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How have brands and brand marketing changed over the last two years? Find out some answers in our latest post.
If there’s one thing most brand marketers will agree on, it’s that the last two years were some of the toughest they’ve ever seen.
Keeping a brand alive and kicking in the middle of a rapidly changing pandemic is no mean feat. You’ve battled wildly volatile consumer sentiment, frustrating supply chain issues, and the constant threat of lockdowns. If you’ve survived so far, pat yourself on the back - you and your brand(s) deserve it!
In 2022, however, it’s time to take stock again. Brand marketing definitely changed during the pandemic, but how many of these changes are likely to stick around? How have brands themselves changed in the post-pandemic world? And what can you do to become nimble enough to respond to similar challenges in the future?
We’ve got a lot to unpack today in this post. I’ll cover:
- Why your supply chain isn’t just an operational edge, but a marketing opportunity as well
- The importance of digital experiences in the post-pandemic world
- Why being agile is crucial for responding to an ever-changing consumer landscape
1. Being agile is more important than ever
Parachute is a D2C brand that’s known for its high-quality bedsheets and home linen. In April 2021, it decided to branch out and released its line of loungewear and robes. The launch was a smashing success and opened up the wildly lucrative apparel market to the company.
Parachute recognized the shift from office wear to home wear and launched its line of linen loungewear to tap into a new trend (image source: Parachute)
The shift from home linen to loungewear wasn’t accidental. The brand realized early into the pandemic that work from home wasn’t just a month-long fad, but a lasting change in the way we live and work. For customers switching away from office wear, loungewear was an obvious buy.
Most brands that thrived during the pandemic have similar stories to tell. They recognized trends early (“work from home”, “remote work”, “hygiene and safety”) and pivoted hard to tap into them.
Such agility requires strong cohesion across the entire organization. Adding an entirely new “pandemic-friendly” product line requires more than just branding muscles - you need everyone from your designers to suppliers to work together.
Most importantly, you need to be agile. Respond too late to a volatile new trend and you might end up being labeled out of touch. As the pandemic showed, the early bird gets the worm (and some more).
If agility and cohesiveness weren’t key values before the pandemic, it’s time to adopt them now.
2. Some customer habits have changed, perhaps permanently
Saying that customer habits aren’t the same as they were in 2019 is stating the obvious. You know it, your customers know it, and your accountant definitely knows it.
The question, at this point, is figuring out which of these habits are temporary, and which are permanent.
Take remote work as an example.
What started out as a necessity has now become an entrenched habit, one that employees increasingly look reluctant to get rid of. Surveys increasingly show that employees would much rather quit their jobs than return to the office.
Data indicates that they’re doing just that - according to the BLS, attrition rates have been trending up constantly since the first pandemic lockdowns.
While this undoubtedly has a direct impact on your business or agency, it has an even bigger impact on your brand strategy. If employees don’t return to the office ever, how will it impact your brand’s visibility? What will your marketing mix look like? How many brand activation touchpoints will you lose?
These are serious questions to ponder. Your brand marketing approach will look entirely different for a stay-at-home customer vs one who goes to the office five days a week.
That’s just one trend - there are countless others. Will live events reach their 2019 peak? Will people travel as much as they did two years ago? Will the hospitality industry bounce back to its earlier figures?
All of these will impact how you, where, and when you market your brand.
How these trends play out is anyone’s guess. You will have to play things by the ear, watch trends unfold, and, as I said earlier, be agile enough to pivot when needed.
3. Brands must own the customer journey
If you want to understand the importance of owning the customer journey, just take a look at this chart:
(Image source: Statista)
This chart shows the percentage of Nike’s sales from D2C. Notice the big jump from 2020 to 2021?
In the middle of the pandemic, Nike pivoted quickly to sell to customers directly through its own channels. In the US, D2C made up just 15% of the brand’s sales in 2010. Today, this figure is over 33%.
For the longest time, small brands dreamed of forging relationships with large retailers. An online store, while a necessity, was seen as just a part of the consumer relationship.
The pandemic flipped that script on its head. Going directly to customers, as opposed to through a middleman like Amazon or Walmart, is the heart of the modern brand playbook. It’s telling that even Nike felt the need to switch its model.
Besides the obvious advantage of higher margins, going directly to customers offers a key advantage: ownership over the customer journey.
Owning the customer journey gives you that all-important control over your messaging. If your products are out of stock at Walmart, your brand might as well not exist for the customer.
If they are out of stock on your own store, you can at least own the messaging - and maintain mindshare with content marketing.
Crucially, owning the customer journey gives you access to vital data. Most traditional brands have a big data gap between the point of customer activation and eventual conversion. You might know what drives your customers to the store, but since you don’t own the store itself, you have no real insight into the behaviors that convince them to hit the buy button.
With a customer journey that’s entirely owned by you, you can know exactly what your customers are doing at every stage of the conversion process. In an age of uncertainty, this data can be the difference between thriving and barely surviving.
4. Supply chain is the brand
Confession time: how often, as a brand marketer, did you ever think about the supply chain before the pandemic?
If you’re like most marketers, the answer would be “rarely, if ever”.
The supply chain used to be the thing “those people” in operations used to worry about. Your job was to just market the product, not worry about how it got to the customers.
Of course, that’s changed with the pandemic. You probably know your supply chain inside out by now. Availability isn’t just something you take for granted. It’s a genuine competitive edge. At a time of supply constraints and production bottlenecks, simply being available and present is enough to make your product more desirable.
What this has done is intrinsically changed brand perceptions. For customers today, availability is visibility. If you can’t even get your products on the shelf (real or metaphorical), you’re already starting on the back foot.
As one survey of Australian customers pointed out, if availability gets impacted long enough, customers are happy to switch to different brands. Brand loyalty, difficult to earn, can be lost over just a few weeks of availability issues.
Availability is also a branding opportunity. You can shape your brand perception simply by being available when other competitors are not. You might be perceived as being more tech-savvy, more agile, and more relevant based on your availability.
As one Oracle survey showed, customers are more likely to buy a brand if they think it uses AI to manage its supply chain. Ergo, such a brand was perceived to be more tech-savvy and relevant.
Keep this in mind as you build brands moving forward. Your supply chain isn’t just a distant, abstract concept; it’s an intrinsic part of your brand.
5. Digital brand experiences take centerstage
Before the pandemic, brands paid lip service to digital experiences. Sure, you would have a robust social media presence, a solid website, and a bunch of other digital marketing assets. But the bulk of the action was still in the “real world”.
Post-pandemic, things might not stay the same.
Sure, we might go back to our 2019 selves, but even the most optimistic among us would doubt it will be 100% the way it was. Some of our work will stay online. Some of our socialization will be digital-only.
In this new world, digital brand experiences can’t just be an addendum to your marketing strategy. Rather, they have to be an integral part of it.
We’re already seeing examples of this with brands buying up everything from digital avatars to metaverse land.
Nike, for instance, bought RTFKT Studios, a creator of Metaverse fashion accessories and shoes. The goal? Establish a Nike presence in the metaverse, wherever (or whatever) that might be.
Whether you think the metaverse is a fad or an enduring trend is irrelevant; what matters is recognizing the need to create and own digital brand experiences. You might do this on social media, YouTube, your own properties, Second Life, or the metaverse, but you must do it.
The future might not be digital-only, but it is undeniably going to be digital also at least.
Over to You
Paying thousands of dollars for digital sneakers might have seemed like an absurd idea a few years back, yet here we are today. The brand world is changing and it’s changing fast. Marketers and brands that don’t wake up to this new reality will find it hard to compete this decade.
Of course, while trends might come and go, core fundamentals remain the same. Brands and agencies that collaborate well, have access to the right information, and give decision makers the data they need will always continue to outperform their slower competitors.
Tools like Workamajig give your business the edge it needs to compete in this new world. By bringing your entire agency under one roof, Workamajig gives you unparalleled insight into your operations.
Don’t take my word for it - try out Workamajig today. Just tap the button below for a free demo!