Brand building in a downturn

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many companies questioning and rethinking their marketing budgets and re-evaluating what part of their marketing efforts they should focus on. The fear factor sets in. Will my business thrive or fail to survive? With the fear of dwindling revenues, marketing budgets are cut. The Drum in their article: The case for brand-building during a downturn, David Buttle, global commercial marketing director for the Financial Times, “argues that companies must continue to invest in their brand and look to the future while also dealing with the immediate present.”

Marketers need to consider longer-term outcomes during a crisis if they can. If there’s one thing you should focus on, it should be your brand.

Every recession or downturn is different. Marketers find themselves in uncharted territory, however, in studying the marketing successes and failures of dozens of companies as they’ve navigated recessions from the 1970s onward, Harvard Business Review identified patterns in consumers’ behaviour and firms’ strategies that either propel or undermine performance. Their research uncovered that “Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.”

Now more than ever, digitisation and online communications prevail. Channels have become more diverse and fluid. Today, we have to find out what role the channels can play within the adapted customer journeys of target groups and we must understand the new customer segments and buyer behaviours that are emerging in the recession. Our head of strategy in our German agency shares his thoughts with us next.


In the future, it will be essential that people voluntarily engage with brands.


What marketing experts always have to be clear about, however, is that our actual mission has changed dramatically. We used to advertise: we created a company’s messages to its potential customers; planning, implementation, measurement (if any). That’s it.

We are now in a world where clumsy advertising is frowned upon. People don’t want anything to be sold to them anymore.

The challenge: time spent with the brand

In the future, it will be essential that people voluntarily engage with brands. If they do not, the brand will inevitably slip into insignificance. That’s precisely what makes our job different today. Today’s marketing must be able to bring companies and people together in new exciting and valuable encounters. The vehicle for this is called a brand. The brand is what can be touched, grasped and experienced in this relationship.

So as in every good relationship, it has to spark. When people and brands meet, experiences must develop such a positive force that they make a lasting contribution to the brand’s experience account.

So in the future, brand managers will not be the jugglers of channels, content or media alone. That would be too mechanistic. Brand managers are magicians that create experiences. Wow, great job, huh?

However, as with real magicians, the job consists, to a large extent, of craftsmanship, so that that real true magic can be created. So let’s take a look at what’s important today.

Understanding the brand

If you want to create experiences between brands and people, you have to have a profound idea of your brand and its interaction with people. In addition to the classic brand definition of mission, vision, positioning, values, and so on, it must be clearly defined what the brand experience should consist of at each touchpoint; this helps to compare the desired image with the empirically determined actual brand perception.

Here, it is crucial to see the brand as an identity anchor, both internally and externally: Brand is an emotional home for both employees and customers.

Understanding people and their behaviour

On the other hand, today we must create a tremendous amount of knowledge about people, their expectations and their information behaviour, make it accessible within the company and, of course, keep it up to date. We need to know: what experiences does a customer have with the brand? Where do they meet at all? What experiences are expected and what significance do the individual touchpoints have?

In essence, under these different set of circumstances, we have to re-develop clear personas, identify their adapted customer journeys and work out real insights to design all touchpoints afterwards in an ideal way.

Understanding data and research

Knowledge is therefore indispensable for shaping experiences between people and brands. This knowledge can be data and insights that we obtain from surveys and observations (e.g. online surveys, online focus group discussions or in-depth interviews) or studies – or data from digital traces on the Internet. For example, from movement profiles or posts in forums, and so on.

Big Data sends its greetings. Today, it is the most crucial task of brand managers to continuously collect data, learn from it and use the knowledge gained to adjust brand management. So that at the end of the day, the person who perfectly masters the triple jump of knowledge acquisition, measurement and implementation will be in the lead.

What does the future look like?

No one will do “advertising” any more. There will be no more one-sided messages. The same applies to the way we think in communication disciplines. Those who are not in a position to view and control the customer journey in its entirety will inevitably fail.

We will also have to review our KPIs. Media coverage will no longer be decisive. It will be important how much the content presented can create interaction with the brand among the relevant personas. Its ability to encourage people to engage with a brand and spend time with it will be the crucial part.

However, this also makes clear that good ideas and exciting storytelling are getting more important again. While in recent years we had feared that the world would become cold and mechanistic in the environment of numbers, data, facts and automated processes, magic is now returning to communication. However, backed by clear and resilient foundations.

Research and data analysis can provide us with strong insights. Moreover, these, in turn, can be a springboard with an enormous driving force for creatives. Presumption and hope have given way to higher reliability.

Data helps, but it is not an end in itself. It creates precision and knowledge, but at the same time also recedes into the background.

Well then: let’s do our craft, perfect each detail, and then start doing magic.

To learn more about how BBN could do some magic with your brand, contact us.



About the author

Gunnar Schnarchendorff combines his experience as a consultant and a creative to provide a strategic and innovative approach to branding. He has more than 20 years of experience in brand definition and brand management for clients in B2B and B2C


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