This is a new era we have moved into. The business landscape has changed, and has changed for ever.
Recession, down turn, global disaster of unprecedented magnitude. Call it what you will, Covid-19 has affected every business in the UK. From large trading floors to sports events, this is a new world. Some businesses may never recover, many will return, the lucky will reassess and change. So, now is the time to look at your brand and ensure it is strong while you are deciding what the future of your business is, and how you will come out of this when the all-clear sounds. Why – because your competitors will be doing precisely this.
Here are a few tips on how you can use the brand to implement change in your business.
Taking stock is wise for any business, but now is really the ideal time. If you are a savvy business owner, by now you will have assessed the risk to your business. Is it terminal? A casualty? Or walking wounded? Regardless of the outcome you have brand value in that business which says a lot about it and about you. When customers connect emotively – because they share the same values and beliefs as the brand – it leads to higher sales, better brand differentiation, and brand retention, encouraging loyalty.
So, if your business is recoverable, that brand value is important. If you are planning to diversify, the brand values in your terminal business may be transferable. So, all the good-will and hard work that you have put into your will carry your business forward, or launch your new business if you get it right.
Review the product or service your business offers. Where in the market does it sit? Pinpoint the space in the market it occupies and research the emotive and rational needs and concerns of your customers. Your brand character should promote your business, connect with your customer base and differentiate you in the market. Did you need to adapt your business or your brand to this new era?
Every brand is individual with a character made up of beliefs, values and purposes that define what that brand is and how we connect with it. It is just not just a logo. It has a personality that determines how it is seen, how the business behaves and how our customers interact with it. Like our own personal brand, how we react in certain situations, how we dress and what we say. Of course, for people it’s intuitive and it’s rare that you even consider what your own character is. But when you’re building a brand it’s vital to have that understanding. What makes your brand tick, and how do your customers view it.
Regardless of the future of your business, be positive and plan for a relaunch when the Covid-19 pandemic is under control. You may find your business is only ‘on hold’ for a few weeks till the lockdown is loosened. While your brand expertise may not change in a recession, the value proposition for the brand may need a tune-up. This is a good time to look at your most satisfied customers and understand hidden benefits of your brand that you may not have focused on. Are you an affordable luxury? Does your service help reduce the cost of a major investment? Follow the clues to see if you can uncover how best to talk about your offering in a recessionary environment.
During this pandemic is an important time to invest in your most valuable customers, weather you are trading or not. No-one knows how long this will last. If you have conducted a customer lifetime ‘value analysis’ you’ll know that your most profitable customers are extremely expensive to replace. Instead of losing them to a competitor after Covid-19, talk to them about the future of your business and how you look forward to working with them again. Aim to build long-term relationships with your customers. Ask – How can you repay their loyalty? Improve loyalty programs, offering education, training or new experiences or better access to your brand can all increase loyalty. Don’t dress up your offering and raise expectations that result in broken promises, create trust with honest branding – be clear who your company is and be true to the values that drive it every day.
For almost all companies, the staff are central to the business. Invest in your best employees. If your employees fear for their jobs, you’ll lose the best ones first. Your top employees are most likely to have the best offers to jump ship. Keep talking to them even if they are furlough, If you are forced to reduce headcount, use some of the savings for raises or retention bonuses for the survivors, who will inevitably have to take on more work. Or invest in education, cross-functional training or other valuable perks for your best employees. When this all smoothes down, you will need a loyal and committed workforce to help you pick up the pieces.
A business down turn like the Covid-19 pandemic, can be the best time to launch a new brand or venture because the competition is less intense. Consumers will still respond to value and marketers may find bargains to be had when advertising or promoting new offerings. Brands can also launch new offerings to smaller customer segments and grow these new businesses gradually with less fear of knockoffs. Big brands are encumbered by large layers of bureaucracy, preventing them from being flexible and reacting to the ever-changing needs of their customers. Those layers of decision-makers can make it hard for them to be daring with their branding. You can be innovative, bold and daring – stand for something you believe in.
If business slows down for your brand, use that lull to innovate. A rolling stone gathers no moss; use this time wisely. Experiment with a new delivery method, creative packaging or different service options. Consider ‘quick fail’ iterative approaches in test markets as a way to gauge what you consumers will respond to. Try to pursue projects that you’ve wanted to do but were too busy to consider.
Develop your own distinctive identity. There is a big consumer trend towards independent establishments, and several chains are in fact trying to mimic an independent feel to capture some of that market. Truly independent operators can leverage their status to attract customers who are looking for something more original and authentic, that aligns with how they feel about themselves.
Strong brands burdened with financial weaknesses like inadequate cash reserves, a bad debt structure, mismanagement or inflexible cost structures may be good acquisition targets. Your brand can acquire new technology, patents, market segments or even complementary brands in a recession that would be unavailable or unaffordable during an expansion. A recent example is the fashion brand Boo Hoo acquiring part of Philip Green’s Arcadia group.
If you’ve carefully evaluated the market and understand how your customers are reacting to the recession, consider expanding. Brands who grow in a recession tend to consolidate those gains afterwards.
Always consider your branding when communicating with customers. Don’t lose your pride or dilute your brand positioning with indiscriminate discounting. Try offering more, rather than slashing prices. Promotions are an opportunity to reinforce your brand mission.