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How brands can strengthen their 'immunity' in the new normal

As consumers have learned to adapt and evolve throughout this trying period, how can brands connect within a changing market?

Amid changing times and consumer preferences in this crisis, Rico Chan, the co-head for Asia Pacific at Verizon Media, explains how brands can guard themselves and navigate a post-Covid-19 market.

Months have passed since the world has faced the coronavirus pandemic. As panic and strong emotions have ebbed, households have also learned to cope with the changes in the new normal, emerging with new behaviours and altered mindsets. Consumers have learned to take proactive measures in protecting themselves against the crisis, relying on tried-and-tested solutions and home remedies to boost their immunity and protect themselves. People now also have a stronger sense of community and solidarity, as proven by the recent World Happiness Report 2020 -- revealing that the world will now look towards sustainable lifestyles, as people exhibit higher levels of social responsibility, togetherness, and trust to cope through this crisis.

As consumers have learned to adapt and evolve throughout this trying period, how can brands connect within a continually changing market?

Much as people are now taking steps to protect their immunity, brands should look at a similar strategy to navigate through this new territory -- “immunity marketing”. The crisis presents a unique opportunity for brands to confront themselves and revisit their purpose and meaning to consumers Clearly, what has worked in the past may not be the case today, which may signal the time to shift gears and build a general immunity against future threats.

Boosting your brand’s “innate immunity”

When a pathogen such as a bacteria or a virus threatens to invade our bodies, our natural immune system immediately activates as the first line of defence to ward off these threats. It’s the same principle with brands -- product and customer experience are brands’ first line of defence, keeping them strong and healthy and protecting them against emerging threats to their business.

The crisis has undoubtedly affected businesses -- yet history has shown that in times of adversity, strong brands are able to withstand this downturn and bounce back faster. How does your brand measure, especially during this trying period? Are you connecting with your consumers in ways that are timely and relevant to their current set of needs?

In this period of crisis, consumers need to feel that the brands they trust also understand what they are going through; our coronavirus consumer study has shown that consumers want to hear from brands that they trust during the pandemic. There is no other time than now to strengthen your relationships with your consumers and engage with them effectively. Provide interaction and immersive experiences with them that are relevant and provide utility. Make their lives better by connecting people to their passions with experiences they can’t get anywhere else; for example, through next-generation immersive and interactive experiences like augmented reality and virtual reality.

Now is also the time to amplify brand offerings while reimagining your core products or services that address their specific needs. Get to know your customers on a deeper level and what they value, and provide those needs. Using data for goodwill ensure consumer and loyalty in the long-term and further strengthen a brand’s immunity. At this point, consumers may now have attached certain sentiments to your products, and it’s important to build that trust by staying genuine, innovative, and relevant to their needs.

Adapting “acquired immunity” for the future ahead

Our body does not only rely on our innate immune system; it also needs to acquire immunity for other potential threats in the future. COVID-19 has not been, and will not be the only crisis the world faces. Even as brands weather the current crisis, they will also need to guard themselves against emerging threats. These can range from changes in societal norms to future economic or health crises, or any blunders that brands erroneously make. In the short term, brands will have to adapt to the changing consumer preferences, while making sure to build a long-term immunity that will last for the future.

It is crucial for brands to plan throughout different periods, through recovery and post-recovery from the crisis: on what they can do now, and other steps they can take in the future to ensure that they remain accessible and appropriate to the evolving consumer.

At the moment, brands need to look beyond their brand reach and think of brand engagement instead -- pointing to genuine and empathetic messaging that will boost your brand’s immunity. It’s not about how many people see your brand, but how much they trust your brand - trust, especially in today’s world, has become a prized asset.

Consumers will want to engage with brands that they feel are authentic and reflect their values. Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer report reveals a fundamental shift in consumers’ reordering of priorities -- 70% said that brand trust is more important today than in the past, while 74% say a brand’s impact on society is a reason why brand trust has become more important. Further immunity can be built by tapping on trusted news sites -- our news consumption study showed that 29% said that they feel more favourable to a brand that advertised on news sites they trust, with 48% higher audience engagement within these trusted sites.

Communication with consumers now must focus on thoughtful yet creative messaging. Beyond selling, it’s important that your campaigns demonstrate that, as a brand, you understand the challenges and difficulties that people face. As a stronger sense of community and social solidarity grows, consumers will instinctively be attracted to brands that embrace such values. Beyond marketing a product, brands must be able to connect with their consumers in ways that feel meaningful to them: connect them to their passions, be relevant and provide utility, and show that your brand is more than a product.

Only time will tell how and when we will emerge out of this crisis, but what people will remember is the feeling of community as society came together to withstand this period. It’s important that brands become part of that conversation and strengthen their brand equity -- as trustworthy and innovative brands of integrity. This is how brands can strengthen their immunity as we navigate the new normal and meet unforeseen challenges ahead -- through innate strengths and acquired traits and skillsets for lasting immunity.

Rico Chan is the co-head for Asia Pacific at Verizon Media

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