Brand: Stand by your fan
With revenues sinking fast amidst the current economic crisis, many companies have sprung into survival mode. Their knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs and make savings. That is logical – and even necessary. Unfortunately, the marketing budget is also hit by the cost-cutting onslaught. Which is less logical than it might seem!
Because the brand is the principal revenue driver. And a moratorium on marketing spending is effectively a vote of no-confidence for the brand itself. Every form of marketing has the same goal: sell more, earn more. Marketing, therefore, is not a dispensable cost item but an essential investment. And let’s face it, who skimps on essential investments? (cf. When the Going Gets Tough… Is Your Brand Ready?, French and Dembkowski, 2003).
Strengthening your brand’s position
Even so, many of you will recognize situations where marketing budgets are slashed as trading conditions worsen. Admittedly, a critical review to trim away excess marketing fat can sometimes be helpful. But in the current climate the ‘best marketers will be upping, not cutting, their budgets’ (Mark Ritson in Marketing Week, April 2020). Ritson refers to 2 things:
- brand marketeers must take a long-term approach to ROI (rather than the prevalent short-term approach),
- ESOV, excess share of voice, is on your side in times of crisis: your share of voice increases when others reduce their marketing efforts or step back altogether.
Put differently: anyone who knows where their brand stands (and its status in the long-term memory) and also understands how marketing investments pay (or do not pay) themselves back will seize the present opportunity to effectively reinforce their brand positioning: either by launching new initiatives or stepping up existing actions. In short, those who have the knowledge and courage to act now are the best marketeers. And ESOV will put wind in their sails as inertia-gripped competitors retreat to the sidelines.
Be consistent and keep a firm eye on your brand image
Far from creeping into its shell, the successful brand maintains an active dialogue with its users and boldly confirms they have made the right choice. Even in times of crisis. Brand, stand by your fan! And always leave your core message intact – if anything, only change the tonality. Be consistent and keep a firm eye on your long-term brand image. (cf. Romaniuk & Sharp, 2016 about Distinctive Brand Assets).
However, a brand – your brand, the brand that’s between people’s ears, the brand as a meaningful storehouse of feelings, experiences and knowledge in the consumer’s memory - can over time be subject to change, particularly in a period of crisis. Change can happen unintentionally and almost imperceptibly. It need not make the brand better or worse, but different. Possibly because you have done nothing special to freshen things up in the meantime, whereas a competitor has. Or vice versa.
In such situations, you may feel a need to launch a new and ambitious marketing drive. But before doing so (and setting new promotional budgets), it is advisable to make a detailed analysis of the brand’s current status (strengths and weaknesses) and the changes that have occurred. Because a fundamental knowledge of the foundations of your brand is key to maintain its health and build further success.
As the coronavirus crisis continues to rage, experts are falling over themselves to analyse the impact on consumer behaviour. Unfortunately, most of these articles have a general macro-economic focus and ignore the individual characteristics of specific markets. Products like soap, peanut butter and crisps are indiscriminately lumped together. Whatever the merits of these expert opinions, they are far too general to serve marketeers of specific brands.
How does your brand sit in the consumer’s mind?
A much more productive approach is to carry out your own research. And find out how the brand acts as an unconscious driver of purchasing preferences in the consumer’s mind. Preferably by looking at the brand in a fresh new light, free of any form of rationalisation, politeness, self-justification or social desirability. Because these all mask the way in which the brand is genuinely experienced. What remains is a direct, pure measurement of how the brand is lodged as an associative network in the consumer’s mind and ‘unconsciously’ influences his behaviour. The brand in its raw stripped-down form.
A new innovative research method called ‘Brand Memory Assessor™ (BMA) is now available for precisely this purpose. It is based on a scientific observational experiment where the participating consumer allows us to look into his ‘mind’ (not necessarily his ‘brain’). The consumer is entirely guided by his intuition and answers the questions without knowing that the research is about brands, let alone your brand. In this way, we obtain fascinating insight into the brand as perceived in the consumer’s mind and how his purchasing behaviour is unconsciously influenced. This method can even show up the subtle effects of advertising (cf. The Hidden Power of Advertising, Robert Heath, 2001) and indicate whether the brand is subject to advertising wear-out – in which case further marketing expenditures no longer enhance the brand and should therefore be diverted elsewhere.
Do you know exactly what shape your brand is in? Or what the world will look like once the crisis is over? Every marketeer should have the ambition to make the brand successful in the most effective manner possible and to belong to, what Ritson calls, the ‘best marketers’. In good times and bad.