Branding in a Pandemic

A few weeks ago, I was pretty nervous about talking live over Instagram to 1,300 strangers. I know a lot about branding, but branding in a pandemic isn’t as simple. I had to put more research and reflection into my preparation.

What we can all agree on is that the current climate of consumer spending is unstable. As consumers, we are all rethinking how we spend our money and the effects of the crisis may not be realized for yet another six to ten months. Discretionary spending will be squeezed from all ends, and we will ALL be more cost conscious, if we aren’t already. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a new brand can’t launch during this crisis, but it must answer the obvious question—does it address a current need?

Does your product or service make communicating, buying, traveling, working from home easier or more accessible? We are all experiencing a mindset shift since being forced to work, learn, and homeschool within our four walls. modern8 would have never considered running a service business virtually, but, by being forced into a new way of thinking about and leveraging technology, we are making it work and may never go back. During the last recession, several businesses used this shift in mindset to launch, and they still continue to thrive—Groupon found a way to bring coupon clipping to our inboxes, Slack helped us stay in touch with our work teams, Venmo eliminated the need to carry a checkbook, WhatsApp gave us a vehicle to communicate no matter where we are in the world, and Rent the Runway made fashion accessible and affordable.

The second consideration is an evaluation of your value proposition and competitive advantage—is it different and distinct enough to stand out in a crowded market? The current market is highlighting disparities in value from product to product and service to service. If you are a challenger brand, and not the first to market in your space, then now is an opportunity to prove your value against the bigger, slower leaders in your competitive landscape. Messaging that targets your audience and relates to WHY your product is needed above the others can cut through and get noticed. There is an opportunity to leverage the current circumstances to provide more value to your current and potential customers, to make your offering more accessible, and to analyze and balance the current needs of your market. This doesn’t mean giving more for less, but it might mean reevaluating the customer experience, creating helpful content, marketing with empathy, giving gratitude and donations, or providing a sense of place and belonging for your audience. Make your brand invaluable to your customers.

We are currently working with a direct-to-consumer brand called Wave Coffee, which is set to launch in the next month. We debated pressing pause and waiting to launch the product after the pandemic, but Wave addresses a current need—get coffee delivered regularly without the risk of going out and picking it up. There’s also the fact that the target market for Wave has already been defined, the aesthetics have already been designed to resonate within its market space, and the messaging has been crafted to speak to those preferences and motivations. Though Wave is not going to be the first to market in the coffee subscription space, it can still provide simple access to a product that promotes shared experiences, even during these times of uncertainty, can be purchased at a justifiable price point, and will take advantage of the shift in mindset while getting noticed for its value.

A brand is a promise of value to be received. A brand is the totality of perceptions that you see, hear, read, know, feel, and think about and have been embodied in a product or service. A pandemic could be the right time to establish or pivot your brand to reestablish a distinctive position in a potential customer’s mind based on their past experiences, current associations, and future expectations.

A brand is a shortcut for gaining and expressing beliefs and values for consumers. These promises of specific beliefs and values will also differentiate your brand while simplifying the decision making process for your consumers. There is always a means to exceed industry and market expectations, and create surprise for an audience that never knew, in their mind, what they were missing.