Brand R.E.S.P.E.CT

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about how to address Covid-19 short-term.

(A quick run down memory lane: direct mail, SEO moves to make, using marketing to help others, what to do when a competitor goes out of business, how to slash budgets and only keep digital marketing basics, and how to see which content is newly popular).

So I figured today we should explore how to begin to address it long-term.

When I visited Japan last fall I participated in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was there that I learned about a phrase the sixteenth-century Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu taught his students to think about as they conducted the ceremony:

“Ichi-go ichi-e.”

Which loosely translates to “one meeting, one moment in your life that will never happen again.”

Basically we have to praise this moment, because although we could meet again, we will be different people bringing new experiences with us.

And as marketers, I believe this is the best way to consider our customers’ lifecycles.

Everything changes for our customers all the time.

Each time they experience our marketing something will have changed in their lives and about them.

It could be big:

  • They’ve had a child, and now they’re a parent for the first time.
  • They’ve been forced to shelter-in-place during a pandemic, and they’re bored.
  • They’re lost an aunt, and now they’re more passionate about living the moment.

It could be small:

  • They’ve read a new book, and now care more about the environment.
  • They’ve got an email from their boss about a task she needs done, and now they can’t concentrate.
  • They’ve just celebrated their birthday, and now they’re happy.

But it will be something.

So what does this mean for us?

Brand is everything.

Our brand can provide comfort through consistency, delivering the same reassurance and feeling it always has, no matter any uncertainty. But our brand must also find a way to evolve to be relevant.

Basically, a brand must strike a careful balance between heritage and innovation. In order to meet change, a brand should be respected not revered – evolving while staying true to its core.

Respecting a brand begins with its attributes.

Disney’s Bob Iger believes, “When you chose to respect a brand, then you consider all the reasons why it was valuable in the first place, and do it in a way that brings the values forward.”

To find its value you need to identify and build from your brand’s attributes, which are its handful of distinct features. Basically attributes construct your brand experience in a way that lets the consumer know something about what they’re about to get when they hear your brand name.

For example:

What did you feel?
Anticipation, inspiration?

That’s the result of impactful brand work by Nike, leveraging its attributes consistently.

Sports Authority?

That’s the result of Sports Authority not being consistent with its attributes.

It’s critical to success to stay true to brand attributes.

For example, over the years there have been discussions about how to keep the Disney brand vital in a changing world. After all, it was created in 1923 and is now almost a hundred years old.

As the world has gotten edgier – language, violence, sex – there were ways in their storytelling that they could have presented their brand in more edgy ways, for example by depicting intimate sex scenes. But one of their core attributes has been ‘family-friendly.’

So that would have been a huge mistake for the Disney brand, because it would have distanced them from their core brand attributes in order to be relevant. In the end they’d end up with a brand that didn’t look anything like the brand that was created in the first place.

Instead, they were able to evolve by updating story themes. Disney princesses first appeared in Snow White, and over the years continued to be critical parts of story lines throughout Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.

So, more recently, Disney made the choice to begin showing young princesses who are more empowered; who had a purpose not dependent on the love of a man; who had a spirit of adventure and a life of their own. They created princesses capable of independent thinking and doing.

One of the best examples is in Frozen, where Anna is saved and fulfilled by the love of her sister not the love of a man. In this way, Disney was able to stay consistent to their brand attributes, yet match the times. Empowered princesses feel relevant in today’s world, and they way Disney is using its platform is now a much better use of storytelling, creating a positive example for women around the world.

Thinking about how your brand should be respected as it evolves is increasingly prescient right now, as people around the world have experienced dramatic change.

Consumers have changed during Covid-19.

We’re already seeing changes in buying behavior.

Right now 40 percent of consumers say they will reduce their spending over the next two weeks. This intent to spend less has been most dramatic for discretionary purchases.

While for millennials and higher-income consumers, online discretionary spending is set to continue to rebound for select categories (such as personal-care products, food takeout and delivery, non-food child products, and skin care and makeup products).

Also, consumers exhibit strong intent to continue digital activity replacements such as telemedicine and remote learning; digital pastimes like online streaming and fitness; and physical activities like spending time outdoors and digitally-enabled exercise machines.

Let’s explore the ways consumers may continue to change.

And many of those changes are likely to stick around long-term. Here are a few trends that could hit in big ways even after the pandemic:

1. Drive in movie theaters.

Major film studios are going to want to recoup costs on films they’ve already shot. And this could be the simplest and safest way to hold a six feet apart.

2. More biking, and “connected” sports.

Milan, Italy, one of Europe’s most polluted cities, is leading the charge with its ambitious Strade Aperte plan which intends to transform 22 miles of streets by adding temporary biking lanes, 20 mph speed limits, and wider pavements. 

Searches for Pelotons have seen a rise. And “smart” basketballs as well as basketball dribbling gaming apps have become popular.

3. More demand for green space.

People are going to be sick of using their fire escapes as patios. More outdoor spaces will be added to urban housing. We may see more home purchases in the suburbs as city natives escape, and remote work becomes more accepted.

4. More self-sustenance.

People want to control their ability to put food on the table, and take advantage of the outdoors’ good vibes. Searches for chicken coops are spiking. And searches for cucumber seeds are as well.

5. More snail mail.

Searches for birthday cards are spiking. That alone could simply mean people will start to care about others more, but searches for stamps are up too. While searches for flower delivery have held flat.

6. Redesigned parks.

The Austrian studio Precht has designed a park that allows people to hang out outside while separated by hedges.

7. Automation of factory work.

Companies could deploy more robot workers in factories/stores, or autonomous vehicles and drones in delivery networks

8. Furniture and appliances designed with new materials.

Covid-19’s ability to survive on surfaces could make antimicrobial polymer and copper alloy surfaces more attractive.

9. More fully remote companies.

Now that companies have seen how simple it is to make it work, and realized the large cost they’re paying for office space, it’s likely more jobs will remain telecommutable.

10. Cubicles will make a comeback.

For years companies have been cutting office costs by switching to open floor plans, despite negative impact on employees. This tide looks likely to turn, as plexiglass-enclosed desks turned apart from one another might be the future of the open floor plan office.  

11. Improved airflow.

Adding better ventilation and filtration could make hospitals, movie theaters, grocery stores, shopping malls, and other enclosed spaces healthier places to inhabit. Look for this touted by real-estate agents on house brochures!

12. Essentials will be bought online.

Essentials have done very well during this time, but most of their buying has moved online. That’s why brands such as Amazon are doing decently well in the stock market. Essentials brands are seeing revenue hold steady, but recently search volume is trending down.

13. Continued explosion of niche DTC luxury brands.

At a month into the Covid-19 US crisis, luxury brands continue to do well, this week holding steady at +67% revenue. Rich people gon’ rich!

14. Cleanliness.

We’re all more concerned than we used to be about germs, as shown through increased searches for soap and Clorox wipes.

15. Small groups.

We’ll feel better together, but with fewer folks. People will get together in smaller groups and mostly outside. We can expect to prepare party catering accordingly with no buffet lines.

So, back to you

So how should your brand evolve to meet changed consumers, while staying consistent?

Start figuring it out now.

Here’s an example.

Spanx exists to solve wardrobe woes and to help women feel great about themselves and their potential. Spanx has a robust business focused on leisure, in addition to intimates and shapewear.

Cricket Whitton, Chief Digital Officer for Spanx, shared that she has already worked to change how products were spotlighted on the Spanx homepage, focusing on clothing customers would most like to wear at home. She worked to change the wording to emphasize the soft, comfortable aspects of the emphasized product line. And we’ll likely see an investment in more product releases in this category in the future, as more companies move to full-time remote.

Now you’re prepared to meet the change, with your own brand.

Remember respect not revere.

Up next, explore the digital marketing toolkit that delivers the best results.

If you enjoyed this article, would it be too much to ask you to please send a $5 tip to my Venmo tip jar? @megsterr.

Or my Paypal:

Thank you so much!

By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.