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Orpin on brand-building - keep your eyes on the prize, even when times are tough

Electric Glue's CEO Simon Orpin emphasises the importance of brand building, even in a recessive time, in order to stay ahead of competition

In April 2020, we published an article about advertising during Covid-19 and the power of media ecosystems, especially with regards to the resilience of linear TV in the (then) new era of restrictions and whether brand strategy during a pandemic should take pointers from previous recessions. We’d been shut down for a month, the Premier League had been suspended since March 13th but for some, there was still a feeling that an element of short termism was at play and that it would all be resolved quickly.

Shops were closed or closing, travel was restricted so e-commerce would spike and some theorised that short-term promotional tactics would prevail without any disastrous long-term effects on brand awareness and consideration. Above the line opportunities were reduced (OOH audiences naturally decimated and cinemas closed) but still, in the case of TV, a sensible place to advertise as the airtime costs plummeted (the consequence of reduced advertiser demand but viewer growth from a ‘stay at home’ audience).

Those looking for a quick fix turned to digital in an effort to bridge the gap and help drive a promotional, quick and easy market before normality hopefully returned and the balance between top of the funnel brand building activity and bottom of the funnel purchase activation would be restored.

Except it turned out that the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere fast, as we are now so aware. There were of course some relaxations that soon became false dawns but months passed where many could only see as far ahead as the next day. And yet consumer demand for goods and services naturally remained, and in many categories, grew.

So how did it turn out for brands? 

With the way of life subject to daily changes, many have been focused on short-term solutions. So how important was it for brands to emphasise their emotional and rational values to distinguish themselves from the competition? How did they reinforce their importance to consumers without damaging the brand and business through a period where it appeared the only comparator was that of price?

As time has gone on and stores remain closed, browsing has become a solely online experience. But that doesn’t mean brands cannot influence choice. We argue that investing in “brand” is the most important thing to do. It will still affect preference and (crucially) drive brand search volumes. Having a greater understanding of what the attributes of a brand means to a consumer when (in many categories) they can’t see it, feel it, experience it, has become vital in such a market.

One example of this is in the mattress market. This area has been evolving for some years now in terms of new technology, delivery to home in a box, 100 day trials etc, and new brands emerged such as Simba, Eve and Casper to name but a few. Marketing activity from launch tended to focus heavily on a cost per acquisition, social media approach with even TV plans skewed to a direct response approach. But consumers still liked to go to a furniture store and lie down on a mattress and so distribution in bricks and mortar retail was important as it still was the hugely dominant proportion of sales.

But we can’t (and wouldn’t want to, I’d wager) go to a store and bounce up and down on a new multi-layered combination of springs and fibres any more. We are, however, spending more time within our own four walls than ever before and consequently spending more time on improving our own little ecosystem. A natural first consideration has become sleep. We do more of it, so how do we make our sleep more comfortable and therefore beneficial to our health and wellbeing?

Answer, buy a new mattress. Where do we buy it? Online only right now. It’s the only place we can. But which one do we buy as we want the best and not necessarily the cheapest? The bedding companies keep telling us that on average, we tend to keep a mattress for eight years… so better make the right choice.

The thinking is therefore focusing on “which brand is best for me?” Currently, the category is flying and the winners are the ones that have kept investing in brand advertising above the line and therefore have been the mattress of choice when people consider which one to place in their online basket. And where have they been advertising? TV of course. Still the best medium to build a brand. Still the best medium to create emotional as well as rational relevance. Still the best medium to bring creative ideas to life. Still the most trusted medium (and arguably safest to advertise within). And still providing great value in terms of cost.

The creative point is a big one here and a big part of the Electric Glue point of view about the importance of planning creative and media together and then sacrificing the plethora of choice across the long tail of media outlets. This results in focusing on single, large media owners by platform to drive the creative idea through those media owners’ ecosystems.

TV as a medium offers a fantastic canvas for ideas to launch, live and flourish in the most expansive and resonant ways. Short term, executional online advertising looks bland and samey. “Oh, look, another shoe.” It all looks the same so how can a brand create presence, fame and advocation through such work? The simple answer is – they can’t. But with a great ad on TV they can.

The effect on brand preference and consideration is immense and especially relevant now, given we don’t know yet how long this current way of life will continue for. Brand equity becomes increasingly important and vital. Also, if vaccination does give hope for some light at the end of the tunnel, marketeers need to be thinking now about how their brands will be perceived when consumers emerge blinking into that light.

Investing in brand for the “now and the next” has never been more crucial and remembering that the balance between long-term and short-term with the heavier focus being on brand building is more important now than ever before. Those brands that are continuing to keep their eyes on the long-term are better placed to hold their share of the market, convincing consumers to choose them by placing their values at the forefront of everyone’s minds - not just pushing competitive prices. So when a consumer is faced with the hundreds of choices found online, the tipping point still remains to be “brand”.

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