How do I strengthen my brand to weather the Corona storm?

Written by: Glenn, brand and digital strategist working with big names and punchy challengers in luxury, retail, beauty and hospitality. Recipient of the Tech Nation UK Entrepreneur Visa for Exceptional Digital Talent.

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Coronavirus has been one of the most disruptive macro forces the globalised world has ever seen. It truly has touched every corner of the world and the fabric of multiple cultures no matter what lens you put it through: albeit professional/organisation, social, cultural or through an industry-specific mirror. No matter what mirror you're looking into, it's daunting how this event has impacted nearly everyone on the planet in some way. For many brands and businesses, it's also unprecedented how many were caught completely off guard; especially those just getting started. As a common, popular meme currently doing the round states, looking back the biggest driver of digital transformation may not be the CEO, CMO or CIO, but the COVID-19. 

With the mirror analogy above in mind, brands and founders have a fantastic opportunity to pause long enough to reflect. As someone who always chooses to be an optimist, I firmly believe that at the core of every crisis there are rich, sparkling moments of opportunity that have been waiting to address, and if acknowledged, can be a massive source of rebirth and optimisation. If you need further proof, look at the fact that the word "crisis" in Chinese also has the exact characters which spell opportunity. And it doesn't take being an Epidemiologist to know that in science, there is also an equal or opposite reaction to any occurrence, and I choose to believe these challenging, daunting times will be no different. Though it may not be on a scale or timetable that can be forecasted for any brand owner, economist or business leader, it will get better and the time to get ready for that swing back is now.  

1) Take a Deep Breath: Mindset is everything.  While it might not sound revolutionary, the first thing everyone must do is to take a big, deep but realistic breath and assess what can and cannot be done. As a brand leader or entrepreneur, you have to find the time and mental space to save some mental energy and thought to strategise for the future. While it may feel like right now there are a thousand fires to fight and prioritise, make sure a major part of your daily to-do list prioritises your mental health; even if it's just ten minutes a day. 

2) Audit with Empathy: In short, cut out and cut off blatant sales-driven initiatives and any and all marketing and advertising that comes off as tone-deaf, opportunist or of course anything that might seem like a snake oil solution to the stress of these times. Now more than ever, brands have equal parts opportunity and obligation to be a beacon of good but relevant news which moves the conversation forward; not pushing a sale. If you haven't already, do a thorough audit of all the always-on marketing communications you've scheduled across all digital touchpoints, automated included, to ensure you're not running ads which are annoying, irrelevant or just plain insensitive. 

3) Reassess Your Digital Toolkit: Furthering the point above, and given users for the foreseeable future will be online, having a robust, clever and on-point search, email and digital communications plan has never been more vital. The reality is your marketing budgets will be shifted entirely into social, and revisiting those plans for the year ahead {and possibly 2021 and beyond} is key. So many brand owners I speak with say they don't know how to do PPC/Search or understand it, often outsourcing it to a third party or tripping through it as they go. Dive in, learn to speak a new language, and become more proficient, convicted and intentional on where and when you're showing up online. 

4) Look for FREEdom: Paid media and platforms is not always the solution. So often there are so many bread crumbs we miss that are free, or close to free, that brand owners could either be activating, learning or acquiring that are far more cost-effective than paying a vendor to do it. Especially on social and digital channels, now is the time to dig deep and ideate the gaps you may be missing or could be creating on social to squeeze as much blood from the marketing stone as possible; including from a creative strategy and engagement perspective.  

5) Lean into Your Communities: Even before this crisis, so many brands still forget that social media is meant to be just that: social. Mostly out of a {misguided} fear of a PR or legal disaster that's used a crutch, so many brands still are lethargic to engage their audiences in a circular manner of communication and opting to be a megaphone of promotional broadcast. If that's you, stop it immediately, and per the point above, if you're doing it now is the time to do it more. If the daily screentime updates Apple continues to send us are any indication, consumers and users have never been online, social and on screen more. Don't just give them something to do, but start a relevant, real conversation and nurture it. Not only will you be surprised at what you might learn, but you might make some friends (re: new consumers) along the way. 

6) Revisit Your Services and Offering: Less is more. Especially for my retail clients, now is the time to revisit what exactly you're offering your clients from a products and services aspect, and if the data shows some of it's underperforming, cut it off. This might include shrinking or narrowing services or product SKUs, but double down on what's working, selling or beloved and ditch what's dead weight. Furthermore, and in tandem with the point above, ideate missed areas or blind spots where you could be developing future products and services your customers actually want or your competitors are already doing that are financially feasible to replicate or remain competitive and in the conversation.

Beyond the obvious, non-negotiable accounting and balance sheet aspects, the long game will also be won by those who used this moment to not only take a long hard look at their brand, its purpose and necessity to consumers but those who kept their cool and used these tough times to grow through being equal measures realistic, optimistic and laser-focused.