The World Is About to Change (Again); Is Your Brand Ready?

April 19, 2021 | by David Lemley

Right now, in the spring of 2021, we’re at an inflection point: One year ago, the world was in full lockdown and consumers were “hunkered ” at home; one year from now, things will be fully back to business as pre-pandemic.

Over the past 12 months, your company has made shifts large and small in response to rapidly changing consumer habits, supply chain disruption, and retail upheaval. Those pivots were reactive; now is the time to be proactive.

As you create a new future for your food or beverage brand, ask yourself: What from our past can—should—we let go of?

Great Brands Are Built for Evolution

Brand strategy is fundamentally a set of choices and decisions—what purpose to serve, who to sell to, who to ignore, what to make, what to add, what to leave out. Over time, those decisions add up to create the foundation for the brand.

If they’re smart, the approach that brand leaders take to making those decisions changes in response to new market or cultural conditions. And, boy, are we experiencing conditions we’ve never seen before.

Every brand owner needs to rethink what they’ve done in the past and are doing with their brand now, so they’re well positioned for the future. Revisiting brand strategy is critical to both survival and/or capitalizing on untapped opportunity. And at this moment, the brand’s legacy can become both its biggest asset and its most obstructive blind spot.

A brand strategy that starts with people, purpose, and planet, when built well, will be adaptable to massive shifts like the ones we’ve seen in the past 12 months. But brands that stand on legacy product offerings, a culture of “this is how we do things,” and a fixed view of their audience will struggle. They’ll have difficulty recognizing when their ingredient profiles or target consumer or channel strategy need to evolve. They’ll miss opportunities for actionable, effective, radical shifts in brand strategy because they simply can’t see those that lie outside their point of view. They’ll be stuck.

Satisfy Consumers’ Craving for an Exciting New Normal

We predict that the next year will be like rebound dating after a bad breakup. Consumers don’t want to get back to normal; they want to let loose, experiment, expand their horizons.

Consumers are open to trying absolutely anything now; Covid created such disruption that people were eating exclusively at home and had to try new things when their favored brands or products were out of stock. That busted ruts and opened minds. Individuals and households have established new habits and preferences during the pandemic year—family hiking, cooking at home, new favorite snack foods—yet they’re also hungry for even more new experiences. Like, mom cannot make another box of the same macaroni and cheese one. more. time.

We can’t overstate this: Consumers are looking for new and different.

So make it easy for them to find you. Talk to them; the probability of trial is greater than it’s ever been. You don’t have to leave your base, but pitch a bigger tent.

Leverage Operational Changes You’ve Already Made

Over the past 12 months, massive disruption in the supply chain has opened companies’ eyes to different ingredients or production methods or distribution. Can’t get organic dried blueberries? How about organic dried papaya? What about a new tropical flavor profile?

Companies that would have never before thought about operating a certain way or using a different ingredient profile—and are now open to those different options because they’ve had to adapt—are going to be well-positioned.

It’s like sailing to a new beach—you’re still out there on the same body of water and navigating toward dry land; you’re just steering down the coast to a different landing point. Same, but different.

Get Out of Your Own Way

Here’s the biggest challenge, particularly for legacy brands or those that are so organizationally bulky that changing course takes enormous effort: You must find a way to break out of “we’ve always done it this way” and “this who we know our audience is.”

More than ever, making decisions requires keen vision, boldness, and a mindfulness about what must be sacrificed to move into a bigger future. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • If we were to create this brand from scratch today, how would we do it?
  • What are the little things about the business we’ve always sensed were off-kilter that we can easily drop?
  • Now that we’ve shedded the easy stuff, what else needs to go?
  • Can we acknowledge that our audience is not just made up of people like us? So, who are they?
  • Our original mission is still valid, but the world has changed. How do we respond?

What Should Brands Be Doing NOW?

Every aspect of our lives is going to evolve; we’re all at the point where we feel the shell begin to crack, and it’s taking longer than we want, and we have all this pent-up energy and desire. It’s like the last day of school: We’re just waiting for the final bell to ring so we can throw open the doors, chuck our books and papers in the trash bins, and rush out into the promise of summer break.

The brands that are crushing it are those that constantly ask: What does the world outside our four walls look like? As humans seek to breathe more air and see more things and have more experiences, where can we meet them and serve their needs? If you’re not paying attention to the zeitgeist, your brand will get left behind.

Unsurprisingly, alcohol brands are doing this well; with the promise of all the screws loosening and we’ll get to do stuff and be with people again in a celebratory fashion, marketing campaigns look like the world does: bright, sunny, and optimistic.

Don’t let dumb things get in the way of innovation and change in the current environment. Brands should take advantage of the psychology of what is happening and establish themselves as an important component of that environment.

If you’re augured into your history and your ways, you may be doing great right now; you’ve managed supply chain and relied on consumer familiarity—but if you’re not looking at the way consumers are changing, you’re going to miss the opportunity.

So pay attention. Be part of humanity’s escape hatch.