Faced with a challenging economy and the near-total collapse of consumer confidence in institutions and companies, brands have to work harder to attract consumers amidst escalating costs for basic survival.
It is surely a sign of major change when you stop by your neighborhood Starbucks in the morning to find there’s no line. Consumers are tightening their belts against what bodes to be an eight quarter recession, the uncertainly of a new Presidency, and the beginnings of the end of “beyond means spending.”
Durable Impressions Required
What can, what should, companies do in such times? They need to create brand experiences that make durable impressions on the minds of consumers. Brands that matter are built for the long-term, and most importantly, do not give consumers a reason not to buy when the chips are down.
We are not talking about cause-related marketing here. Rather, we are recommending fundamentally re-structuring brands in a way that will make them matter in hard times, that demonstrates that they can be trusted to do the right thing, and that they can do something to institute positive change. These are really basic things, but things we’re likely to lose sight of precisely at this time: like sponsoring philanthropies that align with your company’s core mission, partnering with organizations in your regional markets, or donating time and services in your local communities. Sure, partnering with a “cause” is great, and it’s pretty easy to do, but fundamentally changing how you operate on the ground makes a powerful statement, and will help to regain the trust of consumers in a culture of increasing skepticism.
From “Different” to “Better”
Brands built for the long-term need to design with the end in mind. That is, visualize your future and make logical, incremental steps to get there. This helps create a cadence to product introductions, and will encourage additional looks by the consumer when budgets loosen up again. And accordingly, innovation will need to move from the “new and different” to “new and better,” where building on former successes –and preparing for the future ones – accomplishes what we all want from our ourselves and the brands we endorse: legacy.
And if there’s one thing that will undermine either on-the-ground or legacy-building efforts most quickly it’s inconsistency. It’s not the frequency of your brand, it’s the consistent “quality” of its context. Make sure that wherever it appears – with partners, at events, in retail – that it makes sense, and doesn’t stretch a consumer’s imagination too far from your core. Remember your brand should endorse its location, not announce it.
So what can, what should, companies do in such times — the best way to weather this storm? Reach out sincerely. Build brand legacy. Promote consistency. It should come as no shock that consumers demand brands they can trust. Durable brands know this, and they know that consumers will happily pay for that trust.
Glenn Geisendorfer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the co-founder and creative director of Platform Inc.