Coronavirus has swept across the world and everyone is feeling it. Individuals are in self-isolation and brands are having to adapt. Entire industries are having to rethink the way they operate from top to bottom in order to weather the storm and emerge on the other side ready to serve their customers. And though it’s understandable that there’s a lot of pessimism around, the crisis will pass, and businesses should be preparing as best they can so that they’re ready to bounce back.
During this strange period, it’s never been more important for businesses to look to the future and strengthen their brands. But it’s easier said than done. Even before the crisis, many businesses, including established businesses, ran into trouble.
Take KFC. When it rolled out its vegan ‘imposter burger’, it got a lot of heat on social media. Was KFC making a sincere effort to cater to the growing number of vegans around the world? Or was it jumping on the bandwagon and trying to make a quick buck out of an expanding section of the market? Whatever the truth, many people assumed that KFC wasn’t being authentic. Its suppliers’ historic treatment of chickens, they said, was proof of this. And in their eyes, the mistakes KFC made after rolling out their new burger—including accidentally serving chicken to vegans—was further support for what they had assumed.
No one knows for sure. But the fact is that, even if we put the current crisis to one side, brands have to evolve because times are changing. It’s possible that this is what KFC was doing. The problem came about not because the brand was trying to evolve (if that’s what it was doing) but because there didn’t seem to be any consistency between what KFC had done in the past, how it operated internally, and what it was now offering hungry customers. It hadn’t managed to join the dots. And so it seemed cynical.
But KFC isn’t the only brand that has struggled to reform. The whole idea of brand purpose has fallen out favour because so many companies weren’t seen to be practicing what they were preaching in the eyes of their audiences. With more and more young people wanting to buy from ethical companies that think beyond their profits and communicate hon-estly with audiences, these brands did real damage to themselves. Now they have to pick themselves up and dust them-selves off—but good will is in short supply.
All companies have to think about how they can build consistency online, offline, and all the way through. It isn’t just the big companies or the ones undergoing radical change. And this doesn’t happen overnight. When a company with a traditional image brought us on board to help it to evolve into a more modern, challenger brand, it insisted that it wanted to go about it in the right way. It understood that it had to go on a real journey that would involve cultural change and required a sincere effort to reflect its outward-facing work with how it operated elsewhere. It was commit-ted to joining the dots, to being consistent all the way from insight through to product development, message and delivery. It was committed to refining that process and allowing everything to flow in a way that was true to its entire brand philosophy. This commitment is the starting point for any company undergoing an evolution.
Intelligent use of social is absolutely fundamental to this process, regardless of the brand in question. Using social lis-tening via tools like Meltwater and Linkfluence, for instance, you can identify your target demographic and begin to get under the skin of its members. You can anticipate and respond to any challenges you might have but you can also develop an understanding of what’s expected of you as a company by those you serve. In fact, if some of the brands that were criticised last year had used social to its fullest potential, they might have been able to predict the backlash and course-correct, or at least to understand where they were going wrong in the eyes of their customers.
Armed with social insight, brands can take a panoramic view of what they’re offering. And they can see which areas of their businesses and their cultures fail to align with their evolving offerings. From here, those brands can come up with messaging that resonates online and offline, refine their approaches to customer service (in-store and through digital media), and put in place the processes that will allow a new culture to grow in the place of the old one and flourish. It’s important to note that just because you know your audience likes something it doesn’t automatically mean you can play in that space right away.
This culture will be reflected in all the work you do, and the brand will reinforce itself. Internal behavior will inform outward action and, underpinned by the right technology and constant social listening, brands can make those final tweaks and touches and identify any areas where consistency is lacking.
The fact remains that what you do internally matters to what you produce externally. From in-house emails to tweets from brand accounts to customer service, there has to be consistency of messaging and consistency of messenger. People are not stupid: if a brand is only trying to look different and isn’t undergoing the necessary evolution to reflect a new offering or approach, it will be clear to see. You can’t preach sustainability without having real sustainability policies in-house. You can’t shout loudly about diversity and inclusion if you’re not diverse or inclusive.
But if brands make a sincere effort to evolve and approach this effort in the right way, for the right reasons, they can adapt quickly in a changing society. And by doing that, they can continue to bring value to the people they serve. Right now, in these strange times, businesses have a chance to do this—to evolve and to join the dots—so that once we’ve navigated this crisis, we can emerge on the other side stronger than before.
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