Mark Bennedick
Sep 4, 2020

Why it’ll take bravery for brands to overcome COVID-19

Playing it safe now—understandable as it might feel to do so—is often the worst option.

Fans wait in socially distanced enclosures to see Sam Fender as he performs at the Virgin Money Unity Arena on August 13, 2020 in England
Fans wait in socially distanced enclosures to see Sam Fender as he performs at the Virgin Money Unity Arena on August 13, 2020 in England

Born c. 470 BC, Socrates was a Greek philosopher and one of the founding thinkers behind Western philosophy. Through persistent questioning of conventional wisdom he compelled his audience to think through a problem to a logical conclusion. During his life, Athens was undergoing dramatic change, entering a period of instability and doubt about their identity and place in the world.

History often repeats and the current pandemic will, in time, be nothing more than a blip on the radar, albeit a significant one for those of us currently living through it.

The speed of transformation within the marketing world has been swift. New ​research​ from AANA and IPSOS has found that the pandemic has brought a shift towards digital advertising and a pause on ad spend waiting for better times.

This is a logical response as marketers have had to rethink their 2020 plans based on government and regulatory lock-downs, limited marketing channels with all face-to-face communications temporarily halted and the behavioural psychology of consumers having significantly shifted.

However, as we begin to consider living within the pandemic mindset for an extended period of time, this initial ‘band-aid’ reaction is unsustainable and in the longer term, brands who don’t begin to reset and evolve their thinking are quickly heading towards a zero-sum end game.

The digital disconnect

The ability of experiences to create an emotional connection with a brand is unmatched and at a time when face-to-face connection has been limited, the initial redeployment of marketing spend towards digital on the surface seems to make sense. However, the cracks are already beginning to appear.

Downtrending engagement, ​screen fatigue​ and lack of natural human interaction are some of the initial signs of audiences beginning to retreat from a world dominated by digital-only connection. No one will argue the importance of digital marketing and its accelerated growth brought about by the pandemic however it isn’t the panacea to see brands through this crisis moving forward.

According to the same AANA research, over half of marketers are still waiting for a more certain business environment to emerge, but those who continue to over index spend on the diminishing returns within digital will suffer. Marketers questioning the current state of play and willing to rethink their approach should be looking for ways to creatively re-engage with audiences through the power of brand experience.

Over a month ago, deep in the middle of the pandemic, one New York-based canned wine company, ​Babe Wine​, owned by ​Josh Ostrovsky AKA ‘The Fat Jewish’​, ​identified alcohol as being an essential ingredient for most Americans during lockdown so they launched a manicure truck that allowed patrons to stay safe from the​ ​coronavirus​ ​while getting their nails done. A highly creative and helpful approach which was also authentic to the brand. The concept was so successful it’s being rolled out nationally.

Constraint breeds creativity

Constraint has the unique ability to embolden creativity and innovation. Those brands that recognise the opportunity to build an emotional connection with an audience during this time will capture a disproportionate share of voice which has been proven to directly impact market share across both consumer or B2B markets.

Never before has the opportunity presented itself where your brands potential share of voice has had better odds. Unfortunately, many of the most inspiring examples of brand experience during the pandemic are coming from overseas, and in countries much more heavily effected than our own.

In the UK only last week, Virgin Money Arena hosted ​the world’s first socially distanced concert​. Essentially a VIP experience for 2,500 fans which has now made global news.

Marissa Mayer, ex CEO of Yahoo! put it well when talking about constraint:“Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. Creativity loves constraints, but they must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible.”

Brand bravery

We are living in a unique moment in time where constraint is everywhere and we must be willing to recognise what is possible rather than retreat to the safety of a world of digital sameness. ​Playing it safe now—understandable as it might feel to do so—is often the worst option. ​Digital has delivered the quick fix all marketers needed but the time for reinvention, the time to truly connect through experience is now upon us.

No other marketing channel can match brand experience’s ability to uniquely tap into audience emotion and connect, effectively driving behavioural change and generating sales. By continuing to avoid the human component of the marketing equation on which brand experience delivers, we will only continue to see an increased ‘emotional deficit’ take hold within your audience’s mind.

Brands do have a meaningful role to play in the reinvigoration of society. If there was ever a time in recent history to prove your brands worth now is that opportunity. If brands want to have their message not just seen or heard but actually embedded within the minds of their audience, the proven capabilities and sea of possibilities of brand experience are waiting.


Mark Bennedick is co-founder and director at Sense.

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