How can brands stay relevant in a post-pandemic global market?

Listen to your customers, innovate and think long-term, say three leading marketers.

How can brands stay relevant in a post-pandemic global market?

The future of brands lies in the hearts and minds of the Gen Z consumer, says Viviane Paxinos, GM of UNIDAYS, the world leading student affinity network, with 17 million members.

"Gen Z are the ultimate early adopter, and we see their media and purchasing habits now influencing the behaviors of Millennials and Generation X, and even the younger generations following them too."

Paxinos also spoke about the company strategy: “UNiDAYS supports 800 legacy brands to engage and maintain a dialogue with this alpha consumer, who lives and breathes social media, instant messaging, video games and live-streaming – often all at the same time. Worth an annual estimated global spend power of $200bn, and an indirect parental spend power of $3 trillion, Gen Z may be elusive but they are worth the effort."

She was talking to Andy Pilkington, Adidas media director for Europe, and Matt Pollington, digital director of MADE.COM, as part of a broader discussion hosted by UNiDAYS for Campaign Connect, on what brands must do to stay relevant in a post-pandemic global market. 

The need for deeper segmentation
All three marketers agree on the need for brands to develop a deeper understanding of their customers. The pandemic, they said, has changed the behaviour of whole demographics of consumers, bringing them online for the first time or prompting them to shop digitally in new categories. 

The brands that understand them best will offer the best consumer experience – by generating the most trust, they will be the winners in this accelerated and disrupted market. “Rather than just doing research studies,” said Pilkington, “increasingly we’re learning by doing: trialling products in the market to see how they perform with real consumers. Our emphasis is on getting things to market quickly.”

Pollington highlighted the big themes his company has seen over the past 18 months. The first was how consumers coped with the disruption of the pandemic. He pointed out that customers had to make the switch to online at different times and in different contexts, depending on how their country reacted to the pandemic. At the same time, he said: “In a way, people have become much closer to their homes.”

To really connect with consumers, Pollington explained, the brand has had to work hard on understanding how these factors have shaped people’s behaviours and priorities. At the same time, there has been a massive growth in customers’ environmental awareness, he said. Companies must build this into their strategies if they’re to remain relevant. 

How should brands innovate for success?
Pollington talked about the need to create a more compelling digital experience in order to put themselves ahead of the market. “We’ve been using augmented reality to give customers a personalised and immersive experience,” he said. “We’ve also extended its use in advertising. The future will be about blending the physical and digital.”

Pilkington paused the conversation to consider the meaning of innovation. “We’ve been thinking a lot about what innovation really is and what we actually care about,” he said. “One of the things we admitted to ourselves is that we don’t always have to be the first mover. Sometimes, it’s ok to come to a new platform after you’ve watched others figure out what works.”

Don’t forget to improve your processes
Pilkington also talked about the importance of process improvement. To provide the best experience, he said, sometimes the really important innovation you need is behind the scenes. He gave an example from his company: the improvements to delivery and returns efficiency and processes. Both have the potential to massively improve the customer experience, but they’re not the kinds of things that get a lot of attention. 

All three marketers agreed on the importance of brand building for future success. They said that performance had been the priority for most brands over the past year and a half: it was easier to demonstrate the returns on performance advertising, and brands were under pressure to boost revenues quickly. But the long-term health of a brand relies on regular brand-building activity, which the trio expects to return over the next year. 

Catch the session on-demand here