LinkedIn

Laura Morris, Client Director, Trinity McQueen

As Mike Tyson once famously stated “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. The recent events of Covid-19 have certainly delivered an almighty sucker punch to businesses in all sectors and there have been naturally been brand winners and brand casualties as a result.

One of the interesting things about Covid is the way in which it has shone a light on the importance of how organisations treat their employees. Brands who have acted responsibly and shown genuine care for their workers have come off well in terms of consumer warmth towards them. Those who haven’t have been exposed. Wetherspoons’ outspoken chairman Tim Martin, for example, received much criticism for telling staff to “seek work in Tesco” if they were unhappy following the company’s decision to stop their pay until the government worked out details of the furlough scheme.

In ordinary times these ‘behind closed doors’ matters tended to, by and large, stay that way. Even if the truth is uncomfortable, consumers often conveniently sweep it under the carpet and their purchasing behaviour is not altered. Obviously there are exceptions – brand activism is certainly growing – but just take Amazon, for example. The retailer has courted so much controversy over the ethics of its business practices yet its effortless ‘one click’ digital experience is too darn addictive for most people to boycott.

But even before Covid, and even before other major economic events took place (remember Brexit anyone?!) the changing sands of brand success were already shifting seismically.

You only need to look at some of the fastest growing brands to evidence this. For example, take brands like Uber, Monzo, Netflix, Deliveroo and Boohoo. Many of these brands are ‘digital disruptors’ with a huge focus on slick customer experience and digitally agile products. Some were little known or didn’t even exist until recently … yet they have become integral in our lives – who could have survived lockdown without Netflix or a cheeky Deliveroo takeaway for goodness sake?!

They’ve quickly become our go to products, places to shop, ways to book, how we manage money, our methods to communicate and creators of our favourite content.

At the same time we’ve witnessed brands with great heritage, wide physical and mental availability, and large marketing reach leave our lives. Lacking sufficient relevance and meaning, most won’t be missed.  Indeed it was a recent finding of Havas Group’s Meaningful Brands 2019 report which stated “81% of brands could disappear and European consumers wouldn’t care”.

Yes there are numerous brand casualties taking place as a result of Covid. But even before this unprecedented event, many heritage and/or ‘me too’ brands were struggling. Take fast-casual dining restaurants, for example. Was it me or did they suddenly overnight seem to pop up everywhere? But their ubiquity meant that ultimately, many ended up closing because they lacked sufficient brand distinctiveness. Strada, Byron Burger, Prezzo, Eat, Jamie’s Italian … all were closing outlets well before Covid. And whenever there is a proliferation in brand choice and a brand becomes yet another ‘me too’ pizza/burger/insert cuisine chain they become wallpaper to consumers and eventually fade away.

Tech of course also continues to disrupt markets across all sectors, and previously ‘loyal’ consumers are departing in droves from more established brands with the lure of a more seamless, easy purchase experience offered by digital disruptors.  Just take the Fintechs … it takes 60 seconds or less to set up a bank account with Monzo; the same process would take weeks with a traditional bank. As a consumer in our recent ‘Financial Brand Drivers’ study neatly summed up “[FinTech companies like Monzo and Revolut] succeed because they take the stress and confusion out of everyday financial management and bring it into the smartphone era”.

Against this backdrop, therefore, it’s important to ask ourselves, “do the old ways still work?” If what it takes for a brand to succeed has drastically changed, can the old ways of measuring brands still be valid? The brand models of yesterday are quite simply being stretched to breaking point.

When the drivers of brand success change, it follows therefore that the way we measure, track and guide brands must also therefore change. We are in desperate need of new measures that provide relevant insight in this new world. Ones that recognise that while marcomms support growth, experience counts for an awful lot too. After all, your brand is not just what you tell people it is! Put simply, consumers do not consider products, experiences and marketing as separate aspects of brand identity anymore – they view each element as being intrinsically connected, and all play a key role in driving brand success.

But there’s more. New measures must understand why individuals choose one brand over another. What is the reasoning behind behaviour when it comes to brand choice?

Awareness, positive sentiment and consideration mean nothing if you are not the chosen brand. Which is why understanding the mix of rational, subconscious and emotional drivers of choice are of paramount importance in terms of brand development.

Not all existing measures of brand health are wrong or poor, but nowadays they only tell part of the story. We need new, complementary measures that truly reflect how brands are seen by consumers today. That’s why at Trinity McQueen we’ve turned brand tracking on it’s head with a fresh new behaviourally inspired approach. This is how brands will see the opportunities that lie ahead in our brave new world – Covid or no Covid.