours in a time of crisis

By Jamie Matthews



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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March 31, 2020 | 6 min read

Right now, brands need to be there for consumers. They need to work closely with retailers to ensure continuity of supply, and they need to be sensitive to consumer needs. Brands know this. Well most do. Sports Direct made a bad move recently, and they won’t be the only one to make a mistake over the coming weeks and months. Avoiding missteps of this kind requires emotional intelligence tuned to the utmost degree.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos to employees:  "Amazon is not too big to fail"

Initials reflect on what life post crisis could look like and applaud Amazon for its response. / Amazon

Some brands need to recognise the vital role they play in consumers’ lives and act accordingly. Others need to accept their temporary irrelevance and focus on the longer term. Regardless of which category you fall into, a sensitive approach is key. At the moment, some brands probably just need to switch off marketing and concentrate on the basics, like their supply chain. Consumer’s social channels and inboxes have exploded, and we’re being forced to experience this overload within the confines of home. It’s all a bit much, but that won’t be the case for long.

The current assumption is that after three months things will slowly start betting back to normal, but everyone acknowledges things won’t really be “normal” ever again. We’ll spend the summer emerging from lockdown, with kids who’ve been off for a long time already and restricted household budgets still curtailing spending. It won’t be until late Q3/Q4 that things will start to become more recognisable. All brands, regardless of their current situation, need to be thinking about that final quarter. How they’re going to reposition themselves in the new world that will emerge and what steps they should be taking to start prepping for relaunch.

Reposition and reactivate

Brands will need to reposition and reactivate at speed. Rapid projects of that nature will be the “new normal” in agency land. Lots of brands will be off our radars for a long while, with consumers shopping by category and need rather than brand. 12-month projects will be a luxury they don’t have time for. It will be a case of looking at the brand, checking it’s still relevant, tweaking as necessary and then getting something out to market asap.

Nowhere will this be truer than in grocery, where many brands will be facing either huge amounts of stock stored up in retailer distribution outlets or in their supply chain somewhere. Or even in consumers houses. If consumers have products they haven’t got through yet, those brands will need to inspire them to first use up that stockpile and then continue to buy. Those challenges will need to be addressed immediately.

Consumer insight

Post crisis, we’ll see more retailers shutting stores and concentrating online, in response to forever-changed shopping habits. Store estates will need to be resent, and in some respects the death of high street will be accelerated. But the full picture won’t be quite that simple. We’ll all be craving human contact; coffee shops, nail bars, hairdressers, the list goes on… will be appreciated even more than before. Certainly, Q2 numbers are diving off a cliff, but in Q3 and Q4 they’ll be up 50%. And we can’t be certain how that will play out exactly.

Things will emerge that we never thought possible or haven’t yet imagined. Allotments didn’t exist until World War 2, but they’re still around now. We’ll all turbo charge our home environments, pushing the boundaries of what we can do within the realms of the space available to us. Remote working practices and a desire to prioritise living space might well lead to an exodus out of London. High street changes will be key, with freed up real estate allowing new brands to crop up. Some things we can anticipate, yet they’ll be plenty of changes that at this stage are still hard to imagine. But the change itself is certain.

Amazing Amazon

News hit this week that Amazon has temporarily stopped sellers from sending non-essential items to UK and US warehouses, in order to free up space for the crucial supplies that are needed at this time. Everyone is aware of the vital role Amazon is playing right now. The crisis will accelerate Amazon’s move past being a retailer to acting, and being seen as, more of an essential utility.

The long-term effects of the crisis will also be to Amazon’s advantage. So many people will be used to shopping online those figures will probably stick at double their previous level. Which brings us back to longer term thinking, regardless of your brand’s current position. Getting your basics right on Amazon, making sure your shop window is signing and optimised, these are things to be thinking about sooner rather than later. In our next article my colleague Freddie will talk you through the simple steps – audit, optimisation and activation – to be aware of.

Jamie Matthews, CEO at Initials.


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