Brands During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been a something anyone would be hard-pressed not to mention in review of the year 2020, for its presence and impact is, quite frankly, unmissable. Societies, communities and economies have felt the brunt of the negative impact, and even retail brands have had no option but to shift in business practice. Botswana has not been an exception in this regard. We continue to see an increase in retail brands collapsing or re-engineering their strategies to adapt or die. So how are brands faring during this pandemic, and how might brand positioning need to change during and post the COVID-19 pandemic?

As many consumers choose to prioritise essential goods and services and rethink personal finances, brands and retail companies operating in Botswana are faced with the challenge of how to survive and operate in the ‘new normal’. Certain industries offering secondary services, such as entertainment, hospitality and transportation are feeling this pinch more acutely, and therefore many have had to realign their business structures as a whole to ensure the safety of customers while also ensuring their survival in the long-term.

In 2013, Nokia held a press conference to announce the mobile phone branch of the company was to be sold to Microsoft, in which CEO Stephen Elop said, “We did nothing wrong, and still we lost”. Nokia was then a leading mobile giant. However, at the time of this press conference, their market share had dropped drastically and was overrun by new players on the market. Elop was right in stating that they had done nothing wrong, unfortunately, external factors can often prove to be detrimental to the survival of a brand.

This was one of many instances where brands and corporates would fare better with contingency strategy in place to ensure survival or at least adaptation of market shift dynamics. This year alone, numerous corporates and businesses received a wakeup call to sharpen their communication channels.

Currently, many brands across industries are realigning their brand positioning and overall tone in their messages to meet the needs of the consumer. We saw this realignment with one of the most popular fast-food chicken franchises KFC. The brand recently did away with their popular slogan that promoted ‘finger licking’ because it was not a ‘COVID-19 friendly’ message. Does this mean permanent scrapping of brand collateral? What does this mean for the business’s bottom-line?

While these questions are to be considered for the long-time survival of brands and retail businesses, such actions need to be considered. The pandemic has forced a lot of brands to take a step back and consider their role during this moment in history. Consumers no longer expect frivolous messaging but instead action that is authentic, helpful and empathetic.

Marketing and advertising budgets have been set aside to support business’ core strategies and to make way for the financial downturn, as well as to plough resources into providing relief to the general public – as is the duty of brands. Marketers have been forced to take a step back and rethink their relationship with customers. Creativity and brand positioning are now being swiveled to meet the demands of the crisis and with great reason. However, should we really sacrifice communications when it may be needed now more than ever? Communications teams have an even greater role to play today, in this brave new world, perhaps just away from shiny TV spots selling product, and more consumer-centric, or simply “human.”

Profits need not take a further hit, but this does not simply need to be the brand’s primary concern. It is bigger than that, and the brands that are making an even bigger mark are those that show their more human purpose.