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Time to toughen up

Time to toughen up

Why creative commerce is the key to building more resilient brands

Michelle Whelan




There’s been a lot of discussion about what COVID-19 will change. In all probability, most of the predictions will turn out to be exaggerated. Our own research suggests that, assuming appropriate hygiene measures are in place, the “new normal” will be pretty much identical to the “old normal” for 70 percent of people.

But one thing that definitely will change is the importance we place on resilience, in the ecological meaning of “being able to respond to disturbances by resisting damage and recovering quickly”. The resilience of the NHS, of our national and personal finances, of society during a lockdown: all have been stress-tested like never before. And the same goes for brands.

Strong brands are such a powerful economic asset precisely because they’re highly resilient. They command lasting preference, thereby driving profitability and corporate value over time. They’re also elastic, able to flex in ways that meet – and even shape – emerging needs and wants. For their owners, they’re the gift that keeps on giving.

But, like the pandemic, the disturbances confronting brands are unprecedented: hyper-competition; heavy downward pricing pressure; ongoing disruption of routes to market; light-speed evolution in the media landscape; increasing levels of consumer scrutiny; even some erosion of trust. Faced with these forces, there’s growing evidence that brands are much less resilient than they were a decade ago. Nearly every brand is finding growth challenging. Some are struggling badly. How should they respond?

The current crisis has fuelled the argument about “sales today” versus “equity tomorrow”. Whilst this is an important debate for lots of reasons, it’s time to move on. The fact of the matter is that brands need to find ways to build equity while in the act of selling. This is now critical and would have been with or without COVID-19.

We have entered a new era in terms of where, when, how and why people buy. Omnichannel has evolved into end-to-end commerce, which is defined by two things in particular:

  • People expect to be able to buy from any and every channel: physical retail, D2C, a marketplace like Amazon, social media or TV. Who owns the channel, and whether it’s a traditional retailer, is increasingly irrelevant.
  • Because the moment of truth is now, end-to-end commerce must be organised around the individual rather than the point of sale. The motive force for transactions becomes people-forward, not shelf-back.

To win in this era, brands need to master three core capabilities:

  1. They must be able to identify signals of need and opportunity across multiple channels, and understand that these manifest themselves differently in different channels.
  2. They must be able to inspire action by providing individual consumers with compelling reasons to “buy now” that are distinctive, competitive and perfectly tailored to time and context.
  3. They must ensure every step of the experience is rewarding, sharable and friction-free.

At Geometry, we call this “creative commerce”. It’s an area of huge potential that many organisations have yet to unlock. At its heart is the insight that traditional “brand” reasons-to-buy (familiarity, certainty, affinity, aspiration) and traditional “conversion” reasons-to-buy (availability, price, format, promotions) have collapsed into each other and become indivisible. Brands need to deliver on both, strategically and within individual executions.

Brands that recognise this reality have the power to square the circle: selling hard whilst simultaneously enhancing their meaningfulness, distinctiveness and salience. By focusing on the people who matter most – the ones who spend time and money on buying your product or service – creative commerce can erect a bulwark against disruption and maximise the resilience of your brand.