How brands can cope better in a Covid world
A view from Natalie Cummins

How brands can cope better in a Covid world

Five themes emerged when Zenith got some of its clients to talk to each other.

From pretty early on in the Covid-19 rollercoaster, we at Zenith were curious about and concerned over how our clients were handling it, both in the marketing world and within their broader businesses.

We figured it was probably quite a lonely ride, so we suggested that our senior decision-makers might benefit from coming together with their peers to chew it out. An open forum where they could share fears and worries, and learn some coping mechanisms.

Twice now we’ve done "client-to-client" sessions, where I sit in and facilitate and prompt, but largely where our clients speak to each other.

Five interesting themes have emerged since this all began.  

1 A return to core

In FMCG, new product development is everything. But with retailers operating very differently the past few months, that staple of launches – in-store communications – has gone.

Several of our clients therefore took the decision to postpone all launches until next year and focus on core products.

This fits with consumer research, which has shown that during Covid, consumers gravitated towards the familiar, not the new.

One client noted that TV support of "core" during lockdown drove a significant share-point increase. This is about success from advertising products that haven’t been on TV for years.

2 A need to lead

One of our clients – rightly lauded for getting out a decent Covid "be at home" TV ad as early as first week of April – made the excellent point that brands that did good corona ads won’t be remembered for it.

She argues that lockdown and the effects on consumers were fairly similar across the globe, and so it was relatively easy to get it right. In fact, brands got it so right that they all produced the same ad! 

But the experience of coming out of this pandemic will vary for different consumers, sectors and businesses.

Brands that help find a way out and lead consumers through the choppy and unpredictable times of the next few years will be the ones that emerge successful.

So getting that right will be paramount and involve some strong consumer insight work – and a lot of luck

3 What to do if you already lost your way?

A couple of our chief marketing officers confessed that they are at a real crossroads on how to proceed with their brands.

Pre-Covid, some clients had a so-so brand platform or ad concept, and had been pondering if and how to reboot. Post-Covid, they still have this problem, but are faced with an uncertain world that probably doesn’t need another brand relaunch.

The problem we debated was this: how do you start again with your brand when people are distracted by real problems?

4 Sifting through what’s here to stay and what’s not

In many ways, clients observed, Covid has simply magnified and sped up what was already happening: more remote processes, quicker decision-making, more online transactions.

But there have been other Covid habits we’ve developed over the past four months that may not hang around (home hair-colouring, more online grocery shopping than usual).

Which do we need to capitalise on and work with in the future, and which should we surmise will go back to normal?

5 Planning for at least three eventualities – all the time

Planning future months, halves and quarters used to be fairly straightforward. In today’s world, the next quarter we could find ourselves in lockdown again, in a recession, in a socially distanced world or 90% back to normal.

This makes planning more difficult and more time-consuming, not to mention there being a need for a hell of a lot more agility to move from one scenario to another at little notice.

We have developed a tool at Zenith called Torchlight for Covid-adjusted scenario planning, but this also requires a certain type of client, employee and planning process.

It also demands agencies that can rapidly move from one world to another.

Natalie Cummins is chief executive of Zenith UK
Picture: Getty Images