by Dan Hanrahan
Creative Director, Studio
3 Branding Trends for the Age of COVID-19
According to Interbrand, 2020 was supposed to be about brands becoming vibrant, playful, fun, and upbeat. (1)
So much for that.
In the wake of the pandemic, the need to appear clever and witty and tap into the positive zeitgeist of a burgeoning economy (i.e., price-driven messaging) took a back seat to the need for brands to over-prescribe empathy, emotion, and authenticity.
According to the Association of National Advertisers, 92 percent of their members pivoted their creative messaging since March, when the World Health Organization proclaimed COVID-19 a pandemic. (2)
We’ve all seen the ads.
The question now is, where do we go from here?
1. Peddling Authenticity, Values, and Trust
In Interbrand’s annual Breakthrough Brands 2020 report, which rigorously examines more than 200 of today’s emerging startups, values imbued in a product or service are identified as being equally important as the price of the product itself. (3)
Brands such as SoulCycle are all about building a passionate, ideological, and health-conscious community. By holding a yellow jersey in believing in what they do, they’ve attracted a growing membership willing to regularly dedicate 45 to 60 minutes to crush their swerve score. To put another spin on it: forward-thinking brands like SoulCycle have no interest in “selling” you on their brand promise. They’re out to make you feel it. This is where brand experience rubber meets the road.
2. Social Listening > Brand Awareness
Infegy is a data analytics company that taps into social listening to gain a deeper understanding of brands and over 400 million online conversation sources.
Better than the nebulous brand awareness metric, social listening offers a “concrete way to quickly gauge public opinion and answer some of brands’ most critical questions. Do people ‘get’ what we’re about? Do we stand out among the noise?” (4)
Brands that engage in social listening breakthrough by tapping into a core group of passionate followers who do the one thing that best defines a brand: they talk.
According to both Infegy and Interbrand’s report, it would seem that “mocktail” maker Seedlip owes at least some of its success to social listening, which might include the widespread adoption of its boujie non-boozy beverages by bars, restaurants, hotels, and retailers, as well as the Seedlip’s package design, even its slogan, ‘What to drink when you’re not drinking.®’
Refreshingly, companies such as Seedlip that brand beyond COVID-19 use social means to actively engage and listen as opposed to force-feeding the public a message about how they’re “here for us,” which they know via social media is something we’re all tired of hearing.
3. Removing Friction in a Friction-Filled World
What makes a great brand? Branding Strategy Insider’s Jeff Rosenblum wrote:
“They remove friction.”
I think we can all agree that 2020 has been… abrasive. Now more than ever, the brands that help make life easier for us moving forward are going to win hearts as well as share-of-mind.
Rosenblum identifies two types of friction: “Macro,” which is at the category level. And “Micro,” which lives at the brand level.
Rosenblum uses Patagonia as an example of a company that removes Macro friction. While Patagonia sells products that are not always organically produced, they go out of their way to remove that concern by pushing their sustainability efforts, pledging to provide 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment, and providing tools for consumers to see into Patagonia’s supply chain. They elevate their brand beyond what they sell to a platform that empowers consumers to join them in becoming evangelists who help them create a healthier environment.
For an example of Micro friction, look no further than eyewear maker Warby Parker. As a brand loyal customer, I can attest that there are few companies that make it easier to do business. Their online-based Home Try-on program is simple and smooth. They remove the complications behind buying glasses by allowing people to select five different frames to try on for free at home, on their own time. The packaging arrives swiftly and returning the eyewear is as easy as sticking a return label on the delivery box the eyewear arrived in. Once selections are made, ordering the exact eyewear you want is clear and simple, removing the time and stress involved in an important buying decision.
It’s Okay to Smile
Despite the pandemic, normally upbeat brands shouldn’t feel forced to abandon an upbeat approach when it comes to selling their products and services. There has always been a symbiotic relationship between comedy and tragedy, levity and reality. It can be healthy. What I suggest for brands as we carefully navigate 2020 is to put their ear to the ground and listen, focus on building trust, and in their own way make life a little easier for us all.
The big and the little things matter. We live in difficult times and the last thing we need is the brands we interact with contributing to the chaos.