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Business owners can often underestimate the power of marketing, and when new challenges arise, it’s often the first area that’s put to the side.
But investing in your business, particularly during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, can help your company in multiple ways. We speak to the experts to find out what you can be doing to help boost your brand image and increase your market share during these challenging times, and into the future.
Have a marketing strategy
Marketing can help to increase your brand profile, helping to push your business ahead of those who have reduced, or altogether ceased, their marketing activities during difficult times.
Petra Smith, managing director and founder of Squirrels and Bears, a marketing consultancy helping small businesses increase their brand visibility, tells us, “Relying on hope as a marketing strategy is never a good idea; it’s essential to have a marketing plan in place. The already highly competitive environment will be even busier, and brands will have to really stand out to reach and attract their returning and new customers’ attention. Uncertainty is high and cash is low, but keeping existing clients and fighting for the share of a smaller consumer base is more important than ever.”
Whilst brands may be focusing on the current situation, now is the time to reflect and evolve on your company as a whole: “Steering from panic and looking at this time as an opportunity for innovation and reactivation of brand purpose might be challenging, but it will benefit the business in the long term,” Petra says. “Your business is not static, and your marketing strategy should not be either. Reflect on your previous strategy and plan, and evaluate what worked and what needs to change; and most importantly, do not assume that things will be the same as they were pre-Covid. Your ability to adapt rapidly is invaluable as your initial approach may not be the final one and your go-to-market strategy will need to be adjusted based on how the situation develops. In such difficult times, people will remember brands for their genuine acts of kindness, so stay true to your brand values, but adapt to the changing circumstances and spread some positivity.”
Media consumption has changed drastically since lockdown began, and never before has people’s reliance on technology been so prominent. From conducting business meetings over digital platforms and shopping online, to hosting virtual dinner parties and trawling social media for quarantine cooking inspiration, digital platforms have had a huge impact on people’s work and personal lives.
Despite the global reach of the online world, there are an increasing number of opportunities for small retailers and independent food brands to reach new customers, particularly at a time when customers are actively looking to support local businesses.
It’s worth reconsidering the media channels you advertise with, and instead identify channels where potential customers may be spending more time, whether that’s creating a shop on Pinterest or setting up ads on Instagram.
Creating an engaged customer community
One key way to make your business stick out from the competition is by engaging with your customers and the wider community.
“F&B brands play an essential role in a community, from the way they support local suppliers, to how they’ve been able to help the communities they’re part of,” explains Nick Coleman, CEO and founder of Snaffling Pig and Startup Logistics.
“COVID-19 has brought about a real consciousness in supporting local, independent businesses, so the demand has sky-rocketed for smaller businesses. Couple this with many smaller food brands pivoting to stay alive, such as cafés shifting to retail, providing food boxes, take-outs and innovating their way through the crisis to stay close to their customer community, and it makes for something really exciting.
So how do businesses build this engagement? “You have to create that affinity with your customers – now more than ever,” Nick continues. “We really tried to stay away from the self-important ‘how our brand is responding to COVID-19’ messaging. Instead, we wanted to connect with customers through meaningful conversations, for example, inviting them to nominate a key worker to send a care package to.
But how does this relate back to your marketing strategy? “Engagement with your customer community has got to be at the heart of any marketing strategy,” Nick says. “COVID-19 is a perfect example of this: while our in-trade revenue streams are on pause, our e-commerce sales were up 10 times compared to the same period last year. There’s no way we could have pivoted so effectively to a direct-to-consumer model without that loyal and engaged customer community, who trust and believe in our brand.
When it comes to building that loyal customer base, Nick says the key to this is in knowing exactly who your customers are, and why your brand matters to them: “We’re clear that Snaffling Pig may not change lives, but it will pep up your Friday night in, encourage you to slow down over a drink and a really delicious snack with a loved one, as much as it will brighten up your mate’s day if you send them a gift from us. We chat to customers about new products, flavours, the collaborations they want to see. We even launched a Swine Dining Club last year as part of our crowdfund to bring customers and investors even deeper into the business. Our customers know they’re genuinely part of the brand.”
Trust plays a huge factor in your brand’s image, and not only determines whether a consumer will purchase from you, but whether they will continue to come back, and advocate your brand through recommendations. Customers need to trust in the quality of a product or brand, and want to know that it will deliver on its promises.
In 2019, a survey by PR company Edelman of 16,000 consumers across 8 global markets revealed 81% of people said that trusting a brand to “do what is right” plays a key role in purchase decision, whilst three-quarters said they would continue to buy from a brand they trust, even if another one becomes “hot and trendy”.
In order to build a brand’s trust, there are several factors involved, but according to Jake Welsh, principal creative consultant and director at digital agency Dept., much of this is about ‘why’ you are in business, as opposed to ‘what’ that you are offering, or ‘how’ you do it.
Look at how your business communicates with customers, and focus on creating a conversation around your core values. Build a relationship with customers to create a rapport; entice customers to stay engaged by keeping them updated through your online community. And make the most of data to help you connect with customers in order to better understand their habits, values and desires.
Trends have always played a big role in the food industry, and continue to do so perhaps now more than ever. And keeping an eye on these trends has the potential to put your business or brand ahead of demand, according to Natalie Orringe, chief marketing officer for Vuelio, part of the Access Intelligence Group.
“Change in consumer behaviour has been driven by the impact of technology, including social media that can cause patterns in food consumption to go viral. Whether it is the shift during COVID-19 to buying ‘direct’ from the farm or peak in demand for flour as people turned to home breadmaking, spotting emerging patterns is critical to accelerating growth.
“For brands to get ahead of trends, they need to invest in research that combines deep understanding of the needs and wants of their target audience with market analysis. This has to include horizon scanning to spot how a range of factors from health trends, celebrity diets and ingredient availability will create new product opportunities as well as spikes in demand for existing foods. Alongside, businesses need to invest in product innovation so they can stay ahead of shifting consumer trends while staying authentic to their brand and product.”
Natalie continues, “Businesses have an array of data sets available that, when combined, will give a composite view of how effective their brand activity is in building awareness, engagement and consumer loyalty. By putting in place an integrated marketing and customer loyalty dashboard, all brand spend can be evaluated in terms of customer response then the insights used to refine future activity. This includes determining whether the positioning, placement and content is having impact in terms of realising the opportunities identified from consumer trends.”
Keeping up communications
Communication is particularly important right now, from keeping in touch with customers, to spreading a message about your brand’s purpose, and will help to keep your brand at the forefront of people’s minds.
“Communicating with your customers and providing the best possible service, even during challenging circumstances, will impact how they see your business now and in the future,” Petra says. “In crisis, it’s the ability to work with and for your clients to help them through their individual challenges that builds trust and loyalty. Difficult times call for bold decisions and actions. They are also the time when character shows. Taking care of business by taking care of people, including customers, employees or suppliers, will go a long way. They are all vital to your business and they are also strong brand advocates, essential for your future survival and growth.
“Now, more than ever, businesses need to define and communicate their brand’s purpose,” Petra continues. “Ask yourself how you make their life better or easier and why it matters to your customers. There is great value in questioning your brand’s purpose as it will allow you to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and understand their motivators. Questioning your brand’s purpose can similarly lead to linking your customers’ needs and wants with the aspirations of your brand and the impact it has on your customers.
Petra adds, “During a crisis that is ruled by uncertainty, communication is largely improvised, and whilst being guided by your marketing strategy, you need to be able to think on your feet and respond to unplanned events as they unfold. With the right approach, the current crisis can turn into an opportunity to move forward, build resilience and positive social impact.”
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