Updated: May 25, 2021
In a recent blog post, we described the value of brand tracking to understand your brand’s position in the marketplace. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding your brand’s health and the consumer’s perception of it may be more crucial than ever.
While it’s too early for comprehensive, hard data on the long-term impact of COVID-19 to be available, market researchers are already speculating and applying their understanding of consumer behavior to model the influence of COVID-19 on brands – from awareness to loyalty.
Here’s a glimpse of what we are seeing so far…
Companies whose marketing strategy relies on in-person interaction or out-of-home advertising may see a reduction in long-term brand awareness if they are unable to adapt to the changing environment.
For example, how does a transportation company that relies on visibility of their moving trucks on the road or a clothing retailer that invests heavily in subway advertisements adjust to maintain their brand awareness in a socially distanced, virtual environment? Brands are faced with the challenge of rapidly shifting their marketing strategy in order to be economical but also continue to drive conversions to customers.
“From smaller DTC [direct to consumer] brands to big-name fashion companies like H&M and Calvin Klein, both known for big, buzzy billboards, everyone is trying to figure out whether to keep out-of-home campaigns running or whether to delay, and for how long.” Some brands are taking advantage of the rock-bottom prices in the traditional out of home advertisements (e.g. billboards, kiosks, subways, etc.) to acquire competitive slots under the expectation that life will “return to normal” eventually. Regardless of the budget and affinity or aversion to risk in strategy, brands are making decisions in a new environment where patterns of consumer behavior have changed.
The brands making the biggest impact seem to be those that are connecting with and making themselves relevant to consumers during this time. In particular, consumers are responsive to brands that are generating goodwill through community-based, humanitarian efforts.
“For most, the motivation for helping is simply to do good, but in many cases, these efforts also will generate gratitude and goodwill that likely will translate to increased brand awareness, consumer and staff loyalty, and higher sales long after the current restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are lifted.”
A study by 4A’s Research found that consumers have positive perceptions of brands that are providing supplies to hospitals and healthcare workers; are stopping their regular production to make necessary items such as ventilators, personal protective equipment, and hand sanitizer; those that have donated other goods or money to relief efforts; and the companies that are taking care of their employees, especially those with essential workers.
Those who are responding to the crisis through donations or revamping their production towards masks or ventilators during this time are especially impactful on consumers and are not only maintaining brand awareness but improving the consumer’s perception of their brand – and these perceptions may last long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed its peak.
However, perception of brand isn’t necessarily tied to an increase in purchases.
The economic fallout and rise in unemployment has affected consumer spending habits, with some items flying off the shelves (see: toilet paper and alcohol) while others pile up in backlogged inventory. Some companies are seeing similar levels of engagement in online advertisements, but they have experienced a drop in conversions to customers. The obvious assumption is that in times of financial uncertainty, consumers are simply more likely to be conserving cash.
So, what do we do with this information?
At Simply Strategy, we work with clients to unpack the contextual aspects of a brand’s position through data, insight, and related trends. We take into account the environmental, cultural, and system-wide factors in your company’s market space that are playing out in your brand tracker or other benchmarking studies. This is the creative analytics and strategy side of our business. We seek to understand what’s happening in the numbers and surface the actionable insights, not just collect data.
How is your brand changing?
 Richards, K. 2020. “How to navigate billboard and subway advertising during a pandemic.”  Crawford, E. 2020. “Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Helping during the coronavirus pandemic earns companies brand-awareness, loyalty long term.”  Pelosi, C. 2020. “Consumer Awareness of Brands Doing Good During COVID-19.”  Monllos, C. 2020. “’A big drop in demand’: Confessions of a media buyer on managing coronavirus fallout.”