For Consumer Brands, the Future Arrived in an Instant

Toward the end of last year, we shared an article talking about all the ways your brand would change in 2020.  It wasn’t a predication, just a reminder of a natural fact.  Change is constant, and for marketers, that creates a struggle between being “consistent” and “responsive.”

No one could have predicted the level of change marketers find themselves dealing with today.  The word I hear from the executives I talk to is “acceleration.”  Things they thought would be gradual evolutions over time (we’ll cover some below) became instantaneous needs.

This will be good for marketers.  Accelerating positive trends that people had been avoiding (or ignoring) will cause everyone to raise their game.  It does, however, make it even more important that marketers don’t lose their way.  That they don’t stray from who they want to be to get a COVID-era demand over the finish line.

Prioritizing brand alignment will no longer be a luxury, but a necessity as marketers navigate these hot topics:

1) Digital Transformation

This one is obvious, but there is probably not a more loaded buzz-phrase in business right now.  For brand and marketing teams, this is going to involve all the ways technology connects the company to the customer, as well as the technology that supports frontline teams.  The key to staying aligned with your brand through technology change is to recognize that the technology is supporting human actions, not replacing them.  E-commerce purchases will grow, but so will the need to provide solid after-purchase support.  Every technology investment will have a ripple effect and marketers need to understand how to map online and offline interactions successfully for their company.  This is not the IT department’s job if it involves customers.

2) Customer Experience is now King

Customer Experience has been a sexy topic for a while, but most brands have not invested as if it were truly a top priority.  Anyone who is responsible for marketing consumer goods or services should have customer experience as their top priority, and there should not be a close second.  During and after COVID, consumers are going to scrutinize the way they interact with companies more than they ever have.  Is it convenient?  Is it safe?  It is helpful?  Was the process designed for me to win, or for the brand to win?  Customers will not tolerate outdated buying journeys that save companies margin or maintain their value chain.  Experience is the only differentiator now.

3) Omni-Channel Means Something Now

Take items #1 and #2 above and combine them.  The flow from technology to humans in the buying journey will need to be seamless.  Very few companies were doing it.  “Omni-channel” was another buzzword that just meant there were a lot of projects happening. They often took the form of tech investments designed to allow customers to do things on their own.  That is not what this means. It means marketers will need to align the way things should flow with one constant priority in mind – a happy customer.

4) New Customer Contact Channels

Omni-channel is here in an instant and even harder than it was before.  That is because new customer contact channels are emerging.  Take the auto industry.  You could buy a car online before COVID, but a very small percentage of the population was ready to do that.  Most people need help.  Cadillac had a video consultation option called Cadillac LIVE available before COVID, but the demand for this service will only accelerate.  The other brands will all have some form of video experience.  Video consultations are now offered by everyone from Best Buy to local flooring shops.  This adds a step in the buying journey.  Marketers have to consider how that conversation gets initiated, how it gets executed, and what happens after it.  Yes…more handoffs from technology to people and back again.

5) Work from Home

A major telecom provider in Canada shared with me recently that they moved more than 2,000 call center employees to a work-from-home setup in five days.  FIVE DAYS!  Many of these employees will probably remain at home once COVID is behind us.  For marketers, this upends a customer contact channel that they could easily support before.  Posters on the walls could promote key initiatives.  Team leaders could walk the floor and provide reminders.  Break rooms could be stuffed with food that comes with a message.  Not anymore.  Marketers need to consider how the brand representative dynamic is going to change and find new ways to get the message out in an effective way.  Why?  See items 1-4 above.

All these trends were well underway before COVID became a global crisis.  The pandemic just sped up their arrival. It is more change.  Faster change.  Bigger change.  It is here all at once and it will forever affect how companies serve their customers.  Marketers need to take the reigns and keep these things connected.  The future of their brand depends on it.

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