While Uncertainty Lingers, Brand for the Future

July 14, 2020 | by David Lemley

Since the beginning of the year, the market has gone from business as usual to complete lockdown. And now we’re entering another transition as consumers seek to resume comfortable and familiar habits. We expect this to happen in fits and starts, though, as COVID cases ebb and resurge locally. What we’re discovering is that, in spite of guidance from health experts and leaders, consumers are gonna do what they want — either to go out to the bar with a ton of friends and no masks and no social distancing and take their chances, or continue to view home as a safe cocoon, or somewhere in between.

Despite some ongoing uncertainty, it’s time for natural food, beverage, and wellness brands to refocus their marketing efforts. But refocus how? Should you continue existing campaigns? Should your tone and messaging change? Should you keep a short-term view or look further out?

 

Planning Your Post-Covid Marketing Efforts

Unless your organization is really buttoned up with crisis continuity and disaster planning, you had no game-plan for a global pandemic. And when you first heard about coronavirus in the news, it was already too late to create a catastrophe plan—things were moving way too fast.

During this period of shutdown, slowdowns, and restarts you’ve had to develop a short-term marketing strategy(ies) that guided your brand’s messaging during the crisis and through the end of this year as some degree of disruption continues.

So now’s the time to look three and five years out.

This crisis has provided brands like yours the opportunity to reset, to analyze what was working, and to plan and budget differently. As we consult with our natural food and beverage clients during this period, we’re advising them to shift from opportunistic to strategic. Imagine sitting with your marketing team and company leadership three years from now and looking back at this post-shutdown period. What do you not want to regret when this is over?

Consider This As You Shift Your Brand Marketing Efforts

As we look across the marketplace in mission-driven and wellness-minded food and beverage brands, we’re seeing a new reality emerging. Here’s what you should know as your team plans your longer-term marketing strategies.

Everyone’s talking about a “new normal,” saying that the world has completely shifted gears. But will the new normal be just a blip and we’ll get back to normal-normal? Consumers, even in the face of certain uncertainties and desire for reform, will, by necessity, resume their long-held behaviors, preferences, and beliefs about food and beverage. Consider the better-for-you market: Premium brands had been driving the category’s growth over the past two years, but sales of premium products flatlined during the shutdown. Small niche brands didn’t have the distribution or manufacturing capacity to keep up; they may have spiked early as shoppers were stocking up but lost ground after that. Too, the shopping experience has been so different, as consumers ordered online or made rapid-fire trips through the store to collect essentials and get out. Many specialty natural brands are losing the ability to speak directly to consumers with a standout shelf presence, and visibility on Amazon is only getting more competitive and expensive.

But as normal shopping habits slowly resume and include wide adoption of online, delivery, and curbside pick-up options, consumers will be in the mood to treat themselves and to go back to eating healthy items (not pandemic-bingeing on sugary cereals and snack foods they loved as kids). They’ll be more apt to browse, examine packaging, and pay for premium products.

Speaking of pandemic eating, you should recognize that big CPG is ready to strike again. Sales of big-brand food and beverage products have shot up over the past 3 months, and these deep-pocketed companies will spend to keep consumers’ attention going forward. As one report put it, “the rich got richer.”

That means that small- to mid-sized brands have to come out swinging. Everyone in your category is using this time to strategize. After this sustained disruption in communication and shopping habits, your brand needs to focus beyond your features and benefits and get back to your reasons for being — your brand’s promise and the way that you keep it — in order to drive any kind of consideration. That’s doubly important if you’re more expensive or you’ve had manufacturing or stocking outages.

We see parallels between this time and the early 2000s, when consumers were drowning in choice and Big CPG brands were dominant. Your chance to stand out in a cluttered space comes down to your brand’s WHY.

Your brand’s ethos should be the consistent focus as you restart your marketing efforts. Why do you exist? Why do consumers love you? Why do they see you as an extension of themselves and their lives? Tell your story over and over. Throughout the crisis we’ve advocated for showing your customers small acts of love, and that shouldn’t change. Embrace your fans, draw a protective moat around them, show them love. Nail your messaging so it’s sticky and iconic and super consistent. Now isn’t the time to try a bunch of stuff to see what plays, or to chase a new audience segment that’s too much of a reach for your brand.

In addition to building great relationships with your base, you need to maintain strong relationships with retailers. In Beloved & Dominant Brands, we write extensively about the benefits of partnering with retail buying managers (often an overlooked audience in brands’ marketing plans). When you enlist them in your mission, they’ll be invested in your success. They can do as much for you through their eCommerce platforms as they can through brick and mortar. Reach out to key retail connections now to understand what they need from you and share your marketing strategy.

We’re early in a series of transitions, baby steps, as the marketplace goes from full stop to tentative start to sort of normal to normal. As you restart your marketing efforts, seek steady growth now. This isn’t the time for wild experimentation, 180° shifts, or going gangbusters. This recovery will feel like training for a marathon: You’ll gradually add miles, build strength, then add more miles. Learn, master, deploy, grow, repeat.

Need help figuring out what’s now and what’s next for your naturals brand? Give us a call.