Opinion: Out of sight, out of mind?

As the COVID-19 cases escalate around the world and Singapore in particular, strict measures have been imposed on the society and businesses. Given the strong symbiotic relationship between consumers and brands, such measures are the “bitter pill” that businesses have to take for the benefit of the society and economy in the long run. Nevertheless, this has a drastic impact towards brands that cannot adapt to such changes.

For businesses, brand management encompasses a string of processes stemming from generating awareness, inculcating engagement and invoking experience. With social distancing and stay at home measures, many consumers are inhibited from visiting their favourite brands at their physical outlets. The familiar spectrum of advertisement posters in malls and public places, moving advertisements on public transports and in stores have lost their “eye-ball” effect due to diminished human traffic. Even more frightening and worrisome is that brands that predominantly depend highly on personal service and experiential touch such as beauty, wellness and fitness have lost their ability to engage customers as intimately as before. Similarly, for brands in the B2B and commercial sector- pitches, tradeshows, roadshows and conferences which are common methods for customer engagement have also been made irrelevant.

Given all these, the old-norm for generating brand awareness, engagement and even consumption need to move towards a new normal. Brands have become inaccessible under the old norm of managing brands. Ability to attract new customers is now threatened and brands face the risk of losing existing customers if they do not transform. Customers will very soon forget about their brands and even find alternatives when brands stop cultivating their relationship with them through active engagement. What are some branding strategies that brands in the traditional or “old” normal need to do before they tragically parish?

The following are some ideas and directions that brand should consider in reinventing the way they continue to stay relevant in keeping in touch with their customers and capture attention of potential ones. Let’s examine this from the perspective of how brand awareness and engagement can be incorporated in the new branding approach.

1. Digital media advertising

If traditional offline customer traffic is constrained, the next best place to find them is in the digital space. Given the high penetration rate on internet coupled with more than 70% of time spent on social media, the digital space is a fertile ground for advertising. Of late, realising the ineffective use of out-door and in-store advertisements, brands are shifting to digital channels and platforms with growth in digital advertising spent attesting to this.

However, it is not as simple as using the same advertising content and redeploying them directly into digital media. This is because psychology of consumer behaviour towards advertisements in the online and the offline space can be very different. For instance, people tend to use digital media to search for information prior their purchase rather than visiting stores directly to make their purchase. They also have lesser attention span when they encounter an online advertising.

On this premise, what some brands have done is to shorten their digital video advertising to six seconds. This are called bumper Ads. According to Google, such advertisements are long enough to tickle the curiosity of the audience so that they would want to continue to find out more about the brand or long enough to remind them of the brand.

With the digital media space being more crowded, ads that have been predominantly used on outdoor signage will not trigger much or any attention.

Dynamic and animated advertising is the trend because they are highly effective in capturing attention and can be very convincing.

Tools for creating such advertisements are easily available online such as Visme, Crello and Adobe Spark. This is because animated advertising can leverage on its visually engaging story telling features and make it more fun for the audience to view them. The plus side is that they require lesser time to produce and can be produced in a fraction of the cost compared to real life advertisements. For marketers who are not familiar with such tools, this is a good opportunity to learn and upskill to ride on this new wave of marketing!

Besides this, under current restricted conditions, it is also not easy to engage advertising agencies to make extensive video shooting that require props, talents, studio and space. It’s almost impossible. With some initiative, brands could turn to online advertising tools which could produce ads at lower costs and in quicker time. Of course, there are advertising services out there that could also provide video editing coupled with quick production if the marketing team could shoot their own in-house video.

2. Preparing brand management in the new norm

There will be a new paradigm shift in the way brands engage their target audience. More staff will have a role to play connecting with prospects and customers via two-way communication. For such practice to be executed well, internal branding will be imperative. Staff should believe and embrace the vision and values of the brand they represent before they can passionately engage their external stakeholders.

This will not be just the responsibility of HR, but leadership by example to inculcate such a culture.

Besides this, a mind-set transformation is crucial as well. Brands need to reinvent their business models and transform the way they deliver on their brand promise. They should learn to be more empathetic and connect with values. The traditional or old-norm approach will not cut it anymore. In other words, management and staff should be open to learning, re-skilling, and stay flexible to acquire new skills that will be able to implement initiatives, to support brand management in the new-normal that is centred around digital and social media.

3. Show empathy

Brands connect best when they portray their human side as they connect emotionally with their customers. Many brands have come forward to contribute to the society that is inflicted by this global catastrophe. Some have utilised their social media platforms to send regular encouraging messages to their customers to inspire and uplift them. Others have produced inspirational videos by their staff to rally customers.

Apart from the common monetary contributions from big name brands, others have contributed through their efforts in producing essential items to protect the society and healthcare workers. For instance, LVMH and Estée Lauder have converted some of their perfumery and fragrance production factories to produce hand sanitisers to be donated to hospitals and patients inflicted by the deadly virus. Prada joined the fight against COVID-19 by producing 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks specially for staff working in the healthcare sector. Such gestures go a long way and customers will remember the brand post COVID-19. Nevertheless, all these brand initiatives should be underlined with authenticity and genuineness.

4. Live streaming using influencers

Live streaming has become a hit for many consumer brands such as Shopee, Lazada, and H2Hub over Singapore. Coupled with the engagement of an influencer, live streaming can actually provide a high level of intimacy and interaction with the brand. It could be entertaining provided it is well planned. Over in China during the lockdown, it was reported that key opinion leaders (KOLs) have their scheduled fully booked for life streaming! This trend is picking up quickly in Singapore with local brands such as H2Hub actively promoting and organising live streaming events to capture attention and trigger purchase from watch enthusiasts and fans.

Luxury brands that are considered to be more conservative and exclusive have also joined the bandwagon. Dior had recently replaced its conventional runway event due to COVID-19 restrictions. In place of the event, they featured a live stream runway fashion for their Autumn/Winter collection via Weibo which drew 300 million followings coupled with 12 million views. Such unimaginable success would not be possible without the magnetic draw from the two dozen strong media stars, brand ambassadors and KOLs that brought along their huge fan base to support the event.

In another instance, the luxury brand Burberry invited a Chinese KOL to visit one of its outlets in Shanghai and live streamed the event. Amazingly, all products were sold out on Tmall within an hour and it garnered more than 1.4 million views.

5. Live streaming of entertainment, conferences and pitches

Entertainment draws attention and trigger interest. Some products such as alcohol sells well with live music entertainment such as in pubs and clubs in the days of the old norm. Similarly, for many B2B businesses, they depend on conferences, road shows, personal pitches and trade shows to connect with potential clients. With social gathering prohibited, such platforms for facilitating awareness and sales need to be reinvented. Again, live streaming facilitates this.

For instance, Bud Light’s annual Dive Bar Tour which consists of a concert was threatened to be cancelled until it decided to live stream the event via Instagram live and Facebook live with prominent music artistes participating. Similarly, JD.com launched a live streaming campaign for “on-line clubbing” by teaming up with Chinese record label Taihe Music Group and multiple international brands such as Budweiser, Rémy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard. Sales grew from 40% to 70% as consumers turned to online orders for their favourite brand of alcohol while enjoying music entrainment in a “virtual ambience” of a club.

B2B businesses have turned to online conferences; and universities have also employed digital open houses to attract potential students. Invited guest speakers and industry experts can be invited to give a series of live webinars coupled with live streaming of Q&A sessions. Market research agency Forrester shared that event management companies which were threatened by postponement of major conferences and events have also reinvented themselves to offer such live streaming conferences option. Collaboration tools such as Zoom has become popular means for sales executives to conduct pitches to their prospective clients.

6. Keep customers engaged with social media and videos

Apart from trying to draw new customers, brands need to continue cultivating their relationship with existing customers. This is part of good brand management. The old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” could very well apply when customers that are neglected.

Keeping customers engaged and continuously offering them services via social media is an effective way to retain brand-customer relationships. Fitness centres such as Element Crossfit in USA have been using Zoom to continue their training and workout sessions with their members. They have even temporarily loan out training equipment to their members to facilitate their fitness regime at home. For those who cannot accommodate to the live workout sessions, recorded videos were provided to assist anyone who wanted to work out alone.

Beauty and wellness salon brands depend on personal touch could compensate this via short videos posted on Youtube to provide beauty advise and tips to their existing customers. To maintain sales, they could encourage customers to purchase their in-house branded shampoo, essential oils and creams online with instructions on how to apply them. Some brands even provide beauty routines via Youtube for customers confined in their homes as they halt their daily make-up regime during the work from home period. Australian beauty salon Ella Baché, for example, has created virtual salon that offers its customers complimentary digital beauty services at home. This includes skin consultation via video chat by a therapist to help their clients retain bright, healthy and radiant skin as they are confined to their homes.

Sports entertainment brands have been paralysed by COVID-19. For instance, the English Premier League and NBA that command enormous global following are unable to satisfy their fans with the weekly adrenaline rush which they crave for. To help the hard core fans cope with such withdrawal, some of the brands or clubs have been curating content consisting of interviews with star players and compilation of past games that are shared over social media platforms. This way, their fans stay engaged and still maintain their diehard following of their respective clubs. Other entertainment brands could follow a similar approach as well.

The writer is Lau Kong Cheen, senior lecturer, marketing programme, school of business, Singapore University of Social Sciences.