Keeping the accelerator down when the fuel tank is empty… The dilemma facing every marketer in 2020

The “best marketers will be upping, not cutting, their budgets”. Whilst that may be the message from Mark Ritson, the truth is almost half of the UK marketers plan to cut their spend in the second half of 2020.

Though global brands such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Adidas have all said they will reinvest in marketing to boost their businesses as lockdowns loosen, data suggests that many are still concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the economy, restricted consumer spending, and uncertainty over a second wave.

As such, just 7% of UK marketers say their brands are taking a strategic approach to invest more in marketing during the coronavirus pandemic, with the vast majority forced to maintain or cut spend in the face of business disruption.

Given the challenges facing marketers in this current climate, we at Brand Genetics wanted to take this opportunity to share some practical and actionable hints, tips and hacks for brands looking to do more with less.

1. Less ‘me’, more ‘we’

Working alongside (rather than against) others in your space ensures that resources can go further and efforts aren’t needlessly duplicated.

The partnership between Patty&Bun and Swingers has been longstanding and mutually beneficial; the former being a mainstay in many of the latter’s on-trade locations. During lockdown, however, they joined forces once more to launch the ultimate ‘date night kit’ containing ingredients and DIY instructions for cocktails and two of P&B’s infamous burgers.

Whilst not always explicitly commercial, there are also opportunities to construct partnerships that help grow brand visibility at a time when social media usage has increased once more. With the pandemic putting a stop to this year’s Olympics, Team GB have partnered with viral video-sharing social media platform, Tik Tok, to launch the #IsolationGames. The campaign aimed to keep people active and entertained during lockdown by challenging them to create videos of their sporting efforts at home, as well as donating to the British Red Cross to aid the charity’s efforts during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, it was thought that we would likely see the role of conventional advertising flatline, replaced by a burgeoning model of sponsorship. Inherently centred on the notion of ‘we’ (sponsor and sponsored), this trend could really take hold as the effects of COVID begin to subside and the sponsorship platforms providing brand visibility (i.e. sport / music broadcasting and events) return in force.

2. Steal with pride

With budgets slashed and teams depleted, getting creative, agile, and even scrappy could provide real strategic value. Seeing what you can reuse, build out and reframe will allow you to maximise efforts and shortcut a potentially labour-intensive creative process.

“Making your marketing work hard was true pre-COVID, but it’s become even more so now. Everything you put out into the world should add value and deliver multiple benefits — whether it’s education, entertainment, or inspiration.” — Liz Thompson, Associate Director at Brand Genetics

When times are hard, any wastage can massively impact the all-important mission to preserve margin and/or bottom line. But what can the marketing department do about that?

Looking internally, are there any disadvantages which can be pivoted into PR advantages, new revenue streams or strategic drivers? BrewDog has taken this to the extreme, reusing misprinted cans to give them a PR-friendly second lease of life. With over a million cans wasted every year, they are now saving these cans and helping them fulfil their life’s purpose at BrewDog. Their uniform doesn’t quite look the part, but as they rightly point out, “it’s what’s inside that counts”. Their Trash Can project is part of a longer term journey to become a zero waste business.

In May, The New York Times came with a curious Louis Vuitton advertisement. Not a new campaign, but a reprint of a campaign shot in Tibet back in 1998 by photographer Jean Larivière, featuring children wearing monogrammed backpacks and astronaut helmets that looked strangely pandemic-friendly.

“Of course, there’s no pride to be had in stealing another brand’s work, so take cue from LVMH and Versace instead and plunder your own brand’s back catalogue of successful campaigns. Recycling classic campaigns when options and money are limited can make perfect commercial sense”. — Dr Paul Marsden, Consumer Psychologist at Brand Genetics

We have already explored the role of nostalgia — and its influence on consumer behaviour — during lockdown. But what this example demonstrates is that brands have not only leveraged this trend as a means of driving interest, but they have also recycled old campaigns in an effort to become more ‘productively lazy’.

3. The moments that matter

When your resources are limited, doubling down on key touch points can be crucial. Consumer psychology suggests that focusing on the peak and the end of an experience (aka the peak-end rule) can have the biggest impact on overall perception without needing to completely redesign the UX.

“Understanding what your consumers expectations are on their new journey with your brand during this time can allow you to identify where you can make a difference. People’s attitudes, needs and wants have shifted; by understanding where that shift has taken them can help you over-deliver at key points.” — Cliff Fawcett, Director at Brand Genetics

Jägermeister, for example, have backed Meat Liquor’s ‘(M)eat Out To Help Out’ with Jäger Minis for anyone who takes advantage of the £10 discount on their order. These boozy keepsakes were designed to #savethenight and leave consumers with a tangible memory to take with them.

Beyond this, focusing marketing and communications around products and services that are more relevant in a post-COVID world could also be a tactical win. Thinking through your portfolio and championing those elements that can add real value for consumers in today’s world will allow brands to thrive — even in times of uncertainty and adversity.

The list of products shifting to at-home consumption is almost endless, with everything from the café culture to high intensity workouts moving into consumers’ kitchens, living rooms and gardens. So, as more people spend their time online rather than IRL (something we’d already seen manifest among millennials and Gen-Z), ensuring you’re also prioritising digital communications will allow you to reach the consumer in the moments that truly matter.

HX Learnings

Times will be tough, marketers (like everyone) will have to dig deep and work hard. But by focusing on delivering superior benefits through a clear brand identity that flexes its communications to adapt to this new era, brands will be able to cut through the noise.

While our 3 guiding principles should help brands to begin ensuring they make their marketing work harder, the real unlock still relies on your ability to listen to, interact with, and trust in the voice of your consumers. These are the people whose lives have changed, whose finances have been disrupted and whose behaviours you’re attempting to plug into.

If we hope to ‘do more with less’, then it is gaining a better understanding of their new reality that will help us achieve this — ensuring that we emerge stronger from this experience.

Stay agile. Get creative. Think human-first.

How is your business reacting? We would love to hear more ‘best in class’ examples!

Please keep an eye out over the next few weeks as we explore consumer behaviours during times of hardship, and how marketers can continue to generate cut through when purse strings are tightened.

Simon Hall is a consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in reinventing big businesses at pace, he has experience in creative problem solving, thought leadership and reframing human insight and has worked across strategy, leadership and brand.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics

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