Widespread uncertainty this year did initially lead to a pause in activity from the majority of marketing teams, but Emi Perez-Fragero, Marble LDN’s COO, shares why now is more important than ever to maintain brand presence to cement your place firmly in front of your audience.  

Don’t go dark, stay brand bright

We need to learn from the past. Even in times when it hasn’t been pretty, or as Winston Churchill so eloquently put it “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

I love this quote and so much of it rings true now. Of course this can be applied to many things, but apply this to our current crisis and how marketers should react, it’s exciting. Firstly, what can brands learn from the past crises? Two, what’s the opportunity in this present one? And three, how do they act and when?

Looking back

So, number one, looking back. Throughout history we’ve been through a number of crises, and there is a strong argument to say that the brands that keep marketing during this time come out stronger in the end. “The brands that keep a marketing budget see a payback in market share post-recession.” Mark Ritson, brand consultant and columnist, Marketing Week. For example, as the 2008 recession hit, Starbucks decided to invest heavily in customer experience and shifted its focus back to 1) making the customers feel welcomed and 2) quality of the product, all with huge success. The investment paid off and Starbucks climbed from 89th in the 2009 BrandZ valuation index to 72nd in 2011 (going from a -40% change in valuation at $7,260m to a +40% change at $11,901m). (CEO today).

Going forwards, long term strategy and tools

Therefore, if it’s possible, brands should not wait for the crisis to be over. They should avoid falling into the background and going dark. As some believe “going dark” leaves question marks. Consumers can ask what’s the problem? So rather than consumers second guessing, brands should keep their voice. I heard this described by the CEO of Zeta Global David Steinberg, like “friends checking in with each other. It’s important to stay in touch as these are the things that are remembered.” Ultimately, you’ve spent so long building up what your brand means so don’t let the crisis put that to waste.

Liz Richardson, Managing Director and Partner at transformative communications agency HeyHuman, talks about how the COVID-19 crisis is changing the world of experiential marketing. In her feature in prolificlondon.com she gives good examples of brands who have not gone dark and who have kept their voice during this time. She cites Club Quarantine and Brewdog’s online bar- both activations which are keeping brands in mind. Therefore, “…giving customers a reason to remember what they loved pre-lockdown, and what they intend to do when things slowly get back on track. That’s hammered home further when you take into account Club Quarantine’s excellent Instagram feed, chronicling the highlights and constantly getting people pumped up for the next event – they’re smart enough to know they need to drive digital engagement and build memories.”

According to Peter Field – “the Godfather of Effectiveness” (who wrote a seminal paper about advertising in a recession called “Advertising in a Downturn”) brands that have looked to the long term are the ones we should look out for.

“Continuing to invest in brand advertising is recommended (if resources are available) but there is a diminished role for short-term sales activation in the current crisis due to consumer demand patterns, with a few exceptions. Data from the 2008 recession shows the value of investing in brand.”

We hear from Field how short term activations will only lead to short term customers and so won’t support long term business growth. Which tells us businesses should continue to invest in long term activity, such as topical content creation, which can be an inexpensive way of keeping SOV but not heavily increasing spend.

investing in sov

We must ask here, how is your voice heard? In terms of right now and the online market brands are within a highly competitive arena. There is a lot of noise out there and so the challenge is how to capture the audience? We need to think about new tools in this time to win a captive audience. So instead of short term gains (sales strategies like PPC, Instagram ads linked to e-commerce platforms, Facebook store fronts, for example). Brands need to look for these longer term solutions which engage, nurture and grow their audience, I’d highly recommend reading Marble’s Head of Marketing Rachel Butler talks about the tools we can use in her Data Benefits blog piece.

This is where the opportunity is at, point two. Although it seems crass using the word opportunity during a crisis. But if we talk about this in the framework of opportunity to survive, help customers and grow, then it’s important to have opportunity. Business and brands need to come through a crisis. Leading onto the question is it disrespectful to market in this market? No, it seems, the message should be just to change. Steinberg says “don’t take advantage but don’t waste the crisis”.

“Marketers have a crucial role to play in the current Covid-19 crisis by helping organisations respond resiliently, continuing to communicate effectively with employees and customers, and ultimately finding ways to serve society better.” Steve Hemsley, reporter Marketing Week.

What have we learnt from this crisis so far?

Looking into the long term, it’s important we take what we have learnt about connecting with people during this time and think how we are going to connect with our clients and customers going forwards.

Data gained from virtual and digital activations during CV-19 will only help brands build a bigger picture into who their customers are whilst also upholding their brand value and share of voice.

The majority (80%) of respondents reported that attendee engagement and satisfaction were KPIs used for measuring virtual event success. (Bizzabo, 2020).

The overall rise of the use of data and analytics to target brand message is only getting stronger and should not be shied away from. So as we look into the future where there is light at the end of the tunnel it’s exciting to see what has come out of this crisis in regards to event marketing. The rise of virtual and digital allows us more trackable insights into our customers, giving brands more confidence to explore the hybrid event model in the future, or the opportunity to apply these tools to a physical experience putting real trackable value behind a marketing activation.

68% of event marketers reported that a hybrid solution that can manage both virtual and in-person events will play a key role in the 2020 and 2021 event strategies. (Bizzabo, 2020).

So let’s not let this serious crisis go to waste. Brands should ask themselves how they can build memories that will live on after the event as well as engaging with audiences who couldn’t be there. As Richardson puts in “Think photos, quizzes, videos, live-streams, polls, vox-pops from the day; it’ll straddle the fence between both worlds and be more successful for it.”