A sign advising shoppers to wear protective face masks stands on display inside a Pick n Pay store. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
A sign advising shoppers to wear protective face masks stands on display inside a Pick n Pay store. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

To stand out in the current environment, brands need to be seen to be empathetic, authentic and remain true to their purpose. These were the main themes emanating from a recent FM Redzone digitised event moderated by co-founder and chief creative officer at TILT, Ayre Kellman.

For fashion retailer Superbalist, communication during the lockdown period has focused on urging customers to stay at home, stay healthy and consider others. Essentially the brand’s message has morphed from showing off to showing up, explained Kelly Fung, head of editorial at Superbalist.

Nobody knew how to navigate this terrain at the outset, she pointed out. The challenge for Superbalist was in trying to determine what was considered a winter essential and then how to market an item like a tracksuit without seeming frivolous. The brand made use of its social media channels and engaged with its audience to develop narratives and content. Agility, creativity and resourcefulness have been hallmarks of this period, Fung added. Content has focused on authenticity and a digital storytelling approach has allowed the brand to provide customised content. A spray-and-pray approach is no longer applicable in the current environment.

There will no going back. Instead, brands need to navigate the new normal and establish what this new normal means for different people, said Fung.

Linda Appie, head of marketing at TymeBank, agreed that while marketers may have traditionally used a spray-and-pray approach, brands now need to get more bang for their marketing bucks. One of the challenges facing the bank has been that its communications cannot be exclusively digital, as not all customers are comfortable on digital platforms. The bank therefore has to consider which media platforms – including traditional platforms –  work better for its customers.

In recent weeks there have been a renewed focus on brand purpose. The bank has ensured that all its communications are aligned with its core purpose of enabling financial inclusion via an affordable product while at the same time empowering customers by advancing financial literacy.

All messaging, said Appie, aims to remain true to this purpose, while communicating has to be in an authentic voice. Customer sentiment has been carefully monitored, which resulted in the bank reassuring clients about the security of their savings. The bank has tapped into its ability to be agile and offered some products and services for free. Rather than the bank rocking the boat, this period has been characterised by trying to hold the ship steady during turbulent times, said Appie.

TymeBank’s hybrid digital model has been optimal during this period and allows it to be very customer centric and data driven.

Purpose is arguably more important in the current environment than ever before, said founder and MD of marketing agency Triple Eight, Sarika Modi. However, brands – both large and small –need to ensure they play their part in society, make a positive impact and are empathetic.

Though there has been much talk regarding the need for brands to keep communicating with their customers, Modi argued that only brands with relevant messages should be communicating. “We’ve been very honest and have told some of our clients to do nothing,” she admitted. “Only brands operating in a purposeful space should be communicating right now.”

The agency has also had to be cognisant of the fact that countries are in different stages of lockdown restrictions. This makes it even more crucial that messages are localised to reflect the current circumstances.

Purpose should not only be outwardly focused on consumers and customers but also inwardly towards caring for employees. The latter group are particularly important when considering the challenges many employees face as they try to juggle working from home and caring for small children, often with reduced household budgets. 

For its part, Triple Eight has made every effort to ensure that its own staff are sufficiently equipped to work from home. This has included sending people office chairs and even buying desks for some.

The big take-out:

To stand out in the current environment brands need to be empathetic and authentic and remain true to their purpose.

The agency has pivoted its offering to include more than just marketing services to also produce products such as sanitising stations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Solving real-world problems at this time is key to remaining relevant, said Modi.

Everlytic, a digital brand, has been cognisant of the need to adapt its communication strategy during the pandemic crisis and has therefore provided more relevant content. However, to achieve this requires a good understanding of one’s audience and their behaviours, explained Karyn Strybos, marketing manager at Everlytic. This is not the time for guesswork, she stressed, adding that the benefit of being a digitally orientated business is that consumer sentiment can easily be measured. While emotive marketing can work in this environment, she said it was important to understand consumers’ pain points and ensure that all messaging was relevant.

The company was initially concerned that productivity would be affected by all staff working from home given the company’s high-performance culture. However, though collaboration is a little harder, there has not been any dip in productivity.

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