The year 2020 used to sound futuristic, and exciting. Few could have predicted what this year had in store. Both our social and work lives have been turned upside down and as a result, companies have either adapted and survived, or failed and closed.

In the early 20th century, all a company needed to do to succeed was make a quality product at the right price. But, as FMCG and mass manufacturing took off through the 50s and 60s, the idea of market competitors became increasingly prominent, and competing on price and quality alone was no longer enough. According to marketing thought leader Marc de Swaan Arons, to earn customer loyalty, brands realised they needed to stand apart as something distinct. With that ushered in the Mad Men era of advertising and power suits, and the brands that succeeded in winning the loyalty of their customers were the ones creating an aspirational but relatable identity.

Despite the advent of the internet, the fundamental concept of branding remained largely the same. But the collision of a global pandemic together with social movements in 2020 has posed a unique challenge. The world simultaneously came to a standstill while dealing with important social justice issues.

As a B2B PR agency, this prompted us to ask essential questions around brands and their communication strategies. Opinion has divided on how brands should handle their marketing. Some want to see empathy, while others want business as usual. So, what do we want from brands after 2020?

Be a human

Covid-19 has created space for many brands to rethink their marketing approach in favour of something more human. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020, 80 percent of people feel it is important for brands to help solve society’s problems. In addition, 44 percent said they recently used a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they responded to the outbreak. And according to global eCommerce company PFS, in the UK, 52 percent of all consumers agree that they feel greater loyalty towards brands that effectively communicate with them and are showing how they are helping people during this time.

The data shows that people want to see brands contribute in a meaningful way to help people during this pandemic, with emphasis on the ‘meaningful’ aspect. Performative activism will be called out.

Be a brand

Meanwhile, some believe brands are brands and shouldn’t try to mimic emotions like empathy. A recent study by Kantar found that 92 percent of people think that businesses should continue to advertise during the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar research from Twitter found 64 percent said brands should continue promoting products as usual, and 52 percent agreed that seeing or hearing ads gave them a sense of normality.

There’s also a point to be made about convenience being the main driver behind purchasing choices from now onwards. McKinsey Global research shows that over 60 percent of consumers have changed their shopping behaviour during the pandemic in favour of value and convenience, and plan to stick to their new choices.

Ok, so where does brand responsibility lie?

For every consumer that wants the brands they interact with to hold their hand, there is another who would prefer that they don’t. Neither approach is right or wrong – instead, it is a case of fully understanding and responding to what your customer wants.

Whichever stance you take, the key to getting it right is remembering that brand starts, but doesn’t end, with your comms – a brand that behaves responsibly is one that follows through on its promises and ensures it lives up to its values, not just for the sake of headlines.

As a B2B PR agency, we often talk to our clients about the importance of being a brand that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is to say, a brand that focuses on the benefit of its technology or service, rather than the product itself. Put simply – it’s what people prefer to read, and journalists would rather write about. Whether you’re tightening up your services or are donating in the name of social justice, your efforts must resonate across your company, from the way you treat staff internally to the messages you post on your social media. Ultimately, that is the key to getting the right brand message out there – consistency across the board.

Need help with your B2B PR strategy during 2020 and beyond? Get in touch with us today.

Written by: Katy Bloomfield, Managing Director

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