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Don’t go changing to try to please me

Don’t go changing to try to please me

Adhil Patel

Global Brand Director

Kantar

Adhil.Patel@kantar.com 

It’s tempting to believe that everything is changing all around us and that brands need to change in response or face fading into obscurity. Our lives have all been interrupted, restricted, and modified. The impact may vary, but there are very few who have escaped unscathed from this catastrophe of biblical proportions. And yet, even this shall pass.

For the numerous brands trying doggedly to survive these trying times, the question becomes “What next?”. Some brands responded during the crisis, while others remained quiet. Some worked hard to ensure relevance, and others took other measures to secure their long-term survival. In short, brands did what they had to do. This mostly reactive phase is largely over, and now many brands are looking to the future, wondering what has changed. Will the world ever return to something that resembles the normal we used to know, or will the new normal be something completely different?

Crisis is usually a catalyst, not a creator

Evolution is a remarkably slow process by today’s innovation and technology-rich standards. It takes many generations for adaptations to diffuse through populations. While an argument can be made that ideas, thoughts, attitudes, and the behaviors that result from them can and do change faster than our biology, we are actually rather resistant to change as a species, and as a general rule will revert to old behaviors and patterns relatively quickly after being forced temporarily out of our regular routines.

Yes, some things we started doing during the crisis may continue, but these will tend to be things that are in line with trends that were already in motion beforehand. The behaviors that are related to changes that were already moving through our societies will have a better chance of persisting into the new normal. Those that were affected by the water crisis in the Cape will remember all the extreme measures that were introduced and practiced until the situation improved, but were then promptly dropped and forgotten.

Some obvious trends that have been affecting us for years already, like cocooning and the shift towards online everything, certainly seem to have gotten a boost. We’ve been forced to reduce our eating out, which has led to a lot of cooking, baking, and experimentation. We’ve all become Zoom experts and may even be talking to our family and friends more than previously.

Other trends have been a bit more subtle, or even feel like they’ve been entirely due to the pandemic. A focus on hygiene has us washing our hands more often and buying a variety of cleaning products that we may not have before. At the same time, many are turning to local brands and products in the hopes that this will reduce our exposure to this and other health risks.

Of course, there were other trends that showed up strong this year. One I found deserving of a mention was that people are expecting more from brands. It’s not enough for you to just sell your products anymore. When your consumers, and particularly those committed to your brand, fall on hard times, they fully expect that the brand will react in a way that is fitting and reflective of the relationship they’ve been contributing financially towards for what probably feels like an eternity.

Despite all of this, it’s important for brands not to overreact. Don’t just change because of the times. If you do make a change, it should be meaningful, and it should be informed. If you do alter your course, it should be because it’s the right thing for your brand, not because others are doing it.

Interestingly enough, our advice to brands has not changed all that much. There are some brand imperatives that have stayed the same. These are things we would recommend no matter the situation. Now, as we get ever closer to a new normal, it’s the right time for brands to claw back some semblance of control and not just make changes in a reactive way. This may be a good time for you to make a change, but it also might not be. Brands should check that they can answer these three questions first, so that they make the right changes, for the right reasons:

  1. Do you know what your brand stands for?

Not every brand can change the world, nor does it have to. Consumers can smell inauthentic brands from miles away, so don’t say what you think they want to hear. Instead, be the brand you want to be. And make sure you know why you exist. People don’t just buy what you make; they buy why you make it too. Everything you do should reflect this ultimate truth about your brand.

  1. Where will you find growth?

Where will growth for your category and for your brand come from? Perhaps there are underexplored segments, and perhaps there are new tensions that you could leverage, in the hopes that your brand could help generate new habits? Are you clear on the best opportunities for your brand, and what it will take to go after them?

  1. What does your audience really want from you?

Truly understanding the people you’re selling your product or service to is difficult. Some might say it’s almost impossible. But a little knowledge can go a long way. Knowing your audience, their motivations, and their situations will help you to better serve their needs.

Brands that are looking to survive, thrive, and break through to the other side of these trying times would do well to take a moment and evaluate themselves in the context of the current environment. Are there changes that really need to be made in order to realize the brand’s vision? Or would it be wiser to stay the course and reap the benefits of clarity, consistency, and loyalty?