Socially Distanced Brands: We miss each other. But will we really miss our brands?
December 14, 2020
Over the past year, brands that I once cared about have become an increasingly less important part of my life. My shopping habits have changed dramatically. Personal media shifts that were already in play have only continued to accelerate. My overall tolerance for unsolicited emails and targeted social ads has decreased with economic stress, and the desire to focus my attention and spending on precious experiences with my family, instead of discretionary brand purchases has skyrocketed.
Throughout the marketing maelstrom of 2020, we at Hothouse have had a ringside seat to the fast-tracked challenges that businesses—from CPG brands to major auto manufacturers—face as they strive to strike the right relationships, tone and tactics to succeed in a socially distanced world.
In this unknown holding pattern that the pandemic has placed us in, the threats and challenges of the “old normal” have been amplified, with hard-earned lessons for those brands that fail to adapt to the seismic, customer-driven shifts whose warnings signs have been there for all to see.
Coca-Cola has shuttered more than 200 brands. Tab is history. And once-powerhouse retail brands like Modell’s Sporting Goods and Party City are on their knees, facing bankruptcy. Obviously, the pandemic has been the catalyst for much of this—but many brands have been facing a gradual distancing from their consumers for years.
So, as brands plan how to launch, retain, grow and simply engage in the “next” normal, what trends are most acute?
Declining Brick & Mortar Retail: The pandemic has expedited already-changing shopping patterns, as consumers move away from their previously serendipitous interaction with brands via the classic retail shelf in large monolithic shopping malls, big-box giants and department stores. The art of product packaging, end-aisle displays, consumer trials and the much-ballyhooed shopper marketing from the early 2000s all feel overdue for a rethink in the next normal. Yes, retail still has a place and bright spots exist for some segments, but let’s not fool ourselves. For mature brands in search of growth, retail is becoming a shrinking battlefield, where winning will require delivering innovation and compelling customer value.
The Rise of E-Commerce: For all of its strengths, e-commerce is not a welcoming place for traditional consumer brands as they seek to convert previous brick and mortar customers into loyal digital consumers. Our priorities shift from emotionally driven brand preferences to convenient product decisions, either facilitated by subscriptions (think Amazon Prime) or niche product subscriptions (think Dollar Shave Club).
Shifting Media Consumption Habits & Privacy Rules: If people are shopping differently, where else can brands interact with consumers? Classic media environments are dwindling. Subscription TV, like Netflix and Peacock, is certainly impacting viewing habits, but so is SEO third-party cookie blocking, which impact brands’ ability to target and track loyal or likely brand considerers. These are seismic shifts for marketers looking to both share brand stories and increase share, but also to maintain connections with present loyal customers.
But hope is not lost! The digital revolution has been a boon for marketers over the past quarter century, and the wonders of the internet continue to reveal unimaginable opportunities for customer engagement and thorny, new technological challenges to be solved for. In this next chapter, the brands that win will be those that treat these dire days as an opportunity to experiment with smaller budgets and identify fresh ways to reach increasingly savvy customers.
A digital infrastructure is absolutely critical to optimize customer experience and data capture, but it will also take the right story, strategy and agility across people and channels to get consumers to trust, interact and engage with your brand.
If this year of upheaval has taught marketers anything, it is that today’s brands can no longer function successfully as strictly controlled, linear systems. Rather than presenting themselves to consumers, today’s brands need get comfortable interacting with them—sharing stories that are tailored to the shifting complexities of life, society and motivations.
At Hothouse, we believe these complexities are actually opportunities and given the right planning, partnerships and approach, brands can leverage these critical moments (yes, even a pandemic) to engage the right partner to achieve the trust that they—and their customers—all desperately crave in these times.
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