Pandemic Not a Waste, Brand Lessons From Covid-19 Pandemic
There is no better time that the maxim “Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste,” a phrase popularized by Rahm Emanuel, can be more useful than now that we are in the COVID-19 crisis. With almost the entire world on a protracted lockdown, the pandemic has taken away individuals liberties everywhere with many businesses suffering the hardship.
As the effects of covid-19 spiraled especially in the middle of the first quarter, brands, businesses and organisations began to feel the debilitating effects of the pandemic. It is common knowledge to know that business operates because people are involved in running the affairs and when the people are ill, business also suffers.
Change they say is constant and it’s gradual but the learning from the covid-19 experience proves more that change though constant, can also be unavoidable.
What seems impossible and unattainable prior to this time become what we seamlessly do and gradually or may eventually stay with us for a very long time.
It was a year of many lessons, a year of collaborations, the year of the “first” and “real” digital revolution in every sectors of the economy.
For a long time, there have been advocacy for online or digital operation and presence of business, the new oil of the 21st century but while some are able to see the advantages, others kept it at bay.
The pandemic laid more credence to that fact that digitizing mode of doing business is the next big thing and there is no going back again as technology advance every day.
LEAVING COMPETITION FOR COOPERATION
Organisations, brands or corporations are in business to increase revenue and in most cases running in competitive market, they put all strategies together to outshine competitors, retaining and increasing customers base.
The covid-19 crises however painted a new narrative in business operation in Nigeria and throughout the world. It was the time of social responsibilities for companies and corporations to show concerns towards the audience they serve. Consumers have been the one serving them but it was their turn to serve the consumers. Hence the private sector-led coalition in Nigeria called the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) with similar alliances all around the world.
CACOVID was established to assist the government in combating the Coronavirus disease in the country with the purpose of donating relief fund to support the Federal government of Nigeria in containing the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure patients get the care they need and frontline workers get essential supplies and equipments; and to accelerate efforts to provide tests and treatments. Major companies, including Dangote Group, Access Bank, MTN , UAC, Dana, Tolaram group, and others who made up the group came together in a “co-opetition” and not competition to fight a common enemy, Covid-19.
While businesses face the down side of business at this period, it’s however a time for them to be more responsible by doing something to win the heart of the consumers even after the pandemic. The Chief Transformation Officer, MTN Nigeria, Bayo Adekanmbi said the time of the pandemic is the time for brands to let their voice be heard and not go into shadow. Bayo made this known during a webinar session on Brand Management with the theme “Pivoting your brand in crisis”, marking the 5th anniversary of Big and Bold Communications.
“It’s a time for brands and business to look inward, take in the crisis and map out survival strategies as businesses are moving into survival mode while maintaining the fundamental meaning the brand stands for”, said the Chief Transformation Officer.
He mapped out 5 surviving strategies to pivot brands in crises which he tagged the 5Rs, they are: Responsibility, he said though everything is closed down, brands must show a high sense of responsibility. “You can’t be quiet or silent, you must come forward and align with customers’ lifetime values”. He cited the case of Coca-Cola donating it’s social media feed to provide updates and information about the COVID-19 pandemic
Reputation, a brand needs to come forward and put money on the table, no matter how small, to help in the fight against the pandemic, making reference to Diageo providing 8 million bottles of sanitizers to frontline (health) workers to fight COVID-19. For Relevance, he said brands must take advantage of the very lowing hanging fruits within their spheres to remain relevant to consumers with MTN as example of organisation that supports the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) providing the much needed essential personal protection equipment (PPEs) and making its network available for information and public enlightenment.
Retention, he said Brands must be willing to shoulder a loss at times like this to make customers feel good and appreciated. “Loss in the short run to be a part of the future success”, he said.
And Recovery, he said brands must put in a recovery plan after the pandemic by thinking and giving thoughtfully during the crisis.
In Bayo’s submission, he said only brands that are able and willing to shoulder a loss at times like this to make customers feel good and appreciated will be remembered by customers after the pandemic.
Bayo’s position is corroborated by Professor Win Ee Chun, a behavioural change scientist at Split Second Research, Singapore, and Professor of Marketing at Nanyang Business School, Gemma Calvert, while explaining the impact of a worldwide state of cognitive overload.
According to him, – “Products that induce feelings of safety and security either through functionality or symbolism are likely to gain in desirability during the transition period.
“Brands that leverage the situation by making it easy to create new routines and embed themselves into consumers’ lives during this ‘setting-in’ period where habits and rituals are malleable, are likely to acquire competitive advantage, particularly in the digital environment,” said the Professor.
Similarly, Akonte Ekine, a PR Specialist and Managing Director, Absolute PR, coasting along the Professor’s line of thought underscored the importance of the reputational capital for brands. Akonte who acknowledged that crisis is usually unexpected, noted that “brands that are able to take advantage of the crisis, be concerned about the consumers’ feeling and how they can get along and ahead of the crisis, are brands that will be remembered after the pandemic”. Akonte’s submission is also in tandem with the MTN, Chief Transformer Officer’s position.
Akonte made these germane points while speaking at a webinar on “Reputation capital and brands in a crisis situation” hosted by BrandCrunch. He adds, “If there is anything to learn in history of surviving brands, it is that when the time were rough, they were there with the citizen at almost every level and when the good time comes, the citizens remember and recall every their good deed to the brands’ credit.”
THE RISE AND RISE OF ONLINE ENGAGEMENTS
A research conducted by JP Morgan on Media Consumption in the Age of COVID-19, shows that as a result of social distancing at home, consumers are spending more time online to virtually connect with others and for other engagements.
According to the report of the research, Twitter daily user for Q1 2020 reached approximately 164 million, which is up 23% from previous year, Facebook’s total use across its messaging services increased by more than 50% and for the 1st quarter, Snapchat community increased by 11 million daily active users to an average of 229 million; between January and March, Netflix recorded 16 million new sign-ups which the firm said that it almost double the new sign-ups it saw in the final months of 2019.
The pandemic has once again reiterates the importance of digital technology as a sine-qua-non for business success in this dispensation. E-commerce remains one of the beneficiaries of the pandemic as buying and selling takes a turn from the brick and mortal settings to the digital space.
According to Massimiliano Spalazzi, CEO, Jumia Nigeria the month of May and June saw its highest amounts of active vendors, customers on-site, and increased amount of unique product purchases on the platform so far in the year 2020.
“This is an unprecedented time for a vendor to be online. Just to give you a grasp of the milestone achieved by Jumia; only in the month of May, we recorded a daily highest number of vendors with at least one sale across the full year; we recorded daily highest number of buying customers across the full year; we also recorded daily highest number of individual products purchased on the platform since the beginning of the year,” he said.
In a report released by Adobe in July, it showed that the pandemic accelerated the growth of e-Commerce as total online spending in May hit $82.5 billion, up 77% year-on-year. The report furthered that without the pandemic, it would have taken four to six years for e-Commerce to have such impressive record.
Vivek Pandya, Adobe’s Digital Insights Manager, paints a more vivid picture of this impressive development in the sector. He said, “it would’ve taken between 4 and 6 years to get to the levels that we saw in May if the growth continued at the same levels it was at for the past few years. We typically don’t expect to see surges at this level, at any time outside of the holiday season”
For context, he pointed out that last year’s holiday season drove $142.5 billion dollars from November 1st to December 31st, and that was a 13% year-over-year increase compared to the 77% y-o-y recorded during this pandemic era.
THE PERIOD OF THE FIRST
Confronting the problem at hand (Lockdown) in a critical way and thinking creatively to break through high and dry of business activities informed the now prevalent virtual meetings by various organisations and bodies as digital meetings and learning becomes the alternative .
Staying and expecting things to happen without making effort could be a dead-end and as human will always find a way to surmount challenges no matter the circumstances, hence the adoption and acceptance of the new normal. Zoom, a fairly known video sharing platform became a vehicle that channeled conversations, meetings and engagements during the lockdown. For example, sectoral groups in the marketing Communications industry held their respective first time ever, online congress, Annual General Meeting (AGM) and elections digitally. It became expedient for them to join the new normal in view of pandemic crisis.
With Steve Babaeko, Femi Adelusi and Idorenyen Enang emerging as leaders the Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, (AAAN); Media Independent Association of Nigeria (MIPAN) and National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN) respectively as Presidents, methinks virtual elections produce quality leadership.
COVID-19 BEATS CMOs TO DISRUPT MARKETING
For years, there have been serious campaign and advocacy for business to embrace digital technology as the new currency and future of advertising. While some grabbed the opportunity, some still relied majorly on the traditional media. Change is constant and the new consumer is always looking for change and innovation. According to Gbenga Sogbaike, CEO, Plaqad, “the new consumers are now digital savvy, if you want to sell to them, meet them where they are. I see no reason why business should be skeptical about digital technology; it’s where the world is going, he submitted at a BrandCrunch Live session.
Sounding sarcastic but in truth, the Plaqad CEO said, “We thought CMOs would disrupt marketing but covid-19 has disrupted it. Now, brands that do traditional media now leverage on digital technology to operate”.
It was a period of downtime for those who did not embrace digital technology and a period of leap for the online savvy. It was a period of business obliteration for print publications – facing difficulties in driving and distributing copies around the country.
NEW THINKING IN ADVERTISING INDUSTRY
The restriction of physical interaction and social distancing which could have been an obstacle to the advertising agencies was handled by creative thinking. Shooting a commercial remains a big task with the arrays of technical and human presence involved. Shooting a commercial in most cases include the team of cameramen, costumiers, lightning official, casts, the talents, video editor, graphics editor, etc. the pandemic made it difficult for this to happen and for business to connect with consumers, there is need for advert. Thinking outside the box became the next option, according to Maurice Ugwonoh, Creative Director, Noah’s Ark.
Maurice while speaking during a BrandCrunch Instagram live session submitted that the pandemic has inevitably led to the animation advertising option in creating brand campaigns to communicate with the consumers and still maintain the same communication and get the same reactions.
Maurice’s digital option corroborates, Gbenga Sogbaike submission on influencer marketing as a part of digital marketing being very instrumental in communicating brands messages during the pandemic.
“Digital marketing becomes the viable way for brands to reach lager audience who are online or social because people now spend more time online and instead of business cutting marketing budget, they channel it to digital marketing”.
According to him, “one of the most exciting things about digital is ability to reach large number of people within a space; it is not limited by time and space. It gives brand opportunity to reach large number customers within a short period of time”
The pandemic might have come with a blow to businesses but surely it brought new narrative and ways of doing things and increase in revenue to businesses that see the opportunities. It may therefore, be right to say the pandemic is not a total waste but a clarion call to business, organisation to always look beyond the present but always think a decade ahead.