By Michael Duffy, Global Creative Director and Board Director, Equator Design. Global creative director and board director, Michael Duffy is an Equator US co-founder, Michael drives the business from both studio and boardroom to deliver operational efficiency and unrivaled creativity for clients. Splitting his time between Equator’s global studio locations, Michael develops collaborative practices across our network of studios, leveraging our under-one-roof model while harnessing global experience and insight to create outstanding value and cross-platform standout for America’s national and private brands.
Although the retail marketplace has always been fast-moving, the swings created by the COVID-19 outbreak are changing the landscape at breakneck speed. As soon as we formulate a response to shifts in consumer behavior, supply chain and logistics, and government guidelines, there are further announcements waiting just around the bend.
It’s crucial that FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) players take action in the face of ongoing developments, to ensure they can survive in adversity and thrive in its wake. Take a look at some new research from data insights consultancy Kantar – starting with some recent eye-opening figures which illustrate how rapidly retail has changed: in the first week of social distancing in Britain (17 March), an additional 15 million supermarket visits were made and average spend increased by 16%, when compared to the same week in February. The result? A tremendous load was placed on supermarkets and supply chains, since consumers – who were forced to curb their habitual consumption in cafes and restaurants, which previously constituted 40% of all food and drink purchases – became virtually 100% reliant on supermarkets.
As a population, we have foregone luxury goods and focussed on the essentials, spending our money in supermarkets and on grocery delivery companies – triggering a hiring surge and an all-new appreciation for our steadfast bricks and mortar stores.
Kantar recently delivered a webinar on the effect of the Coronavirus on spending habits and consumer behavior in mainland China as the trading superpower cautiously enters its own early recovery period. If there are silver linings to the progression of the global outbreak, one could be that the knock-on effects among East Asian economies are observable and could inform practices in the West to help bring about a quicker, smoother recovery in Europe, North America and Australia.
One such “lesson” noted by Kantar was the idea that brands should undertake a fresh assessment of the essentials that matter to consumers and subsequently update their messaging and offering around the “new normal”.
Social distancing and working from home does little to dampen people’s need to be individuals or to pursue personal and professional growth – and as such, retailers should focus on assisting people in enriching their lives and routines. According to classcentral.com, Google searches for “online education” leapt 204% from March 7 to March 21. This is supported by Kantar’s findings that 33% of Chinese consumers explored online learning modules earlier this year. New skills, and the motivation to adopt new behaviors and experience have become characteristic of societies as they deal with the pandemic and its effects.
As companies and brands, how we behave now will not be forgotten once the outbreak has run its course, be those associations good or bad. The brands with the strongest equity will be best placed to grow their value and come back faster than competitors when the economy swings into a recovery phase – therefore, supporting consumers with ideas, platforms, products and services which help them to adapt to current needs, to make the best of difficult times, and help them to enjoy mental and emotional wellbeing, are all considerations to be made immediately.
A Salience Strategy For The Way We Live Now
Building your brand is an investment, and a tough financial environment bears out those who have put the work in. A good degree of salience – the probability of a person noticing, recognizing and thinking about your brand – leads to a visible brand which weathers ups and downs more easily. As you plan to take your brand forward, you should in the short term focus your efforts on maximizing salience versus competitors. You can do this by:
- Taking a fresh look at your messaging and your assets. Is the brand in line with the public mood and sentiment at present? Is your branding memorable, unique to your brand and different enough from your competitors?
- Making a shift to meet consumers’ current needs. How do you want to be remembered in the months and years to come – the business that said nothing in the face of COVID-19, or the business that adjusted its messaging and/or offering, shifted around emerging consumer needs, and gave the public reassurance?
- Tapping into the ways people are interacting now. Use technology to build emotional connections with consumers. Ensure your assets are optimised for e-commerce and social e-commerce, and explore ways in which to innovate around consumers’ new skills and growing integration of tech into everyday life.
- Delivering meaningful difference, showing how your brand is different from competitors, thus aiding consumers in their decision-making process. Is the meaningful difference of your brand likely to be perceived by the consumer? Are there adjustments which can be made to the brand’s messaging or assets which could create more meaning, given difficult and uncertain times?
At Equator we recognize that the demands placed on retailers and value chain players are higher than ever before in modern history, and we have an enormous amount of gratitude and admiration for their ongoing resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges. Our aim is to help retailers and brands to build their brand equity, and help them to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.