2020 and the new era of branding

January 14, 2021

2020 has been a defining year for brands and no one is feeling this more than marketing professionals.

This global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis, as well as the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, has put brands at the centre of societal issues – ending ‘business as usual’ and adding an undeniable dynamic to an already competitive market.

We were curious to find out more about how brands have grappled with showing empathy to their customers this year and the challenges that came with this. We worked with Sapio to gain insight from 250 marketing professionals about what the events of 2020 have meant for their marketing communications.

Our research tells us that while most brands want to be more empathic to social change and global issues affecting customers, many are struggling to get to grips with how to deliver this in such a limited timeframe.

Over 90% of marketers told us that they are trying to be more empathic in their marketing campaigns, recognising the need to respond to the events having an impact on their customers. This has been a challenge with three-quarters admitting they were unable to respond quickly enough to rapidly developing situations such as COVID-19.

Striking the right balance

I’m sure any CMO can tell you that when the news hit of the World Health Organisation classing COVID-19 as a global pandemic, they probably spent the next few weeks reviewing every part of their marketing strategy – making sure images were in line with social distancing regulations and holding back on pushy promotions at a time when so many jobs hung in the balance.

There was also the constant worry of whether they were responding as quickly and effectively as their competitors to contend with.

Not long after this, the video of the tragic killing of George Floyd went viral, sparking the biggest civil rights movement of a generation. This brought to life a new set of challenges for brands that wanted to play a part in the journey towards racial equality. Many brands that spoke out were then slammed for not having their own diversity measures in place, highlighting the need for truly authentic communications.

Both key events have impacted customer purchasing decisions and coupled with a global economic recession and ongoing lockdown restrictions, it seems brands face an uphill battle to retain their customer base.

An authentic response

Businesses have got a real challenge on their hands if they want to deliver empathic marketing to changing social situations in a short timeframe. These turbulent and highly emotional events bring with them the danger of making sweeping business decisions as a knee-jerk reaction to social issues. This, alongside the added pressure brought on by digital marketing to respond to everything in the moment and you’ve suddenly got a situation where it’s easy to say or do the wrong thing.

Customers have long memories and if an upset is caused, it can lead to brand damage for years to come. Everyone wants to react in a way that speaks to their customers and while it is critical to respond to changing tides in customer behaviour, these actions need to be well thought out, authentic and backed up by solid data and evidence.

Although many marketers may feel at a loss on how to rise to these challenges, Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides a beacon of hope and something that can be harnessed to get customer sentiment back on side. Marketing professionals can use AI to adapt their creatives, message, visual and textual content on a continual basis, in line with changing audience attitudes. Getting this right means working closely with data scientists to identify the correct tools to unlock the goldmine of data that they are more than likely sitting on. There are many different AI solutions available and the right one can pull together the entirety of a company’s data to help predict the success of a campaign and measure customer sentiment in a short space of time.

Marketers need something that will give them the confidence to try new ideas. In the past brands have had to carry out lengthy methods of testing, such as focus groups and A/B test, but these don’t always work well with the time restrictions of a today’s digital world. With the right AI and data analytics tools, marketers can test and analyse new ideas prior to sending out the communication, offering more scope for experimentation. These communications can then be tweaked down the line to respond to customer reaction.

That way, when the next social issue hits, they can do something innovative with their communications without running the risk of it going down like a lead balloon.