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There’s never been a more crucial time for businesses to get their branding right. With rapidly evolving consumer behaviour across multiple sectors, we have seen major upheaval throughout industries resulting in both serious challenges and exciting opportunities.

It may seem obvious, but branding is so much more than just your logo or strapline, it helps to differentiate, create a deeper connection with the audience and drive commercial advantage.

One thing is for certain – COVID-19 has brought about seismic change. The acceleration of digital adoption, with data reported by McKinsey showing that we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks, has set the tone for our recovery. It’s transformed the way consumers discover and engage with brands and has meant that some businesses have flourished, and others have failed. In retail, for example, it has resulted in the rise of pure-play retailers and the fall of some of the high street’s largest and most well-established brands. But it’s not just consumer behaviour that’s changed – consumer sentiment has also shifted.

Throughout the pandemic and during multiple lockdowns, over 60 percent of global consumers have changed shopping behaviour, many of them for convenience and value. And with so many consumers switching brands so frequently – a trend that is predicted to remain – businesses are presented with a golden opportunity to reach untapped audiences and win new customers. However, businesses are also faced with the possibility of customers turning to other brands, and they will need to work harder than ever to keep them.

WHAT THE SHIFT TO DIGITAL MEANS FOR YOUR BRAND

Just as consumers have changed where and how they interact with brands; businesses must consider how they will continue to position themselves online. Having a consistent message across all your channels is crucial but you also need a strategy for each. Digital provides a way for you to connect with your customer on a one-to-one basis and offers you the ability to forge strong and lasting relationships if you truly understand your audience and speak directly to their needs. Mass marketing may no longer be the best way to drive engagement for your brand and businesses will need to consider a more targeted approach.

Tone-of-voice and the way you convey your brand story can help you make those all-important connections, but what lies behind the façade is what will help you nurture them. Your brand values and identity must live and breathe through these channels with a personalised approach.

With more brands focussing their efforts online and turning to a direct-to-consumer model, the competition will be fierce – the acceleration of this e-commerce boom is expected to create new household brand names because 38% of consumers say they will continue to buy from online stores that they first visited during the crisis, while another 31% will continue to buy new products and services that they first started to buy during the crisis [WARC].

So, how you differentiate your brand will be the key to your success. With a focus on the consumer goods market, Deloitte discovered that four in five companies indicated that resetting their go-to-market strategy was critical to meeting their 2021 objectives. As brands look to refine their product and service offerings, prioritise the channels they use, and redefine their audiences, brand positioning will need to be an important element in this process.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR BRAND STAND OUT

As we saw throughout the pandemic, there were key drivers for consumers when choosing brands – value, convenience, and availability being the top three. But there were other factors at play. Edelman reported in 2020 that 33% of people globally had convinced others to stop using a brand that they feel isn’t appropriately responding to the pandemic, with 81% stating that they needed to trust the brand would do what was right.

And trust in brands to ‘do the right thing’ will play a huge role post-COVID-19, which should be a huge consideration for businesses when they review their brand positioning. As Jessi Baker wrote for Forbes:

A global BCG study in 2020 found that 70% of people are more aware now than before COVID-19 that human activity threatens the climate. Heightened awareness of sustainability is translating to our shopping habits–72% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers now ‘prefer to buy from brands that do good.’

This certainly won’t be the first place you’ve heard it, but purpose-driven companies stand to be winners through the recovery. And that purpose needs to be at the very heart of your branding. Looking beyond your products and services and making sure you convey what your business stands for, as well as why and how you deliver on this should be the cornerstone of your branding strategy.

WHAT CONSUMERS CARE ABOUT TODAY

While trying to engineer brand purpose is the wrong approach to take, being mindful of what is important to your potential customers and working these into your strategy can provide businesses with a competitive edge. Obvious trends that have surfaced due to the pandemic include a heightened focus on hygiene, health and wellbeing. But sustainability is another key consideration for consumers. In a survey conducted by GWI, it was found that In July 2020, 72% of consumers across 20 countries said companies behaving sustainably was more important to them because of COVID-19.

And consumers are selecting brands based on other factors, too. While value and convenience will remain important as we navigate the recovery, people are making decisions about brands on everything from how they treat their staff and how eco-friendly they are, to whether they support social issues and how committed they are to sustainability. In fact, in the UK specifically, Campaign Live statistics show that sustainability is one of the main subjects dominating the minds of consumers, with nearly 71% of people showing an interest in the environment. Making sure these issues are carefully considered through your brand story and how it is conveyed will be imperative.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY FOR YOUR BRAND

As well as a focus on hygiene and health, the pandemic has resulted in consumers forging stronger links with their communities and has strengthened communities across the globe. As Accenture reports, 80% of consumers feel more or asconnected to their communities, with 88% expecting these connections to remain intact well beyond the crisis. And with the amount of socio-political and economic factors the world faces in 2021, brand loyalty will be driven by brands that truly understand their consumer communities and what they expect and want. Highlighted in research conducted by Kantar, COVID-19 has driven a surge in “localism” around the world, with two-thirds (65%) of consumers now preferring to buy goods and services from their own country.

Tapping into these communities or forming communities around your brand will be one way to target and retain customers. This is where storytelling can help. Turning your brand messaging into a story that resonates with individuals and communities will help you connect and inspire consumers. It’s also a way you can differentiate your brand and give it a unique voice. Another way to tap into these communities is to utilise the power of influencers. In a report produced by influencer marketing agency Takumi in 2020, they showed that 73% of marketers around the world have upped their influencer spend across the year.

THE ROAD TO SUCCESS

In what will be a fiercely competitive environment where consumers are demanding much more from brands, making sure your unique proposition and values are at the heart of your branding strategy will be the foundations for success. It may seem obvious, but branding is so much more than just your logo or strapline, it’s important that you consider every element. The partnerships you choose, the story you tell, and the channels you use to connect with your audience will all play a part in the decision-making process for consumers. And as we know that consumers are more likely than ever to switch brands, you will need to work harder than ever to win their trust and retain them.

Those who are willing to unlock the true power of branding and content will not only differentiate, build brand awareness and be relevant but create a deeper connection with the shopper and unique commercial advantage.