UK LOCKDOWN 2.0: Why now is the time for brands to create — not consolidate

As a host of European countries are plunged into another series of restrictions and national lockdowns, it would seem to be all too easy for brands and businesses to simply keep the ship afloat, putting growth plans and innovation agendas on the back-burner.

During the pandemic, it’s been said that “change is the only constant and disruption is the new normal”. With this in mind, brands must look to lean into these prevailing winds rather than attempt to hide from them.

If the first 8 months of COVID has taught us anything, it’s that fostering bravery, belief (in your vision), and creativity is the only way that brands will overcome these ‘uncertain times’ and charge into 2021 with their commercial health intact.

We cannot control what is out of our control, but we must re-evaluate what it is consumers truly desire and what they need in this new landscape. We can use this time as an opportunity to flex and pivot the products we produce, the way we sell, or the way we communicate. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but instead, thinking creatively about how your brand can best operate for consumers in this new landscape.

As Opher Yom-Tov, chief design officer, ANZ Bank said, “If you look at the organisations that have survived every crisis, it’s the ones that were the most creative, and the ones who were able to execute on their creativity. It’s a no brainer!

TO CHANGE YOUR FORTUNES YOU MUST CHANGE THE WAY YOU OPERATE

We have all been living in a “VUCA” world for some time. A world filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. With continual tech advances, political unrest, dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour and a slew of new government regulations — the considerable strain businesses face today will be the new normal state of play.

Ultimately, this is an opportunity for businesses to think differently about the challenges they face and to use creative solutions to navigate inevitable hurdles. It is not a case of surviving; it is an opportunity to evolve.

Pret A Manger emerged from the first national lockdown and have completely torn up the rule book. As a business that relied on passing trade in urban centres to drive profit, the new WFH culture hit the business’ top-line harder than even the biggest pessimists could have envisaged.

Transitioning from one-off transactions to a monthly subscription model meant becoming the coffeehouse chain of choice. They targeted commuters and locals seeking a slice of normality but their new model meant they became a destination for WFH-ers seeking an escape or bolthole. By completely revolutionising the way they operate, they have tapped into a real COVID consumer need — helping people escape their homes.

Pret have changed the way their stores are perceived, fundamentally pivoting their business to weather the storm of COVID.

CHANGE TO HELP YOUR CONSUMERS, NOT JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO

Whether it be B2B businesses switching to D2C, pubs starting to offer takeaway pints, or Burger King asking us all to order McDonalds, businesses must let go of their legacy and their competitive biases if they hope to succeed. Creativity and coopetition are the new levers businesses must look to pull.

In January, as lockdowns spread across Asia, the ways in which people socialised shifted dramatically. With closures of bars, pubs and clubs, alcohol brands knew that they had to shift the way they sold in order to remain a relevant part of consumers’ lives.

Four global alcohol brands shifted gears, partnering with e-commerce giant JD.com to take clubbing online. Budweiser, Carlsberg, Rémy Martin, and Pernod Ricard joined forces with JD.com and the Chinese music label Taihe Music Group — creating an online clubbing experience, streamed directly to people’s living rooms. This experience helped people connect, bringing much needed light relief and entertainment while isolated in their homes.

The objective is not just to outlast your competition, but to find creative ways to share knowledge, resources and supply channels to ensure consumers are able to maintain normality and access the things they need. This is not survival of fittest, but survival of the smartest.

HX LEARNINGS

To effect change, brands must be creative. This means brands must remain open minded and be willing to make mistakes. Creative ideas are rarely in short supply, but it takes a courageous business to try them, to risk failure and to try again. This starts with the leaders in your business role modelling this mindset.

While many businesses have completely flipped the script, making changes that creatively solve your business problem can often be a case of finding incremental, but fundamental shifts. Most importantly, these shifts will only be felt throughout the business when they address what your consumers really want, what they need and how to make their lives easier.

But with 68% of senior marketers believing that creative collaboration will suffer if teams cannot share the same space during the coronavirus crisis, being creative has never been harder. This, combined with shrinking budgets, means brands need to embrace a ‘smart and scrappy’ mentality — give things a go, try things out and embrace the change we have all been forced into making.

The next few months might be termed a ‘lockdown’, but it is in fact the perfect time to unlock the creative potential within your business!

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 www.brandgenetics.com

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