Brand Strategy During A Pandemic

Brand Strategy During a Pandemic Ep 9 Tim Bouchard of Luminus

A solo-cast with Tim Bouchard, Partner / CEO of Luminus, talking through the situations companies are finding themselves in as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in regards to brand strategy’s importance to marketing communications during an economic downturn.

Episode Links
Find Tim on LinkedIn
View the Morning Consult Presentation

Episode Transcript
Tim
Welcome Building Brands, listeners for this ninth episode I’m doing something a little different and recording a solo cast for you. In this episode, I’m going to walk through the situation companies are finding themselves in as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in regards to brand strategy’s importance to marketing communications during an economic downturn. Enjoy the episode. If you’re an owner or marketer in the building materials manufacturing, distribution or contracting spaces looking to set up your brand for success now and in the future, this is the podcast for you. On this show we talk about brand and market strategies used in the real world that grow companies and truly connect with consumer audiences. So sit back, listen in, and let’s get to it.
Tim
All right. Welcome to the first solo cast of Building brands. This episode is a little different, given the current situation we find ourselves in across the globe as we address the daily challenges of wading through the COVID-19 pandemic. Some things that we’re all facing that we’ll probably get to while I’m talking about what we’re going to address in terms of brand strategy and equity building when sales and things like that are down are the changing public health regulations. You know, these are things that are causing confusion from how to run businesses to what consumer behaviors are, the financial stresses we’re all facing, the team reductions that we all may be dealing with, and how to communicate something like that internally and externally. We’re having supply channel issues. What does that mean for business and logistic issues. What’s happening to actual delivery and movement of products between all of our businesses and all the people that are out there in the field that could be working That may or may not be depending on which region they are in the country.
Tim
So let’s talk about how we can all use this time, which is pretty unprecedented to build brand equity when sales really isn’t the main priority. And honestly, we are going to talk about how this applies to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this really applies any time that there might be downturn in sales from an economic slowdown, a recession or something that’s a little bit more like this black swan event where you have a collision of what was already turning out to be an economic recession based off of the exponential growth that’s been happening over the last couple of years, combined with an untreatable virus that’s spreading across the globe.
Tim
So I decided to do this type of episode right now, which we haven’t done yet, because the situation is much different than normal. So I want to make sure that in what I’m providing as content, I’m also speaking to everyone’s current situation the same way that I would recommend that big brands, manufacturing brands, service brands are also changing their messaging for the consumers and the audiences that they’re reaching out to. Practice what you preach right?
Tim
Everyone is facing a little bit of the same thing. Companies and marketers, owners, frontline staff, everyone top to bottom. We’re all dealing with daily crisis management, especially in the early phases of this. You know, many of us reached that phase in the beginning of March, moving into April, and what that did was a kind of shut down all of the productive conversations we were having from product development, to sales activities, to team development, all those growth strategies kind of got put on pause. We’re trying to manage expenses at the same time, forecasting what might happen with revenue decreases. How does that affect the team? How does that affect what we’re doing in terms of sourcing products? What can we expect from sales? Is our company even deemed essential during this period? Should we be working? How are we going to have people in factories? What divisions of our companies does this actually effect? Where is the revenue gonna come from? If sales downturn way have to balance the finances of that? And you know the other thing that I don’t know if everyone is considering but we all probably should be considering, is what does the future look like in terms of our products or sales delivery methods? What the economy is going to look like. What our company looks like in terms of the workforce. There’s a lot of things that people are probably considering during this time. And lastly communicating with existing customers and clients. This is something that, obviously with this type of podcast and the subject matter that we cover on Building Brands is the one that we’re going to focus on the most in this. But all of those other things contribute to this. And one thing I want to make sure that people don’t forget is that just because sales are going to be diminishing in this time period until the economy and workforces are allowed to get back into factories and people are allowed to move and get out into job sites and things like that, that doesn’t mean that you completely have to shut down your marketing communications, so we’ll talk about what that means and why it’s important.
Tim
But the other thing that we sometimes forget to do in these situations is look for the opportunities that are presented to us when things go awry. And you know when you’re dealing with daily crisis management and trying to manage expenses and digging for revenue and planning for the future. If you could make it that far, sometimes you forget that you’re still actively running a business, and there still maybe people relying on you for running their businesses too, and if you leave them out of the communication chain or shut down and go dark for a couple of months, you could set yourself up for what is a lengthy delay when spinning that flywheel back up when things start to turn a corner in the future.
Tim
So I have a ton of thoughts on all of these topics. But I’m sure like the rest of you have watched news daily, considering my business and what the industries are doing, what governments are doing, what the country is doing, how it affects public health, how it affects the economy, how it affects people, how it effects my family. And that’s all very important. I do have a lot of thoughts on those, but I’ll focus on the one that’s most important for building brands, which is really addressing what you can do from a marketing communications standpoint in a time like this and where your opportunities lie as a way for me to remind you that there are things that you can be doing and there are benefits you can get from that as well.
Tim
So when you’re communicating with existing customers, what you want to remember is that there’s really two main things that we’re all probably very concerned with. One is we want to be doing this because we want to maintain relationships and be a support role for these people. A lot of us in the building materials industry, the people that we work with,, they are B2B businesses. Other businesses are relying on their business to do work for their customers and building materials. A lot of times it’s the contractors, the architects sourcing materials that they might not even need right now. But they might need 6 to 18 months from now. If you go dark and you’re not available to help them, that presents a little bit of an opportunity loss for you as a company not being there to support them when they’re trying to do their job, which they can fully execute right now. And that, in turn, will affect future sales, which starts to snowball into this situation of the economy bouncing back with sales, not following suit. So that’s one thing to keep in mind, and the other is. You might even be in a situation where you’re a manufacturing company, you’re a product development company, you can actually still sell product, and there are people that still have a demand for, because they qualify in one of these essential work areas, so you can’t really afford to go dark. And the one thing that I’m worried some people are doing and I have seen, but I know that a few people are in tune with.
Tim
This is when we’re all managing expenses and we’re trying to reduce costs a lot of times, fringe costs or people what people think or fringe costs get cut first and they don’t just get reduced, they get cut in whole. And I see marketing budgets as one of those things that happens, and what I’m hoping to do here is give you alternatives where I don’t believe anyone should be slicing their marketing budget from 100% down to 0%. But if you do have to do a cost reduction, which of course, everyone is doing across the board, you know 30 to 40 to 50% even where the areas that you can reduce that, that you can still save money. But put the money that you are spending the reduced expense that you are still spending into more opportunistic and supportive ways for your consumers in your your audiences and your internal teams too at this point. That’s what brand is really is about. It’s not just about selling things. It’s also about supporting the people that are part of your ecosystem as a company.
Tim
But let’s not forget about where sales does plan to this, and I’ll talk about this later. But you are going to see some effect of what you do now affect what happens in 6 to 8 months from now. And if you aren’t taking the steps now to set and build the foundation as a brand, maintaining your funnel, improving consumer confidence, you will see not only the drop that you have right now from an economic standpoint because of the pandemic because of covert 19 because of market adjustments, the recession colliding with all of this, you will also see a delayed reaction in your sales coming back in the future. So a lot of what we can do right now, it could help prevent that. And those are some of the things that I’ll run through with you on this solo cast.
Tim
So I happen to join in on a webinar put on by the American Advertising Federation and Morning Consult called Weathering The Storm. And I just happen to get an invite for it. Last week said, Oh, this sounds like it could be very interesting. I didn’t know I was doing the solo cast yet and listened to it right even before I started recording this. Here’s some stats that they had. Morning Consult did a survey of 2000, 18-plus year old adults across many states in the consumer market that they had for what consumers are looking for now, in terms of messaging, I’ll link to their presentation to which you can grab from their site. But I’ll take the one highlight I thought we could build off of for this conversation. Top messages that consumers were looking for. You know, a lot of times that you know where they’re dealing with all sorts of industries. So some of this is product related. Some of this service related and value related. Having items in stock and making sure items are safe and clean. This applies a little bit more to the retail side. So those of you that are in the lumber yard, retail department store, home goods stores, things like that, that applies there. Are companies taking care of their workers? I think is a very important one that sometimes everyone forgets that a lot of times your internal messaging actually should become external messaging when something gets stressed as much as marking communications is right now in the industry. And that’s one thing you can consider for building up brand equity confidence in building that loyalty from your consumers. Like I get this company, they have the same type of determination and resilience that I have. That’s why I want to work with them. They’re also looking for how companies air promising to work safely with each other in their business operations so that they can provide for customers as economies are opening up or if they are deemed essential right now. What does that mean? How are they keeping their people safe? Because at this point, everyone’s in a little bit of a stressful situation. We’re not only we worried about ourselves, but we’re worried about the greater good everyone around us, and if companies are going to exploit people to make sure that they stay on top, that will backfire on you. And that’s one thing you want to avoid and really, what consumers are looking for, based off of the research that Morning Consult did, was focusing on messages of empathy and stability. You’re here, you’re operating, you’re here to help the consumer, and you’re here to make sure that your employees air safe. Those types of messages were not extending yourself too far into an egotistical standpoint, but you are providing the right types of knowledge the right types of look into your company to make sure people are confident you and know that you’re there. You’re supporting everyone around you that will lead the success further down the road.
Tim
What consumers are not looking for, which might be pretty obvious, but potentially not. They do not want companies to simply downplay the existence of COVID-19 and the pandemic, and they do not want a distraction in terms of providing a joyous moment or something that is overly inspirational that isn’t related to anything going on with the pandemic. Really what they’re saying is, if you’re going to play ignorant and naive and do business as usual, they may feel that that reflects and how you might be working with your staff. Are you keeping them safe? If you don’t think this is a big deal, how are you able to keep your business going? And if you are, keep your business going. How does that affect the people that are working for you? Because I deal with those people every day as a consumer, and if you aren’t protecting them, then I don’t know if I can trust you as a brand that I want to work with. So I thought those were very interesting points that I took from ah longer presentation that I would encourage everyone to go click the link in my show notes on the Luminus site, luminus.agency/podcast and you can look through all the different stats they have. They have stats on messaging, examples of commercials that did it right didn’t do it right. Demographic and age breakdowns. Very cool stuff. So I just thought I would use that as a little bit of a foundation that to kick off the conversation, too.
Tim
You know, one thing we’ve talked about on this podcast and the reason we have this podcast is because Luminus as a creative agency who helps companies, especially in building materials with brand strategy, marketing creative and marketing communications and execution is, we always start with the brand foundation. And that is something where, when sales in the economy start to hit a rough patch like what we’re dealing with right now with the pandemic. That’s where you can slow up your short term advertising and sales based marketing efforts and start to pull from your established brand foundation your values, your mission, really pull from your brand persona and voice and tone, because that is set up to connect with your consumer audiences and start to build messaging that hits all of those points that we talked about before that Morning Consult actually surveyed people to unearth. Which is how are you treating your employees? How are you keeping your company stable? How are you there to help me as a consumer as part of your audience, support my business and support my livelihood so that I can continue to be a part of your world? We always start with brand strategy because if you skip directly to the short term marketing and sales efforts, you will find yourself in a vacuum when something like this happens. The pandemic type of situation isn’t always going to happen obviously. The last time it happened this seriously was the early 1900s, so this is a very rare event. But what you do have very commonly is economic downturns. Because we have bull and bear markets, we cannot sustain growth so much that it outperforms other aspects of the world that we live in. So when that happens and you find yourself in a revenue loss situation or losing audiences or market share, because the industry that you play in is facing a tough time, you have to figure out a way. It’s a bridge from where your previous success was to where your future success was in a lot of times that is built off of consumer trust, consumer loyalty and the connection that you have with people and that comes from the brand foundation.
Tim
Brand strategy isn’t just about selling. It certainly helps. It brings all of your messaging together in a uniform way. It makes your presentation look great through your brand identity. It brings the entire integrated marketing ecosystem that you put out into the world together. But what it’s really about is becoming the preferred brand in the market for your audience and building that audience and customer base into being a loyal customer base and not shopping around because of price and not shopping around because of opportunistic stock but sticking with you because they like the way that you work with them. They believe in why you started the company, why you support your employees and the value that you provide them through the product or material that you produce. And you make a difference not only in their life but in the life of the people that work for you in the communities that you operated. That’s the foundation of a brand. Those are the things that can start to be pulled to the surface when you have an economic downturn that is your bridge from economic success in the past to economic success in the future. Once you understand who you are as a company and how you differentiate yourself from the market you play in and who your audiences are, then you can build a true marketing communication strategy.
Tim
It’s very hard for some businesses to take the time to take a step back, assess what they’re doing from a brand strategy standpoint before they dive into a new approach to marketing and selling activities. Your short term wins. And the reason is because we’re all impatient, right? We want to have sales. We want revenue growth, but a lot of us are running companies that are stable. You are allowed to take a month to three months to figure out who you are. As a company, make sure that the guiding force of what you have set up from a brand strategy will implement the marketing, communications and sales and advertising strategies correctly. It’s very important one for the success of those campaigns, but also from when you find yourselves in situations like this. Of course, sales is a super critical part of marketing’s role in the company. But when an economy takes a hit or a black swan like COVID-19 of that pops up. If all the efforts are simply going to advertising activities, you will have a huge void that will cause problems for the brand. If you truly understand your audiences, then you should know, if not already assume nobody wants to be sold to every time they hear from a company. Think about that and let that sink in. That’s a very important point.
Tim
A lot of times in this data driven and ROI driven world, the only activities that are deemed useful for a company are thought to be coming from the short term sales and advertising activities because those are the easiest to measure an ROI on in terms of dollars and cents. So what happens is, if you’re so focused on those and you forget that there are other things you can do is part of that marketing communication strategy than when those activities have to be cut because of expense reductions or an economic downturn. You will be left with nothing to be able to put out there, and you could go dark for months at a time. If you go dark, it’s going to be very hard for people to find you and come back. So when you’re thinking about that, why would anyone buy from a company that only bombards them with sales advertising to. If the only reason that you’re targeting someone or they’re following you is that you can provide them with sales driven content, they’re going to get sick of that, especially if they’re already a customer. They know how to buy from you. They know they keep track of your products. They probably get your newsletter. They know what is happening in the world that you’re trying to meet. From a design standpoint, if you’re always trying to sell to them, you will end up burning them out. And that’s where this other element of brand strategy that could help fill the void we’re all experiencing now can also complement regular marketing activities in the future.
Tim
So this is why brand strategy trumps sales based marketing at a time like this specifically, mostly because reducing advertising, spend and sales activity at a time when your consumers are not looking to buy is the easiest way to save money. The opportunity right now is to move any funding you are spending on marketing communications into creative brand strategy and content. The opportunity to win right now is wide open, and you don’t have to sell with your marketing communications strategy to win. And if you are using marketing communications to sell still, the one thing I ask you to do and I think you’ll probably laugh when you hear this is please don’t use “during these uncertain times” or “during these challenging times” or “during these tricky times,” anything like that. If you’re doing something like that, you are just going to reinforce the idea that we’re all doomed and you’re just there to cut us all a break or give us a deal or get our money, which we have very little of in terms of the general public. So what you can do to reverse that and really craft something that is still supported when you’re putting messaging out there is use the brand values that you’ve set up is part of your brand strategy to support your message, not the current circumstances. That gives you the opportunity to rise above all this stuff, especially the people that are putting out those messages because the same way people don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be reminded that the only reason that you’re giving them a deal or cutting them a break is because there’s a pandemic, not because you believe that helping the customer is the right thing to do. So consider comparing these two examples of starting a marketing communications message. You could start with something like “during these uncertain times, we’ll deliver your to your doorstep …. whatever” right? Or you could rephrase something like that so that the idea of delivery is not tied to a pandemic, it’s tied to what the brand believes it needs to do for the customers. So let’s look at something in contrast to that that’s a little bit more empathetic. Something like “Acme Company believes in the safety of our customers, employees and communities that they live in. That’s why when you shop with us will deliver to your door step.” It’s the exact same message you’re providing the exact same service. The difference is you didn’t tie it to needing to do it because of a pandemic. You tied it to what the company believes in and why customers like doing business with you. And with the rush to getting out into the market with new messaging, a lot of people have incorrectly positioned their situational value to their customers to the pandemic instead of to their brand values. And that’s a huge missed opportunity for building up consumer loyalty in the future. Well, let’s just put it this way. Everyone’s going to assume that you’re giving that message because of the pandemic. You do not need to put that in their face. And if you’re tying into the brand values, it’s not that you’re ignoring it. It’s that you’re delivering the message in a way that will mean more to them because it’s coming from you. And not just a situational advertising message. Nobody that here’s that will think that you’re just doing it because of the pandemic. And that is the difference between short term reactionary advertising and what true brand strategy conduce for marketing communications.
Tim
When it comes to advertising, the time for pumping money back into that will come. Sales based messaging will coming back again in the future. Whether lockdowns or social distancing continue, the world will have to adapt and conduct business in a safe way to keep moving forward anyways. So when that time to advertise comes, well, your audience even be receptive to it. If your marketing communications go dark for months, that’s the thing right. They may actually think that your business is in trouble because you haven’t put out any content for 1 to 3 months because you slash your marketing budget and you didn’t have the resource is to stay involved with your customers. The opportunity here is to avoid customers thinking that your business is in trouble, that they can’t rely on you reach out so that they continue to do their business. When you’re thinking about how this effect sales, remember that sales and marketing are a long term funnel. If you’re in building products, it might be a little bit different because you may be selling direct to consumer, so your funnel a shorter. But for a lot of building materials companies you’re working with architects that are sourcing for projects that are going to be executed 6 to 12 to 18 months from now, those people are still in their exposure and consideration phases. If you go dark, you will not be in front of them for exposure and consideration, you may fall off their radar, and someone else that is doing strategic branded content and supportive content that’s empathetic will be in front of them to remind them that they are there and ready for them when they’re approaching the timeframe to you to spec their project and start to recommend purchases.
Tim
So think about that timeline from a funnel standpoint from exposure to a marketing qualified lead in the digital age. Now we’re talking about 20 to 40 touch-points between content and advertising through social, search, blog’s, video, things like that. That’s a pretty long time to get someone interested in your product. On top of that, when they get to being a sales qualified lead, you have to wait for their project to get approved. The scope to get approved to actually order the product and implement it into the bill of the project. That in itself could be another couple of months if you go dark for two or three months because of the pandemic, and I’m not talking about advertising to them through paid media or campaigns. But if you don’t have new creative based off of an empathetic approach of what your company is doing toe continue to support customers. Continue to support the community. Continue to support your staff. Then you will fall off the radar and you have to pick up from the beginning of the funnel when the economy starts to take back up and you decide that marketing communications that have a role again that will delay your economic recovery from pandemic by another 3 to 6 months. That is a long time to wait for your company to bounce back after the economy bounces back.
Tim
So that’s where I come from the point of if you have to reduce budgets, obviously you have to reduce budgets. If you can reduce marketing communications from an advertising and sales based messaging standpoint and focus on you’re empathetic content and brand strategy content, you can stay in front of people so that you don’t go dark for those months, which will help alleviate the stress that your marketing and sales funnels will feel coming out of the back end of this when the economy starts to tick back up, that is a huge lagging effect that will happen if you were to completely cut all of the marketing activities. So what we’re trying to do is avoid that during this time frame, and that’s what this conversation is all about. If you are going to produce strategic branded content in order to address this idea of helping to provide empathy and communications during what is a very stressful situation for all parties right now, what you’re trying to do is think of the faces of that marketing photo awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation and purchase awareness and interest in consideration are all things that you can still actively be doing regardless of the pandemic and economic shutdown. These future customers are not ready to buy, but they will be soon if they know who you are, so you need to still be in front of them. They’re frantically searching for who to trust and who to look for when the dust settles. That is a big differentiating factor right now too. If you’re putting a stable and confident and empathetic set of content out into the world, they can look to you when they’re considering what companies are strong, who treated their employees well, who gave back to the community who didn’t try to sell during this or take advantage of our situation in a blatant way. Those are the questions that you can help address to build confidence and consumers right now so that you can come out the back end of this and be poised and ready to go to flip that switch on the sales based marketing activities and be right back where you were when all this started. That’s what brand building is about. Trust wins over pricing and geographic distance. You do not need to sell to build trust, so if you can’t sell, then you must build trust through the branded content and then consider the people that were already in your marketing funnel.
Tim
If they’re unaffected right now, they don’t actually need to be sold to so there. If your company is still operating, you still have your staff on everyone safe. You’re communicating. Your sales staff is still pushing jobs. Those people that were in the funnel from the winter of 2019-2020, they don’t have to be sold to. Right now. They’re already in the system, so you do have some activity that can carry you through to the other side. So a combination of what your previous marketing communications in terms of advertising and sales was providing for you from a funnel standpoint. Between that and your new branded content and your brand strategy being worked on during this time, those two things will bridge you over to what’s going to happen after this. And that’s where you you’ll start to see momentum as the economy swings back in. So if you’re looking for strategically reducing costs, well, you need to just remember, is creative and content are more reporting than advertising right now, organic content. Even if you’re going to spend a little bit on boosted content, that’s fine. You could still reduce your advertising. Spend reallocate funds to the creative of the content. And when you are doing correct content, make sure it’s brand first content and helpful content. Everything that I mentioned earlier before what you’re trying to do is provide that empathetic approach to how people can get through this with you and how you’re going to support them, the community, the industry and your team.
Tim
What we’re seeing in the building materials industry is that brand will always be about the foundation you set before, during and after the sale, not about the sale itself. So when sales go away during an economic turned down or this type of black swan event, the brand’s relationships with customers don’t turn down. You want to maintain that same level of loyalty in connection that you have with the people that you’ve already built up brand equity with. So I’ll close with this challenging question for everyone listening, and I’m hoping you know the answer to this after you’ve listened to a half hour of me rambling.
Tim
Is now the time to go silent when you’re brand’s audience is in need of continued support and confidence? I’ll leave you with that.
Tim
This is normally where I asked my guest to plug their company so since I’m doing a solocast, let me tell you a little bit more about Luminus. If you don’t already know. I’m one of two partners and the CEO of Luminus. We’re a creative agency in Buffalo, New York. We specialize in brand strategy and optimized creative for building products and building materials marketing. You can find us at luminus.agency, which is L U M I A U S dot agency or shoot me an email at tim at luminus dot agency. If you have any questions and want to continue the conversation with me, I hope to be back in two weeks with a new guest and continue to provide you all with insights from other building materials marketing experts. Until then, thanks for listening.
Tim
If you’re interested in hearing more stories and strategic insights from industry experts, please subscribe to the Building Brands podcast on Apple, Spotify or Google. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please post a review and share with others who may be interested as well. Thanks for listening.