#OutstandingBrands2021: Innovate or die, be modern and thrive

Margaret OLELE

For Brands, perception is the much needed oxygen to survive and thrive. Perception is the sensory texture of the brand from the point of view of the consumer or prospective consumer irrespective of what the brand owners will rather prefer people to think or what they promise the brand can deliver.

This perception translates to human qualities that propel the customer towards the brand or conversely repel the customers in what I often share as degrees/ladder of trust or promise kept. The human qualities often referred to as the brand personality may present the brand in different ways like fun loving, strong, and dependable. Perception and personality are outcomes of a brand strategy which must exist and over time help build modern brands that successfully stand the test of time.   

A truly modern brand will and can survive crises situations including the present COVID-19 pandemic situation. Yes, the pandemic changed our lives in ways we never expected. It turned the world bottom up. It was not anticipated, the lockdown mostly had a knockdown impact that petted lives over livelihoods. The pendulum moved from wants to needs, very basic needs. The Modern brand characteristics adopted by some brands insulate them and become the vaccine for a brand surviving and thriving in these times.

A modern brand must be innovative, versatile, will make great revenues, adept in navigating crisis, has dynamic marketing activities, is compelling, consistent, transcend geographies or have the potentials to transcend geographies flexible, customer –centric, adaptable, profitable but at the same time should have a raison d étre that goes beyond having great revenues to also doing the larger good and having a positive impact on the environment.

In its 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, Nielson found that 66 percent of global consumers say that they are willing to pay more for sustainable brands – up 55 percent from 2014. It also found that 73 percent of global Millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings from 50 percent. Modern brands leverage technology relevant to the brand and used by the consumers. Brand owners must engage its target audience through innovative communication and must meet the consumer at all customer touchpoints.

 Emilie Spire in an article ‘How do you define a modern brand’ suggested that modern brands have more chances of becoming long term success stories, shaping our consumption behaviour and pop culture, and eventually shaping a generation memory.

The brand life cycle matters for brands in the period of the pandemic. A brand that was introduced just before the lockdown will struggle to survive than a Brand in its growth and near maturity stage.

While some brands struggled, some brands opened up the innovative tap. One multinational organization operating in West Africa suggested that as a corporate brand they are successfully surviving and growing during this period because they have the audacity to do things differently and to have a disruptive approach to a global crisis that is itself disruptive.

Another organization in the business of plastic supplies stressed the need to be customer centric as the reason for their success. It is not only to address what the organization wants but what their Customers need. It is about prioritizing the need and doing a lot of listening.

As a B2B, organization, the secret of their succeeding in this COVID-19 times is and should be continuous engaging of their customers to find out that their pain points are and understand how they can support their business to stay afloat without necessarily jeopardizing their own. According to them they need to know what changes their customers are making in their supply chain and adapting to this. This corporate brand will be seen as extremely dependable by their customers.

A start-up interviewed believes that the strength of employees and colleague engagement have been critical to their survival. The ability to draw strength from one another at a time of crisis understanding and appreciating that no one person is the connoisseur of knowledge is valuable for brand existence. The ability to have flexibility of working from home reducing the traffic time in congested cities and over all keeping the colleagues motivated were identified as key to the success of this organization.

Most organizations agree that brands remained in the minds of the people occupying the highest step in the ladder of the mind by leveraging technology. These organizations had to revise and upgrade their virtual systems to make sure they are able to keep their target audience engaged. In selecting a virtual platform, care should be taken to ensure that the platform is well secure from the dangers of cyber-attacks deleterious to the image of the brand.

A not-for-profit brand with trade and investment interest had significant number of workshops, webinars, better and easier engagement with policy makers and their members than before and by extension more sponsorships because it is obviously easier to have a virtual event than to have face to face events.

These activities increased visibility and improved the engagement with private sector organizations within and outside the organization. Virtual meetings also reduced the operational cost by over 50 percent making it easier to compensate employees who made the corporate brand a lot stronger in 2020. The organization closed above budget with expenses lower than the targeted expenditure in the budget.

Communicating mostly on social media is also important as the target audience had moved to virtual platforms. As a modern brand, there is need to meet the customers on all important touchpoints including having platforms to engage them. Religious organizations and churches moved from traditional physical places of worship to virtual services on Instagram live, YouTube channels in addition to traditional media stations.

Crocs global has moved over 38 percent of its business online to reduce the physical interface according to the CEO on CNN.

In an article, The Power of the Modern Brands and how it is Evolving (Claudia 2015) it was stressed that a modern brand must evolve to create an almost symbiotic ecosystem of possibilities for interactions. This is must true especially during the pandemic. The group WhatsApp platform increased for colleague engagement in organization interaction; most organizations that were completely green around the ears from a technology stand point set up Facebook, Twitter, YouTube platforms.

According to the mobile marketing magazine, twitter data base has grown so far by twenty million since the Pandemic started. Other platforms like LinkedIn has seen increased usage for live events. Brands have also begun to use more online marketing opportunities. For this, tech and digital companies position their brands as the best platform to utilize.

Brand owners need to know what people really need. Will it be food versus luxury clothes? How will they meet this need? A clothing company in the Highbrow area of a city in West Africa for years sold designer clothes to c-suite women. At the height of the lockdown and with zero sales since people were not going to work, the clothing company began selling food items, reaching out to customers through the directory and customer data base to advertise these new products. Within days, the company began to get orders and eventually stayed afloat because the customers had confidence in the quality of brand.

Many dress making companies began producing nose masks and for a young entrepreneur Fumzy and owner of NAYA Stiches the pandemic became an opportunity to grow her corporate brand. Fumzy leveraged her science background to prepare nose masks that were not only durable but safe for use. Before long she began supplying neigbourhood supermarkets and later expanded to larger chain stores in the city.

She also set up online stores on platforms including Jumia. She remotely employed workers who managed different aspects of the mask making. As a brand owner, she realized that she needed to have her brand support corporate responsibility projects. She provided masks to NGOs – sickle cell aid foundations and other foundations targeted at indigent widows at almost zero cost. What also made this interesting, was that she reached out to pharmaceutical companies involved in the sale of sanitizers and began retailing sanitizers on her online shops.

At a larger scale, many companies delved into this too. Overnight, pharmaceutical companies expanded their product line to include sanitizers and reduced the scarcity of sanitizers, meeting the needs of many while remaining profitable, a women sanitary ware company, Dr. Brown began making disposable masks utilizing similar materials used for the sanitary wares for this.

Courier and logistic companies, realizing that travelling remains restricted especially during the lockdown expanded their services to include delivery of food items.  Tech companies like Go kada using mobile software for motorcycles to move people around in the crowded Lagos city but banned for security reasons by the government, found a new business life line through a complete change of services from moving passengers to delivering food services working with restaurants and other food companies.

Adaptability, versatility and innovation as well as the ability to extend brands to what people really need remain imperative to support the sustenance and growth of businesses and their brands at this time. The brands that truly survive and thrive are those one that distinguish themselves to become thorough bred modern brands.

For brands in this COVID-19 times the adage innovate or die remains true. Also add to this adage “be modern and thrive”.

>>>the writer is an expert in brand strategy and communication. As an adjunct Faculty of the Pan Atlantic University she taught graduate students at the School of Media and Communication. She is the CEO of the American Business Council in Nigeria. She can be reached on [email protected]

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