This year continues to teach brands how to evolve and communicate in a time when it seems that change is the only constant.
Chances are your brand could use some care and attention as we look ahead with hope but lingering uncertainties about a global pandemic, the economy, climate change and political upheaval, which all have impacts on brands.
Some brands are winning, despite challenges. The annual Axios-Harris Poll 100 shows that Costco, Netflix and CVS, for example, are more popular today than before the pandemic. Regardless of industry, there are actions all brands can take for a stronger 2021.
People and Purpose Matter Most
Purpose has always been important, but now more than ever, consumers are loyal to brands that actively work through their products, services and influence to make the world better and have a positive impact. Brands that won in 2020 communicated hope, unity, optimism and solutions.
One example is Walmart’s ad that features associates singing “Lean on Me” and ended with the simple message: “Here for you.” The commercialincluded photos and videos of people helping each other and sharing words of encouragement.
Consumers expect brands to take action and communicate in a way that makes things better, and they expect people and communities to be at the heart of everything you do.
Know What Others Are Saying
If you’re not clear on your purpose — what you do for people and why it matters — now is the time to gain clarity by honestly assessing your brand.
Your brand represents what others say about you, not what you think about yourself. Take a look at the state of your brand by observing online business reviews, audience surveys, competitive analyses and employee feedback. Identify common themes, words or sentiments. This self-reflection should help you understand your differentiators, what pillars support your brand and how you should position moving forward.
Learn From the Good and Bad
Now that you have a clear understanding of how your brand is perceived, make sure you’re staying relevant, especially during these challenging times. Evaluate your services to ensure they are on par with the current climate. Ask yourself: Are my offerings still representative of what customers require? Are the decisions I am making positively resonating with consumers?
The best way to answer these questions is by looking at your company and evaluating whether you’re keeping up with technology and social relevancies. Assess this by analyzing what’s going on in the news, looking at trends, seeing what your competitors are doing and whether their approach is working. This should give you an idea of if you are on track or need to pivot.
Most importantly, don’t stay stagnant. Engaging in new opportunities can catapult your success. Think about how your business is actively engaging in fresh opportunities and innovation. This could come in the form of investing in technology or tools that make your job easier. Also, think about hiring employees with specific experience or skillsets that could elevate your brand or business.
Moving forward is not a marathon, so remember small steps lead to greatness, but moving forward is key.
Focus Your Language
The articulation of your brand, both internally and externally, is critical. There’s one word that can spell disaster: tone-deaf.
We’ve seen both good and bad examples of brands incorporating Covid-19 into messaging. Amazon provided an example of tone-deaf messaging in creating the Amazon Relief Fund and asking the public to support contract employees during the pandemic. The effort led to this headline and consumers asking why Amazon simply didn’t pay employees better.
The brands that most often fail with messaging are those that think they can do one event or social media post and, thus, fall short of meaningful communication and action. This “checking of the box” mentality almost always backfires, as savvy consumers call it out and demand better.
Avoid Communication Pitfalls
Consumers expect brands to articulate their beliefs, goals and purpose with transparency, authenticity and empathy, and to bring something of value to audiences through their communications.
• Avoid formulas and trite, overused language that’s become common as brands struggle to stay relevant.
• Plan content while keeping in mind that most content has a short shelf life and you must be ready to pivot. Timing is everything.
• Keep your message direct and simple. Communicate one cohesive message across multiple channels.
• If you’re asking audiences to take action, give them one thing to do and make it as easy as possible for them to act.
• Speak only about what you know to be true. Avoid forecasting or speaking about things that don’t have a natural tie to your brand.
• Know your audience’s fears, desires and motivations, but know that these things are changing.
Your purpose — the heart of your brand — must remain steady while messaging and tactics evolve.
Refine Your Visual Identity
Along with your language, it might be time to update your brand look through your color palette, typography, photography and logo. It’s likely that more people are interacting with your brand through your website and social media as a result of the pandemic and social distancing. When they view these channels, what does your visual identity say about you?
Visual identity requires consistency to underscore your key messages. One example is how the pandemic has changed health care marketing. Hospitals face a challenge in demonstrating to consumers that it’s safe to seek care at a hospital or physician’s office. That’s meant incorporating safety into all messaging by, for example, ensuring that all photography shows health care employees in masks and other protective equipment.
Brands communicate visually and verbally, and both forms are equally important.
There’s much more that goes into creating and executing a successful brand strategy, but starting with these considerations will help you enter 2021 with a stronger brand that drives success.
The most valuable and trusted brands learn and evolve with their audiences. Remember your people and your purpose and start there.