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Strategies for ensuring brand growth in crises

Enterprise
 Businesses always outline cost-cutting measures to deal with low orders and sales. [iStockphoto]

The desire for stability, security, and comfort is a basic need for not only people but also businesses, whether small, medium, or large.

Unfortunately, we’re facing a world where it’s become difficult to meet that need. Wars, pandemics, and economic crises are just some of the uncertainty factors which are currently influencing our lives.

These events continue to have a serious impact on many sectors of the economy. Added to this are inflation, rising living and energy costs, and the threatening and increasingly noticeable climate crisis.

Holed in difficult times, many businesses always outline cost-cutting measures to deal with low orders and sales.

Although many companies are always tempted to give greater attention to keeping costs as low as possible, multiple crises have revealed a completely different trend: branded products are increasingly favoured.

Crises always lead to rapid changes in consumer attitudes and shopping behaviours. This became evident during the financial crisis in 2008 when the world was in turmoil for a while.

During the last recession, people switched to private labels and lower-cost brands. Many consumers were satisfied with these brands and decided to keep buying them even after the recession.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers also displayed a variety of unusual behaviours and were forced to spend more on essentials while cutting back discretionary spending.

Consumers also changed brands and products, substituted spends when stocked out, and became more sensitive towards health and hygiene.

Market studies on the impact of the pandemic on consumers also indicated increased spending on groceries, and health and hygiene products.

Other shifts included impulsive buying, stockpiling, and panic buying, product and brand substitution, and changes in channel preferences.

Ipsos studies revealed that the role your products and services play in this environment is critical. You need to demonstrate initiative and respond to consumer needs. Being empathetic and creating frictionless experiences is key to gaining a strong user base that will outlast the current environment.

In uncertain times, both consumers and companies look to brands they are familiar with. Companies that work continuously on their brand awareness over a long period, therefore, have a clear advantage.

If there has been a global crisis that engineered the minds of brand leaders to think forward when it comes to brand growth strategies, then Covid-19 fits the bill. As anxiety over the Covid-19 global death count rose, a heightened sense of mortality strengthened the desire to reinforce cultural membership and bolster self-esteem.

Viewing the Covid-19 environment through the lens of behavioural change helps us to understand that brands have a unique opportunity to build and internalize new routines in today’s fluid and low-touch context.

Moral compass

While brands need to operate with intelligence, a strong moral compass and sensitivity, they also play an important role in the economy.

Naturally, brand leaders would want to understand which behaviours will persist during a crisis and after and most often, there is a lot of speculation about the nature and timing of the new normal. 

Exploring how routines evolve to the status of a ritual can inform brand strategy. Routines are patterns of behaviour generally performed with little thought. But a more strictly observed routine can become a ritual - for example, ritualistically stopping at a favourite coffee shop for a drink of choice. 

Rituals are precisely followed behaviours imbued with meaning. Ordinary gestures are transformed into symbolic expressions and are undertaken consistently.

Their meaning is reinforced with each repeat performance. Rituals reflect a core set of shared beliefs, promoting a sense of belonging or importance and always emerge amidst uncertainty to allow a sense of normalcy. 

An understanding of rituals provides insight into how routines can be developed to be durable, repeatable, and imbued with brand-associated meaning – which will make these new routines more likely to persist in a post-crisis environment.

A crisis can be a double-edged sword for marketers. On the one hand, it provides an endless source material for campaigns, and forces them to innovate when it comes to reaching consumers. On the other hand, it can require the company to change its approach to branding almost wholly.

Crises affect everything at a fundamental level, and that includes the factors that make for good branding. 

In times of crisis, many of our automatic brand selections and everyday behaviours get disrupted, and in the aftermath, brands need become central figures in the performance of new routines and rituals.

Customer needs

For brands to build and maintain a growth momentum in times of crisis, the beginning point should be understanding and addressing customer needs. This can be achieved by conducting thorough market research to understand the shifting needs and preferences of customers during a crisis.

With a clear understanding of the shifting contexts, brands can then develop and offer products or services that address the immediate concerns and pain points of consumers. This was witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic when many companies shifted to producing essential goods like hand sanitisers and masks. 

Before the Covid dust could settle, the world was hit by the monster that is inflation. Arguably, the effects of inflation globally warrant a scoring of it as a crisis.

- The author is the Chief Client Officer at Ipsos in Kenya

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