By Paul Hitchens, Course Director, CIM
In times of economic uncertainty, many brands will instinctively look to curb their spending. Subsequently, the marketing budget is often the first to go, but as history demonstrates, challenging times can prove to be the right time to invest in brand salience.
Countless brands have launched in times of crisis, including Walt Disney Entertainment in 1923, Penguin Books in 1935, and more recently both WhatsApp and Uber in 2009.
During fragile times, brand resilience can be defined by the following characteristics, trust, relevance, difference and people. These guiding principles can help brands not only survive but thrive in an uncertain climate.
We can learn a lot from the credit crunch of 2008. The fall of Lehman Brothers rightly left people nervous, with the likes of Merrill Lynch, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bradford & Bingley, and Alliance & Leicester all coming within a whisker of following suit.
Precarity affects consumer confidence and a proven track record will pay dividends as new enterprises attempt to build credibility.
Loyalty is born of trust, and for heritage brands, a long history reminds consumers of how they weathered past storms and stood beside their customers.
The 'By your side' slogan, so synonymous with Lloyds Bank, provides a shining example of how an impactful brand message can draw on nostalgia. Not so long-ago Lloyds' 250-year anniversary campaign capitalised on powerful, emotive films to reinforce the notion of brand strength and stability. Featuring the iconic black horse, the adverts conveyed the message that the bank has long been by its customers' sides, through the good times and the bad. This is a tradition I believe we will see a lot more of in the coming months, particularly as the lockdown begins to ease and we start to consider our futures.
A point agreed by Jacob Howard, Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Financial Services group and Vice President, Marketing at Deutsche Bank in London who said: "It is an interesting moment in time to be in financial services marketing, there are new fintech players with innovative apps entering the market, and banks and other financial institutions are becoming ever more digital in their approach. I would agree that brand recognition and excellent customer service has never been more important to retain and grow market share."
Lockdown has become a real step-change in our lives, in fact a recent YouGov poll found fewer than 1 in 10 of us actually want to return to life as it was. Despite the hardship, the ongoing pandemic has given us time to reflect on what really matters, and what people really want is a return to a better normal.
The lockdown has provided an opportunity to re-evaluate not only our relationships with individuals but our expectations of the brands around us.
As the coronavirus ravaged the hospitality industry, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson announced that he had taken steps to suspend his salary for the remainder of the year, furthermore, he had high expectations of his senior management too. His statement read: "In terms of our business, COVID-19 is like nothing we've ever seen before, and for a company that's 92 years old, that's borne witness to the Great Depression, World War II, and many other economic and global crises, that's saying something."
The CEO crucially added, "I will not be taking any salary for the balance of 2020, and my executive team will be taking a 50% cut in pay."
This is a vivid example of a global brand leading by example. It's a relevant gesture that also serves to remind people of the strength of the organisation.
Celebrating the differences of your organisation helps set brands apart from their market competitors. It's important that you express clarity and vision to communicate what makes you special and the value to your customers. By giving people what they didn't know they needed but cannot imagine ever having lived without creates demand, while new products and services are a sure-fire way to stimulate sales.
Your brand is only as strong as its weakest touch point, and if that weakest touch point is the way in which you look after your staff, that news will resonate for a very long time.
Engagement among employees is essential in uncertain times for communicating brand confidence. Positive employees make positive customer experiences. In a service-based business, it is the employees who represent the brand to customers, and your staff will be tested to realize the brand promise. Happy staff are essential for a brand that depends on good customer service.
With more than one in four UK workers now furloughed, the stresses and uncertainties of the prevailing conditions will take their toll on employee morale, which means the way in which we support our staff is absolutely critical.
Today, online platforms such as Glassdoor can reveal the truth of what it's like to work for an organisation at the mere click of a button. If you fail to treat your staff with empathy, the impact of that can be far reaching. These are metrics that can't be cheated and are available for all to see. The only way to make them work for you is to look after your employees, because how your brand deals with a crisis, is the truth of how strong your brand really is.