Now that the dust has settled from the initial shock of the coronavirus pandemic, business leaders are beginning to see the road ahead a little more clearly. And for many, the need for rebranding during COVID-19 is becoming more and more evident.
In a recent survey of business leaders, fully 80% of respondents said the crisis is “already causing, or likely to cause, significant adjustments to their company’s strategy.” A similar survey of leadership at private equity firms found that changing the value proposition and messaging was the most important initiative for their portfolio companies’ future strategy compared to pre-COVID-19.
As their customers’ needs have changed because of COVID-19, businesses are scrambling to adapt their positioning in response. And many businesses are realizing they stand to be a better company because of it.
Make no mistake, this crisis is different than any we’ve ever faced. The effects will be far-reaching and longstanding. Many companies will have to fundamentally change to survive. The key is to be proactive about the changes your brand needs—and think long-term about what those changes will entail.
Has the pandemic made you realize a much-needed change is in order for your brand? If so, these 8 tips will help you get the most out of your COVID-19 rebrand.
1. Avoid the Trap of Short-Termism
Immediate crises like the first few months of the pandemic tend to inspire short-term, reactive measures. But short-term measures only lead to short-term results. Now is the time to start thinking long-term about a crisis that shows no signs of going away any time soon.
Rebranding during COVID-19 is one of the best long-term investments you can make in your company. That’s because branding’s return on investment has a cumulative effect, building on ever-increasing levels of brand awareness that decay more slowly over time than short-term marketing activations. In the long run, brand-building is a better driver of sales growth than repeated short-term marketing initiatives.
A few important things to keep in mind:
- Have a long-term strategy in place for where your brand is headed
- Invest more in longer term brand-building initiatives
- Take a data-driven approach that is not overly reactive to short-term events
Which brings us to Tip 2…
2. Strike While the Iron is Hot
Previous recessions have shown that an economic downturn is the best time to take market share. For most business leaders, their first instinct during a crisis is to slash their marketing budget. It turns out this defensive impulse can end up hurting your bottom line in the long run.
It’s the companies that double down on branding and gain a larger share of voice over their competitors that are best positioned to realize long-term profitability through the recession and beyond. In fact, new research suggests rebranding during an economic downturn is better for long-term brand value than rebranding in times of economic growth.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- How can I leverage rebranding to capitalize on the unique opportunities at hand?
- Where do I want my company to be in five years’ time?
- How should my brand be positioned with this trajectory in mind?
Now is the time to start thinking about where you want your company to be in five years—and reposition your brand accordingly. The window to rebranding during COVID-19 in order to capitalize on the economic opportunities at hand is slowly closing—but it’s not too late.
3. Understand Your Customer Needs
Whether COVID-19 has left your company struggling, thriving, or somewhere in between, one thing is certain: your customers’ needs are not what they were at the outset of the crisis.
All recessions fundamentally realign customer behavior, forcing your customers to reconsider their priorities when it comes to spending money. But as we’ve seen, this isn’t just any recession. The challenges faced by customers are profound and the behavioral shifts they’ll entail will be long-lasting.
Understanding exactly how these long-term behavioral shifts will affect your business is key to making the most of the crisis at hand and the new normal that will be with us for years to come. The best way to understand your customers’ changing needs is simply to ask them.
Customer research in the form of in-depth interviews and/or more far-reaching quantitative surveys is the best way to take the pulse of those you serve so that you can adjust your brand’s positioning accordingly.
Questions to ask include:
- What are the greatest challenges you face due to COVID-19?
- How can we help you solve these challenges?
- What could we do better or different during these times?
4. Reassess Your Brand Positioning
Once you’ve better understood how your customers’ needs have changed over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to reassess your brand positioning. A brand audit allows you to analyze your brand within the context of the competitive landscape and identify key positioning opportunities moving forward.
Questions to ask include:
- Does your positioning still make sense in the current environment?
- If not, how should your positioning be adapted?
- Has your business model significantly changed in response to the pandemic?
- Are you targeting new audiences?
- Will slight adjustments to messaging and tone address the misalignments you identify or is a more systemic rebrand in order?
Understanding the ways in which your positioning no longer meets the needs of your customers or is simply no longer relevant in the new market landscape is the key to effectively rebranding during COVID-19.
One approach is to identify areas where your customers are most likely to cut back and present more valuable alternatives. The areas where customers are likely to cut aren’t always the most obvious. During the Great Recession, counterintuitive luxuries like wellness thrived. By repositioning luxuries as personal comforts worth investing in, smart brands countered social pressures to cut nonessential indulgences.
5. Focus on What You Do Best
The best positioning strategy is often to simply focus on what you do best. Where do your core competencies align with the new needs of your customers during COVID-19? That’s the sweet spot you should be hyper-focused on moving forward.
Other questions to ask yourself include:
- What unique value do we offer in this period of turmoil?
- What is our competitive advantage?
- How can we improve our offerings to make them indispensable?
- What do we do better than the competition?
Now is not the time to try to be everything to everyone. Being hyper-focused on where you can add value will give you the best chance to take advantage of the unique opportunities at hand. The more specialized your offerings, the harder you are to replace.
Brands that target niche industries with niche products and services are better suited to withstand a recession because their customers don’t have the luxury of looking elsewhere to fulfill their needs.
6. Get Aligned Internally
Once you’ve understood the ways your customers’ needs have changed in the COVID-19 era and have refocused your positioning around your core competencies, it’s critical to get aligned internally.
During times of crisis, an organization looks to its leaders for direction. It’s critical your leadership team is aligned around what the focus of your brand will be moving forward.
Whether it’s a new value proposition, a redefined competitive advantage, or fresh messaging, ensuring key internal stakeholders are aligned around your brand’s new direction is of paramount importance.
Once leadership is aligned, you can extend that alignment to the rest of the organization as well. Develop an effective and efficient communication plan to bring team members up to speed on how the company is rebranding during COVID-19.
Make sure team members are familiar with the reasoning behind the changes and the key messaging that will communicate them to the world.
Questions to ask include:
- Do all internal stakeholders understand the ways in which our positioning has shifted?
- Can they articulate the narrative behind these changes?
- Do they understand the key channels where new messaging will be deployed?
A company that is internally aligned around an inspiring new direction is a force to be reckoned with. Which brings us to Tip 7.
7. Unlock the Power of Purpose
When it comes to rebranding during COVID-19—or any time for that matter—nothing is more powerful than purpose. For many businesses, the past six months have been marked by uncertainty and turmoil.
You may have gone through salary cuts or layoffs. At the very least, you have a team that is now separated by distance and doing their best to adjust to virtual connections. Team members are likely dealing with the anxiety that these necessary steps have entailed.
It’s important to remind your team why they work for your company by reconnecting them to its purpose. A foundational component of your brand compass, your company’s purpose is the answer the most fundamental question it faces: why?
If your company has a strongly articulated purpose, now is the time to activate it in new and meaningful ways. If you’ve never defined your purpose, now is the time to figure it out. You may have had to pivot so radically because of the pandemic that your original purpose is no longer relevant. If this is the case, now is the time to redefine your purpose.
Questions to ask when formulating or clarifying your purpose include:
- Beyond making money, why do we do what we do?
- What are we most passionate about?
- What does the world need most that we are uniquely able to provide?
Clarifying your purpose is key to emotionally engaging your team behind an idea that’s bigger than just a strategic plan. And when it comes to your customers, purpose is more important than ever.
Customers are paying attention to the way brands handle the current crisis. And they’re looking for companies with shared values and inspiring stories to help them weather the challenges at hand.
8. Tell a Relevant, Compelling Story
The final key to effective rebranding during COVID-19 is telling the world about the changes you’ve made in a compelling and relevant way.
Whether it’s a slight tweak to messaging or a comprehensive brand overhaul, this is the step where the rubber hits the road. It’s critical to ensure the new iteration of your brand is relevant to your customers’ shifted needs—and isn’t tone deaf to the situation at hand.
Questions to ask when telling your story include:
- Who are you speaking to?
- What is the central problem you’re solving for them?
- How are you solving it in a unique and powerful way?
- What is the voice you want to convey? (Professional? Friendly? Hopeful? Concerned?)
Just as important as telling a relevant story is making sure your customers feel relevant in an increasingly uncertain and lonely world. It’s rough out there these days for many of those you serve. From layoffs to illnesses to bereavement, customers have gone through a lot over the course of this crisis.
The brands that take measures to acknowledge their customers and accommodate the challenges they’re experiencing are those that will be remembered in the months and years to come. A real opportunity exists for your brand to not just be relevant but make your customers feel relevant as well.
A lot has changed over the course of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business leaders to reassess their approach to just about every aspect of their business.
Many are realizing that fundamental shifts are needed in their positioning to address their customers’ changing needs. Others are finding that more subtle adjustments to messaging might do the job.
Whatever your situation, rebranding during COVID-19 can help you to take advantage of valuable opportunities in a shifting marketplace. But time is running out. In order to determine a viable long-term trajectory for your brand, it’s important to put the above tips into practice ASAP.
Like many businesses, you may just find that the current crisis turns out to be a net positive for the future of your brand.