Planning for the Next Big Disruption (Because There Will Be Another One)

July 7, 2020 | by David Lemley

2020 is the year of the business plan as kindling — you might as well crumple that document you wrote in 2019 and set a match to it. Nobody saw this massive disruption coming: first COVID-19, followed by social unrest.

We won’t see the next big disruption coming, either. So how do you prepare your brand and your business to withstand the inevitable?

Most brands will play it safe. But, if you play smart, you can successfully adapt your brand by leaning into the future despite its obvious ability to trick us. It starts with the lens through which your product or service is best positioned and projected into the marketplace.

Your brand may be making its way through the shutdown and aftermath by the skin of its teeth. Or maybe it’s doing OK but you wish it was doing better and even growing. What steps can you take to ensure that it’s in a better position — next time? (Because there will be a next time.)

Time to Double Down on Your Brand Strategy

Most brand leaders conduct strategic planning at two key points in their business: 1) in the startup stage when they’re figuring out the brand’s path, and 2) in a crisis, when they’re figuring out how to move forward.

So, yes, this is definitely a time to examine and retool your brand’s strategy. (We can certainly help you with that.) Especially if you haven’t built a strong foundation for your brand, or if you’ve been more focused in recent years on simply moving product through your channels than on connecting meaningfully with consumers.

Your natural food and beverage brand must stand for more than your product’s features and benefits — for more than the product itself. Brands that have achieved Beloved & Dominant status focus on the promises they make and the ways they keep them. They have a higher purpose, a WHY. They’re adored by fans, promoted by retail partners, embraced by influencers, and catnip to investors.

Your WHY makes you recession-proof, pandemic-proof … anything-proof. When push comes to shove, all goods and services are commodities, even those that speak to vegans and busy moms and keto followers.

Strategically well-positioned brands, though, aren’t commodities that a consumer can easily replace with something cheaper or newer. Beloved & Dominant brands are markers of personal identity and tribal association. So when something — like a supply chain outage or family budget crunch — disrupts how consumers make choices about what they buy, they’ll stick with Beloved & Dominant brands even if they’re more expensive or hard to find.

Why? Because the consumer likes the person she gets to be when she associates with the brand. It fits her lifestyle. She believes in what the brand stands for and feels good about connecting to its mission because it aligns with her own values. The fact that she likes the flavor or the ingredient list is almost beside the point.

Get clear on your brand’s value to your consumer. Imagine why he’d miss you if you were gone. (In fact, writing the brand’s obituary and envisioning the hole it would leave in people’s lives is part of our strategy work with clients.)

Build Communication & Marketing on Brand Strategy

Let that brand strategy drive your marketing and communication efforts. With that as the foundation of your Brand Ecosystem, your messaging will naturally flow from the heart and soul of your purpose rather than focusing on commoditizing attributes such as flavor and function. You’ll authentically communicate with your tribe instead of just broadcasting a lot of noise.

I’ll give you an example: A supplement brand that I regularly buy ran into some supply chain issues during the shutdown. Rather than increase their price to cover their ingredient costs, they scrimped on packaging. They repackaged in a plain white bottle with a message to the effect of: “you’ll notice something different, and that’s because we’re saving cost on packaging to cover our increased ingredient costs, so you don’t have to pay more.” This was a brand move, not a product strategy move.

Play the ‘What If?’ Game

On the heels of an unexpected crisis is the ideal time to imagine the next one. How might your brand die? Or will it resuscitate?

There are many ways to scenario plan in business; doing so allows you to strategize how you might respond with things get weird. Plan for external crises like natural disasters that upend the supply chain in a region or another global pandemic. But also for seismic shifts in human preference. We’ll often ask clients, “What happens if there’s no more X ingredient that your product is dependent on?” “What happens when carbs are the next new diet darling?”

How? Study trends, read the news, know your history. You don’t have to be a futurist to see potential threats to your business.

In 2018, a small Pacific Northwest ice cream company to us for help developing a brand and packaging strategy that could take them nationwide. Our work showed that their two brands were at risk from the growing non-dairy and low-carb ice cream trends. We helped them respond by staking their flag in making organic products for everyone. They were willing to cede the low-carb market to Halo Top and the non-dairy space to other brands. We positioned Alden’s as “America’s family organic ice cream,” appealing to consumers who value sustainable and humane farming practices and clean, pure ingredients. Within two years, Alden’s went from a regional brand to the best-selling organic ice cream in the U.S. They saw and reacted to a massive disruption in their category and thrived on the other side of the shift.

In other words, control the factors you can control — and develop a plan to pivot as things change. Test, learn, and iterate. Keep innovating. Play big.

You can withstand because you stand for something.

Let us help you -proof your brand.