What is Brand Building?
Branding building is defined as what defines a business in the minds of consumers. It’s what sets a brand apart from all others in its space. Brand building is essential. But how do you build a brand when the whole world seems to be in chaos? How do you build brand loyalty when consumers are wondering if they’ll have a job, a home, or health in the next weeks, months, or years?
How do you make customers care when they have so many other things to care about?
We’ll explore these heady questions in this post.
In this post, you’ll discover:
• Four top COVID recovery strategies
• Six innovative marketing swerves you can put into practice right now to increase sales
In a previous post, I had written about some expert visual branding tactics for 2021. You can read that post if you want to look at the visual side of branding. I had also written an article on growing your brand during the COVID pandemic and a complete and detailed guide on brand management during COVID. Be sure to check them out.
Top 4 COVID Recovery Strategies for 2021
COVID-19 Has laid waste to much of the business world. It has upended institutions and set fire to established practices. But it has also set a fire under enterprising entrepreneurs the world over, and despite appearances, many industries are thriving.
The following segments are booming during COVID:
• Delivery services
• Home cleaning services
• Drive-in movie theaters
• Grocery stores
• E-commerce sites
• Liquor and wine stores
• Meal prep services
• Many more
But the sad reality is, most businesses are struggling. In this section, we’ll explore four ways your business can come on top.
#1 Anticipate & Take Advantage of Lowered Competition in 2021
Large, positive cash-flow companies are set to come out on top. After all, these companies have ready access to investment capital. They’ll pick off smaller companies, often without even trying. Mid-cap and small-cap companies are in trouble.
But here is the thing:
At the same time, big, savvy brands will simplify their offerings. Many of the restaurants still standing, for instance, have done just that. It’s not uncommon these days for a restaurant to pair its menu down to a few simple offerings.
Here are how the remaining dishes become effective:
• Are fast and easy to prepare
• Make use of a lot of bulk ingredients
• Are low cost, high profit
This relieves a restaurant’s reliance on dishes that use obscure, expensive ingredients, or that are high cost, low profit.
Overall, the competition will decrease due to mid and small-sized companies closing. You can gain a leg up by trimming your product assortment. What’s more, if you prioritize brand scale, you can more easily concentrate your resources. You can, as they say, keep your powder dry.
At the same time, be on the lookout for growth opportunities. What are your pillars of growth? What opportunities will a post-COVID world provide you?
#2 Move Away from a High-Cost Business Model
Cash is king, and this more true than ever. As we move into the tail end of the COVID-19 crisis, take a look at your expenses. With lower competition comes marketing opportunities. But as you look for ways to market, you should try to cut costs in other areas.
Here are five simple ways to lower your costs during COVID-19:
• Bill deferment. Consult your lenders, utility companies, and banks. Find out if any of them offer special COVID-19 emergency bill deferment. Many do. But read the fine print. You’ll need to know the length of the deferment period, the repayment due date, interest rate if any and the maturity date.
• Nix non-essential spending. As you go about building your brand during COVID, you’ll want to operate as lean as possible. To do this, consider putting off purchases. Lease instead. If you have leased equipment you’re not using because you have employees stuck at home, see if you can renegotiate a new rate. Next, try to cut company travel by allowing employees to telecommute from home. Finally, if your office lease is up for renewal, see if you can renegotiate a better rate. There are fewer renters seeking commercial space than usual. This works in your favor.
• Practice frugality. If you’ve never dipped your toes into digital marketing, now is the time. Many forms of digital marketing can be cheaper than print marketing or media buys. With so many people online anyway, it’s a great time to make the transition. Besides, e-commerce is doing gangbusters right now. Next, compile a list of the software you use on a regular basis. These days, many premium software solutions have moved to costly monthly or annual billing models. These subscriptions add up. There is probably an open-source version of your favorite software out there. You need to put time into learning how to use them, but they can save you money. You can always go back to Adobe when the crisis is over.
At the same time, experiment with new, lower-cost business models. Again, many restaurants are having to do this just to survive. Many have taken to creating and selling meal kits that consumers prepare at home. Others have transitioned completely to a delivery/takeout model.
So the question is: What can you do to save money?
#3 Embrace Remote Work & Play
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that the adoption of the digital was inevitable. It took just one crisis to cement the idea of remote work firmly in the public consciousness. According to experts, some of the shifts we’re seeing toward remote work and food delivery will be permanent.
For instance, many large restaurant chains are redesigning their standing floor plans. The new plans include smaller dining rooms and more drive-through lanes.
There are two reasons for this:
• COVID-19 will remain in the collective consciousness for a long time
• People will be less likely to congregate in crowded lobbies, restaurants, and other venues
Consequently, these restaurant chains are preparing for a post-COVID world—a world in which consumers prefer to drive through, takeout and delivery.
Are there any at-home need gaps you can fill?
#4 Build Brand Loyalty
Retaining new buyers during COVID can be difficult. Amazon, which offers a wide range of products and cheap two-day shipping, is king. In fact, Amazon profited wildly during the COVID-19 crisis. Simplifying your offering may not be enough of an edge here. You must focus on stellar customer service. If you can’t out-compete Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other giants, out nice them.
Here are a few ways to build brand loyalty during COVID:
• Stand tall. Get your name out there. According to Food Business Network, over 65 percent of customers have tried new brands since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. The reason? Their go-to solutions were out of stock. So do what you need to do to get your name out there. Get noticed.
• Utilize content marketing. Now is a great time to try content marketing if you haven’t. People are craving connection. This is one way you can stand out against the giants like Amazon and Wal-Mart. Create content that fuses your passion, product, and mission with your awareness of and sensitivity to the COVID situation. See Best Buy’s consumer tips for an example of how this is done.
• Reach customers where they are. Move away from a siloed marketing approach. The way forward is a wide, holistic approach that allows you to cover a lot of ground at once. Consider social media marketing, YouTube video sponsorship, and social influencer solutions.
Employ these strategies while focusing on product quality and customer service. You’ll build brand loyalty during COVID.
#5 See Beyond the Virus
We’re moving into uncharted territory as a society and as a species. At no other time in history has humanity had access to the luxuries—and unique stresses—that people do today. But as technology advances, and as the population increases, there is one thing you can be sure of: disruptors are the new normal.
Here are but a few of the potential disruptors that may be on the horizon:
• Advanced Artificial intelligence
• An aging population
• Other pandemics
• Space exploration and mining
• Biomedical advances & life extension
• Green energy breakthroughs
When you identify a disruptor on the horizon, keep in mind that its impacts will take time to play out. There will be macro and micro shifts that you can’t predict. But by keeping these disruptors in mind, you’re already ahead of any competitors who are burying their heads in the sand. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.
Create an innovation plan that allows you to profit from the above scenarios and any others you can think of. According to legendary investor Warren Buffet, the mogul makes most of his money during times of economic upheaval.
6 Innovative Marketing Strategies for 2021
According to AdWeek, over 40 percent of CMOs plan to seek new agency partners in 2021. This indicates that many companies are looking for innovative ways to grow in the new year. As COVID changes the business landscape, it’s imperative you do the same. Last year I wrote a detailed post on the latest marketing trends that you may also want to check out.
In this section, we’ll cover six powerful marketing swerves you can employ to boost your brand in 2021.
#1 Think About Brand Positioning
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
Then answer one simple question:
Why should your customer seek you out? What makes you special in 2021? Now think of your competition. How can you become an intuitive choice? How can you move closer to being the obvious solution?
In part two of this series, we’ll explore this in more depth.
But for now, consider these four factors when considering a brand positioning strategy:
• What is your frame of reference?
• What is your proof?
The first two points are rather simple, so we’ll touch on them briefly. What is your unique selling proposition? Next, make sure you’ve really spent time considering who your target market is. Has COVID changed the needs or focus of your core market? If so, you have some adjustments to make.
Frame of Reference
Your frame of reference is, basically, what your customers think of your brand. It’s how they view you. The human brain operates on association. So when customers come across your logo and other branding elements for the first time, they’ll naturally try to associate you with other similar companies they’re familiar with.
You may not want those associations. So you should always strive to create your frame of reference consciously, on purpose.
Your competitive frame of reference should set you apart. That is to say, it should reduce the number of brands you’re competing with. This usually requires that you narrow your focus or specialize. This isn’t a bad thing, especially during a crisis like COVID. If you spread yourself too thin, you’ll dilute your brand.
Once you narrow your scope, work hard to establish credibility. Create case studies. Publish white papers. Do whatever you have to do to show your potential customers that you’re reliable.
Questions to consider:
• Why are you the best?
• What do you better than your competitors?
• What is your main competitor’s biggest weakness, and how do you avoid this pitfall?
• Why are you the only brand that can satisfy your target market?
Answering these questions will point you in the right direction. Once you have the answers, create assets that pose these questions and lay out the answers in a clear, concise manner.
Finally, when it comes to brand positioning, focus on what you can control. For instance, you may have been forced to streamline your product offering. But you can control how, when, and where you advertise. You may have employees spending more time at home than at work, but you can control how often you brainstorm new product ideas.
Remaining focused on what you can control will help you manage your own stress. That, over time, can pay big dividends.
#2 Remain Focused on the Customer
If you’re at all familiar with the story of Sam Walton, you know that a big part of his driving force was customer experience. Walton’s entire business model was give the people what they want. He started his first Wal-Mart store with few supporters. The concept seemed silly to the big stores of the day. A store sold this, that, or the other. Stores didn’t sell everything. But Walton, who grew up in the rural U.S., devised a different strategy—and a sure-fire path to success.
It was Walton’s frustration with small-town American shopping that drove him to start the first Wal-Mart store. Walton, and thousands of rural Americans like him, had to go to two, three, or even four stores in a day just to get all the goods they needed. It was an annoyance.
This is, over time, essentially what Sam Walton did when he established and grew the Wal-Mart empire. He started as a frustrated customer. Then he became an entrepreneur and offered customers a simple proposition: do all of your shopping with us, under one roof. One trip. One parking spot. Less headache.
Let’s hear from the man himself.
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company. From the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
You must put yourself in the headspace of your target customer to this degree.
As we hinted at in the section above, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed customer behavior in drastic ways. It’s more important than ever to update your customer profiles so you can align your brand archetype with them. Moreover, you should reevaluate these profiles on a regular basis. This will help you understand what your customers need now.
Detailed customer profiles help you to understand:
• Customer wants and needs, which are not always the same
• Customer motivations
• Customer sense of self, or self-image
• Customer beliefs and values
Finally, COVID fatigue will be high for a long, long time—long after the vaccine is fully distributed. What engages people today because it’s topical and relevant may fall on deaf ears the moment COVID is in the rearview mirror. Keep this in mind when thinking about buyer personas and when considering content for your content marketing campaigns.
#3 Make Emotional Connections
Most people make decisions based on emotion, not on what’s rational is one of the pillars of brand building. For this reason, take a balanced approach in your marketing and brand positioning. For instance, if you usually hit hard and heavy with calls to action, try a feel-good story instead. In your feel-good story, demonstrate how your product helped improve someone’s life.
Your brand story could:
• Reconnect someone with a loved one
• Save someone money and allow them to do something nice for a loved one
• Protect someone from COVID, hunger, or some other vulnerability
The following brands are masters of this sort of subtle advertising:
• Ivory Ella
• Warby Parker
Study these brands to see how it’s done.
#4 Balance Marketing and Brand
The goal is to find balance here, not to sacrifice one for the other. Put another way, don’t sacrifice long term brand awareness for short term sales growth. Striking a balance between the two will allow you to fuel long term overall growth via the acquisition of new market share.
It can be tempting to focus on short term campaigns—particularly right now as the pressure is on to get sales any way we can. Besides, short-term campaigns offer a clear-cut picture of the return on investment. What’s more, these sales get new customers into the sales funnel quickly. But you should ask yourself whether this will help carry your brand through COVID and beyond. Or, put another way, are you focusing on sales growth to the point that you’re not focusing on brand awareness at all?
If you’re acquiring new customers using promotions such as discounts, free samples, contests, or other means, it’s possible you may be neglecting a critical segment of your business: your existing customer base. We’re not suggesting you forgo sales and promotions completely. But it’s a good idea to reach out to your established customer base while seeking new customers.
There are several ways to do this that are low cost:
• Start a blog
• Start a YouTube Channel
• Spruce up your social media profiles, particularly Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
• Hold webinars
It’s easier said than done in times like these, but don’t lose sight of your long term brand building goals.
#5 Reassess Your Sales Funnel
What is your typical customer’s first touchpoint, or trigger point? What is their first exposure to your brand?
Has that changed since the onset of the COVID crisis? Are you sure?
Review your funnel setup with your customer in mind. Is your approach still relevant? Are your customers still looking for the same solutions they used to? Or do they have more pressing matters to attend to? You may need to change your approach.
Is there any way you can incorporate COVID-related concerns into the top of your sales funnel?
Can you do this without seeming insensitive?
#6 Practice Flexibility
During times of crisis, especially, it’s important to be flexible. Flexibility in business—and branding—is a practice. It’s sort of like meditation in that it’s something you do intentionally over time. It’s not a one and done.
Developing flexibility in business will allow you to:
• Be open to new ideas from your staff, investors, or even yourself
• Think up innovative product offerings that don’t put your cash flow at much risk
• Offer flexible work hours and options, keeping your staff happy and improving your public image
• Make you more open to new hires you wouldn’t consider otherwise, which can increase your organizational resiliency
Indeed, practicing flexibility is perhaps one of the most important swerves you can make during the COVID crisis. Many business owners tend to, by instinct, take the opposite approach. They become rigid and risk-averse. The side effect of this conservative stance is that they miss out on opportunities that can pay off in big ways.
The corollary is, of course, that being more flexible can expose you to more risk. But simply being in the business right now is risky, isn’t it? If you’re not ready to embrace full flexibility, try making one small change a week. These changes will add up, and you may notice enhanced efficiency, idea generation, or sales. Just don’t make changes willy-nilly.
I hope this post has given you lots of ideas on how to position your brand in 2021 and the tenets of brand building. In our next post in this series, we’ll explore more specific branding techniques, with an emphasis on case studies and real-world examples.