Author, Sisca Margaretta
We are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, with various governments easing restrictions and restarting economic activity. But COVID-19 has altered the marketing landscape, and the same brand-building strategies might not work anymore. Consumer demands and habits have changed, and while the proliferation of digital touchpoints has allowed brands to quickly expand their reach, the margin for communication faux pas is also narrower.
A strong B2B brand is good not just for visibility but also in attracting talent, expanding reach in emerging markets, and engaging prospective customers. For B2B brands, their positioning challenges are often greater than those of their more ‘visible’ consumer counterparts. But the unchartered global commercial landscape that is now emerging means that the time is ripe for B2B brands to test new horizons as they step up their game to differentiate their brand.
Strengthen your brand voice in times of crisis
Brands with a timely, relevant, and impactful communications programme will emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis. This is, understandably, a volatile period, but to stay silent for fear of leaning on one side over another could undo the good work of previous branding efforts. Research shows that it takes five years to recover market share when a brand “goes dark” during a recession.
Having a voice is only a fraction of the battle. The pandemic will likely be remembered by many as a defining moment in their lives. In the same vein, every brand’s response – or lack of one – during to this global challenge is scrutinised for how woke they are in light of global and local events, much less, to the needs of their consumers.
As businesses and consumers start their journey of recovery, whether a brand chooses to help – and how it does so – will be seared in people’s minds. A lack of communications could be misconstrued as a lack of willingness to help, and this is certainly detrimental to any brand’s image. Brands need to get on the right side of history and be the voice of encouragement and support during this challenging time.
Support the recovery journey through corporate giving and partnerships
Many eyes are on brands as they chart their path in the next phase of the economy, and how they lift others within their business ecosystem and communities. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilisation starts.”
While often lacking direct consumer access, B2B brands typically have a healthy channel network with which to assert their social impact. Inter-organisational collaborations, in addition to direct corporate giving, can help demonstrate your brand’s commitment to helping society as a whole to recover. This can take the form of complementary resources, education, or guidance to partnering organisations in order to collectively respond to those with dire and immediate needs during this period.
The importance of inter-industry collaboration is evident in recent developments within the banking space. Recognising the burden of financial hardship faced by many households, the Singapore and Indian governments have announced moratoriums for loan relief and support initiatives. As a result, banks and financial services providers had to quickly adapt to new credit assessment frameworks, on top of tackling a surge in customer demand. Many have turned to their partners – information service providers and credit bureaus – for timely and innovative digital resources to aid in the effective handling of the lending and debt collection processes in a customer-friendly manner.
This is just one of the many possibilities when B2B brands creatively utilise their existing infrastructure, network and talent to make a difference for vulnerable groups across Asia Pacific.
Stay on-brand with relevance and empathy
Never has it been more important to make sure that a brand’s values and purpose are well understood by its audiences. Beyond forming the foundation for ongoing marketing efforts, brand values also anchor the corporate message across all touchpoints.
For this reason, it is important that a brand spends time to align internally on a message that truly resonates because it is authentic to its people, culture and the organisation as a whole.
In the pre-pandemic B2B world, decision-making was already complex, involving multiple touchpoints. Post-pandemic, the number of digital touchpoints has exacerbated as the majority of people do more from home. The brand-building journey is no longer a linear one.
Not sure what your brand could do or say about a situation? Take a breather. Brands have the option of pausing their communications outreach to take stock of the situation and better understand its stance, how the community is being impacted, and where they can step in to help. This goes a long way towards adding clarity, meaning, and impact to the corporate communications programme – when it does resume from its brief hiatus.
Marketing and advertising budgets worldwide have been slashed amid broader global economic uncertainties. Now more so than ever, brands need to be agile in adapting their strategies as the same ways of working might not be relevant in the future.
Curating flagship events, for instance, will require some navigating on the marketers’ part. Events will take on a whole new digital format in the future, as professionals will likely remain travel-shy even as business travel restrictions ease, and few will want to congregate in large groups at conferences. That is why the B2B marketer will need to get creative in building new channels for stakeholder engagement and thought leadership.
As marketers gear up for a new era, it is crucial to reflect on the profound shift in societal and customer needs so as to determine the best way to deliver a sense of security, trust and comfort for their stakeholders. The past few months have been a true test of resilience and adaptability for B2B brands, but crises create opportunities. The path to recovery and growth post-COVID-19 will be underpinned by consumer responsiveness, and luck will be on the side of companies that successfully anchor their communications and strategies around core brand values.
Sisca Margaretta is the Chief Marketing Officer at Experian Asia Pacific