Thoughts On Branding In A Pandemic

Alysha Smith is the CEO of modern8, a strategic brand design consultancy built around a belief in the power of design and design-driven strategy to convey real emotion. 


As a person who has literally grown up in the design world and become the leader of a branding agency, I’ve come to know a lot about this industry. But branding in a pandemic isn’t as simple. What we can all agree on is that the current climate of consumer spending is unstable. As consumers, we are all rethinking how we spend our money, especially as the full effect of the crisis may not be realized for yet another six to ten months. Discretionary spending will be squeezed from all ends, and we will all be more cost conscious if we aren’t already. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a new brand can’t launch in this crisis, but it must answer the obvious question — does it address a current need?


Does your product or service make communicating, buying, travel, working from home easier or more accessible? We are all experiencing a mindset shift since being forced to work, learn, and homeschool within our four walls. For example, my branding and design agency, modern8, would have never considered running a service business virtually, but being forced into a new way of thinking and a leveraging technology, we are making it work and may never go back. During the last recession, several businesses also used this shift in mindset to launch and still continue to thrive — Groupon, Slack, Venmo, and Rent the Runway are all excellent examples.


The second consideration is an evaluation of your value proposition and competitive advantage — is it different and distinct enough to stand out in a crowded market. The current market is highlighting disparities in value from product to product and service to service. If you are a challenger brand and not the first to market in your space, then now is an opportunity to prove your value against the bigger slower leaders in your competitive landscape. Messaging that targets your audience and relates to why your product is needed above the others can cut through and get noticed.

There is an opportunity to leverage the current circumstances to provide more value to your current and potential customers, make your offering more accessible, and analyze and balance the current needs of your market. This doesn’t mean giving more for less, but it might mean reevaluating the customer experience, creating helpful content, marketing with empathy, giving gratitude and donations, or providing a sense of place and belonging for your audience. Make your brand invaluable to your customers.

We are currently working with a direct to consumer brand, Wave Coffee, set to launch in the next month. We debated pushing pause and waiting to launch after the pandemic, but the product addresses a current need — coffee delivered regularly without having to go to pick it up. The target market is defined, the aesthetic was created to speak to that market, and the messaging, and marketing is all crafted to speak to their preferences and motivations. Wave is not going to be the first to market in the coffee subscription space, but the value of a product that provides ease of use, promotes shared experiences during times of uncertainty, and at a price point that is justifiable, can take advantage of the new mindset shift and get noticed.

Never forget — a brand is a promise of value to be received. A brand is the totality of perceptions that you see, hear, read, know, feel, and think about a product or service. Though it may seem difficult, this pandemic may be the right time to establish or pivot to re-establish a distinctive position in a potential customer’s mind based on past experiences, associations, and future expectations, expressing beliefs and values that differentiate and simplify your audience’s decision-making process.