What marketers can teach us about navigating uncertainty

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The Brave Spark office

As predicted by the media, scientists, marketers and politicians, the number of possible outcomes of a ‘post lockdown’ world are endless. It's like an episode of Black Mirror with an infinite number of endings to choose from. The problem with future-gazing is that most of it is grounded in assumption than reality. Assumptions about how people and businesses will change.

Now, arguably more than ever, is the time for businesses to listen to their customers rather than making assumptions about their needs. Not just to be seen to be listening but to genuinely listen in a way that you can engage in meaningful conversation, empathise with and support others.

In the spirit of entering listen mode, Brave Spark, a creative video production company, have spent the past few weeks inviting clients to a series of virtual coffee break chats to share insights about how their businesses are responding and adapting in the current context. As part of these conversations, six consistent insights emerged as key ingredients for how brands can navigate uncertainty.

Focus on long term strategy over short term wins

A significant challenge marketers are facing is a need to refocus on longer term strategy over short term tactical gains. It is tempting for businesses to fall into the trap of planning week-to-week, getting distracted by internal and external noise and feeling elated by quick wins.

Brands able to succeed in the current climate however, will be those ensuring that what they do now is aligned with their longer term business strategy and plans rather than those being reactive. Marketers should be favouring the creation of evergreen content that will be just as relevant now as it will be post lockdown, consistent with brand strategy rather than the virus.

Deliver added value without always selling

Many marketers want to continue marketing but fear their brand might be perceived as being opportunistic rather than adding real value to customers. Admittedly, it’s a fine line to tread in terms of what brands do and don't have permission to say, both from the perspective of customers and internal stakeholders.

It is why many brands have shifted their focus away from acquisition to retention and are exploring ways to support existing customers such as releasing new product features or offering services free of charge. According to the marketers and business leaders we spoke with, the key to succeeding with a customer centric focus is an ability to be honest about what your brand can say and do aligned with who you are and why you exist.

Choose words that will rise above the noise

Some brands are facing a significant tension between an internal desire to say nothing, largely driven by fear, against an external expectation that their brand should be speaking up and supporting society in whichever way they can. While other brands are using this period of change and uncertainty as an opportunity to achieve greater consistency between what they say (their brand promise) and what they do (their brand experience).

Most marketers acknowledge a need for business as usual to keep moving forward but brands need to choose their words carefully to rise above heightened noise and ensure that what they communicate feels authentic, inclusive and relevant to emerging and existing audiences. If not, brands are in danger of communicating without having anything meaningful to say and may start to sound the same.

Timeless stories will focus on narrative over the current context

Stories help people make sense of the world by creating order out of chaos. So while the world around us might be changing at pace, timeless stories will always continue to ring true. A brilliant example of this is in action is Budweiser’s resurrection of their 1999 ‘Whassup?’. Despite having a lockdown spin, the ad speaks to an inner desire in all of us to stay connected with our family and friends, as true in 1999 as it is now.

Many marketers believe the most successful advertising in lockdown and beyond will focus on the power of a strong narrative rather than broadcasting back the current context to audiences. While people expect brands to change their tone to reflect the current context, recent research by Twitter has revealed that seeing and hearing brand ads is giving people a sense of normality – something many of us are craving.

Rethink brand stories driven by consumer behaviours and values

As most people globally have been forced to change their behaviours and re-evaluate their personal values, there is a shared feeling among marketers that things are unlikely to go back to ‘normal’.

It is why marketers are beginning to consider how consumers' newly formed behaviours and personal values are likely to impact the way we consume products and services beyond lockdown. For example, as consumers have become more accustomed to buying products and services online out of necessity, it is likely that people are going to place much more value on how digital can augment physical spaces more so than ever before. Whatever happens, the world as we know it is continuing to change and brands need to be prepared to reimagine the stories they will tell in the future.

Address internal inefficiencies while change is in motion

The global pandemic is putting a huge strain on business processes and systems and is shining a light on those that are simply not fit for purpose. Some businesses are finding their crisis management processes to be non-existence and others are struggling with a lack of joined up customer communications.

This is problematic in the short term but is also presenting an opportunity for businesses to address operational weaknesses and explore new ways of working that will benefit future business. According to many marketers, there is no better time to introduce change to a business than when a business is already changing as people are much more open and receptive to it than normal.

The Brave Spark team has been truly inspired by the resourcefulness and ideas shared by our clients over the past few weeks. Regardless of whether brands have stopped their day-to-day operations, furloughed employees or pivoted, what’s clear even without a post lockdown crystal ball is that customers still want reassurance that businesses are there for them, in whatever form that takes. Arguably the role of brand, marketing and client service teams has never been as critical to demonstrate to customers that brands are on a journey of change and are doing all they can to support customers, regardless of the ultimate ending.

Rebecca Vickery, business director at Brave Spark

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