‘Normal’ has simply been thrown out the window in so many areas, not just where and how we work but obviously in how we run businesses, buy things, teach our children or interact with each other. In many areas extraordinary windows are open right now and I think brand leaders can seize them if they act fast.
Why is this an extraordinary moment for brands? Great brand leaders of course know the buyer’s mindset and habits, both around a buying decision and in wider life. We even sometimes map their typical day to gain insights into this and clearly, for most of your buyers, fundamentals have shifted from their commuting habits to the way they meet clients, make those big buying decisions or run a team, in ways that 18 months ago we would have said were impossible. Along the way I think most of us became more open to change generally and to unexpected actions from brands. So I really believe that as we (hopefully) bounce back your brand may have a window to make bold moves, change the way your clients see you or grab new opportunities. The pandemic has changed mindsets and accelerated trends – perhaps unconsciously your clients are rather more open to change because they have lived it, or because the next few years are far harder to predict than the last few. So, I really feel that right now brands have a licence to be bold, to reinvent an offer, jump channels or make a pandemic-driven change permanent. And of course, if you don’t make a big shift your competitors might!
The pandemic has rather obscured other recent shifts too. For example, a recent poll shows that despite the strains of lockdown most people are still very concerned about global heating and our impacts on the planet and remain very prepared to change their habits. So are there bold moves you can make to lower your brand’s carbon impact, or help clients reduce theirs? With so many cards in the air today, I feel Covid has somehow created the right atmosphere for change here too.
There have been many obvious Covid-related innovations, from better swabs to pop-up hospitals, but others have used the opportunity to really look deeper into a business and do something unexpected. One of our local B2B heroes, the Cambridge Fruit Company, saw its office-delivery business severely impacted by the pandemic but quickly pivoted to home delivery, expanded its product range, emphasised its ‘shop local’ advantage and even managed to help local charities at the same time. At the larger end, Brewdog didn’t just launch new ranges and boost its online shop experience, but also offered their bars as vaccination centres. They focused more on communicating green and community-focused brand credentials for its other key stakeholder – the loyal ‘Equity Punk’ investor – emphasising achieving carbon-negative and B-corp status at its April 'Annual General Mayhem'. And, as cinemas struggle to attract punters back, Disney has made a major strategic shift from big-screen to small and seen extraordinary growth of Disney+ in a matter of months, backed by a billion-dollar commitment to new Marvel and Star Wars content specifically for smaller screens. Meanwhile Dyson’s revenues blossomed over lockdown launching more models than ever, equipping some with laser beams. They will of course still sell direct online and via Amazon, but they are also going against the grain and opening a dozen more bricks-and-mortar showrooms, presumably hoping to build on Dyson’s strong brand equity and cover these costs through more sales at full margin.
Of course, these were often decisions forced upon businesses heavily impacted by Covid, but importantly they took the chance to re-appraise strategy and move differently, putting in place changes that don’t just help them bounce back strongly but also succeed longer term. But I believe no matter how hard or soft the impact of the pandemic has been on your business, as a brand leader in 2021 you have licence to move in new directions.
To quote one of my idols, Mary Portas: “Don’t try to change the rules of the game you’re in or aim to make the game a bit better… just pick up your learnings and enter the market differently, confident of who you’re talking to and what you say to them.”
I’ve seen up close how some brand leaders have decided to come ‘Back & Bold’ and are really taking these opportunities, so grab them soon because this moment won’t last forever!