Brand building in unprecedented times

With the world on pause, is now a good time to turn the focus from bottom-funnel efforts and back to brand building?

Social distancing is keeping Canadians in their homes and away from their jobs. Non-essential purchases are low on  priority lists. The challenge for advertisers is how to build long-term brand loyalty during these uncertain times.

Agency leaders say that now may be a good time to rethink plans to reduce bottom funnel, attribution-friendly buys and increase brand building.

Sarah Thompson, CSO of Mindshare, says that short-termism has been an issue in marketing and abandoning brand-building activities has been a trend in the industry. “We counsel our clients to always invest in your brand and think long-term about the choices they make. Brands that invested in their awareness and reach continue to be those that deliver better business results short-term.  Multi-platform, strong storytelling, reach and balancing frequency with salience are what are essential to media plans.”

With a lot of brands pausing or cancelling their advertising in the short term, there could be an opportunity for some brands to use the current condition as a way to build some long-term momentum.

Scott Stewart, president of VMC Media Groups, says when a brand goes dark for long periods of time, they need to be mindful that it will take weeks and investment to get back to previous awareness levels. “Brands that can sustain their advertising and keep spending right now would definitely stand to benefit in the long term if they can afford to right now.”

That said, he pointed out that there are difficulties in terms of content to program against. With TV long being cited as one of the top platforms for brand-building, even with more people staying at home and potentially sitting down in front of the tube, it’s not so simple, says Stewart.

Last week, essentially every major sports league that broadcasts in Canada suspended their respective seasons. So far, sports networks have been presenting a variety of content from encore broadcasts of games to in-studio interviews. Live events such as the Canadian Screen Awards and the Junos have been cancelled, and some productions, such as that of the Canadian original Nurses, have been suspended.

Stewart admits it’s “pretty choppy content-wise.”

While there is definitely room for brand-building, right now, he says, “It’s hard to determine if that’s the right brand strategy right now – short of staying strong, staying the course and riding it out.”

Alex Panousis, incoming CEO at Carat, says in these unusual times there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for brands. She believes that each business needs to think about how they want to operate and what they owe to their customers. “This is about lifetime value, not short term wins.”

She says brands that are helping will win — which she admits doesn’t always come down to a media strategy. “I live part-time in a rural area in Ontario. One coffee shop closed but left a large self serve coffee bin for people to enjoy, along with alcohol wipes.  A small thing, but brilliant. WestJet, their new cancellation policy; Loblaws limiting panic buying by imposing limits. Google offering virtual tools for free and Shaw giving away WiFi.”

But Panousis says no media strategy might be better than a bad media strategy, and that brands that focus on short-term sales that are inappropriate, such as resort or travel companies offering massive discounts, particularly when purchased programmatically against relevant content. “Bad idea. I get how hard this is, but focusing on the long game with a note of empathy is a recommendation. Your brand is here to support and accommodate during tough times, not take advantage. Finally, watch your context.  Showing up on a site that sells masks for $90 is not a place for most brands.”