Five ways brands will need to change after COVID-19

The coronavirus epidemic has challenged brands from around the world to push aside many of their usual activities. The market has little patience for tone-deaf campaigns that seem opportunistic and shallow, such as the wave of “social distancing logos” from the likes of Audi and McDonald’s that Fast Company described as nothing more than “the design equivalent of thoughts and prayers”.

Interesting times, these. Adapting has become the order of the day and will be essential in brand strategies when we come through this. I’m predicting a significant shift in how brands will look and behave.

1. Agility

Sure, it’s been a buzzword for a few years now, but the real evidence of brands’ ability to stay relevant has come in the past month or so. Some companies simply paused their marketing campaigns (rare ones haven’t even done that). Meanwhile, distillers like Dixon’s shifted production from spirits to sanitizer within a week, drawing on their partners to get it done, and launching simple but effective PR campaigns to spread the word. Brands that prove their ability to pivot towards a challenge will earn more favour in the years to come.

2. Corporate social responsibility

I have long championed corporate social responsibility as a core tenet of an effective brand strategy. Trust as a currency will gain importance, and brands will be expected to integrate more strategic community leadership into their business plans and marketing strategies rather than simply toss a few bucks or backpacks out each year for a headline and an Instagram post. To be clear, this is not at the expense of profit – quite the opposite; the shift in thinking needs to be “the more we earn, the more we can do.”

Prediction: Guelph will lead the way nationally in this area.

3. Simplified logos

As companies strive to stand out in the marketing noise that is sure to come when this is over, we anticipate this will include refreshed branding that signals strength and recovery to the market. Graphic design has already been trending towards simple aesthetics in logo design, and economic recovery and austerity will only reinforce the need to have plain, clean logos that are effective without being ostentatious. More than ever, less will be more.

4. Employer branding

A lump comes to my throat when I think of the success of local restaurant chain The Neighbourhood Group’s gift card campaign with 100% of proceeds supporting laid off employees. By raising $40,000 coupled with government relief funding, they’re keeping people paid and – since they can’t open – they’re using their talents to support food security needs in the community. Their restaurants will roar back to life when this is over and let’s bear in mind the company will bear the cost of those gift cards when they’re eventually cashed in. It was a brilliant marketing move and most of all, a sign of their humanity as a company.

Companies that build reputation around how they treat their people cultivate genuine ambassadors for their brands, attract and retain top talent and create productive, innovative teams. Unemployment will undoubtedly be higher at the end of this: it will be a buyer’s market for employers and the ones that take advantage of this will lose reputation quickly.

5. Strong communications

Strategic communication is often a quiet cousin in the marketing mix for companies. This will change as brands draw on the example of some great companies that moved past boilerplate messaging to provide proactive, transparent information about their response to the pandemic and its effect on staff and customers. Dare I say that government has even led by example? Some of our clients have shifted away from promotional advertising to a simple weekly video or letter from senior principals that offers honest, even emotional updates. Customers value this simple openness and access to the top and will expect it to continue.

Overall, if we can look for the positives in all of this, I’m hopeful – even confident – that when things get back to normal, we’ll see brands better lean into the values that truly make a difference.

That’s something to look forward to.

Contact M
Contact M