• Seventh Gear Communications

Why Branding Should Be a Priority in 2021 and How To Reassess and Deliver a More Authentic Brand

2020 has been a challenging and unusual year. It’s been the year of layoffs, budget cuts, closed doors … and pivots. Businesses scrambled to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, marketing departments dealt with slashed budgets (even though there’s proof that cutting marketing during a recession is a very bad idea), and brand strategies were bumped to second place in favor of keeping the lights on. This was the reality that most of us dealt with as we struggled to adapt to uncertainty.

But now that the worst is over (we hope!), the beginning of a new year is a perfect time to dust off the brand strategy and re-evaluate it for post-pandemic marketing. Even (especially) during and after a pandemic, your brand is important: it’s your company’s identity and the impression it gives to consumers. In a world where everything else is up in the air, consumers cling to brands they can trust and whose values align with their own. Your brand is how you show them who you are and what you stand for.

Going forward, how do you want to be positioned? If your brand can respond to the immense changes we’ve seen in 2020, then your business can thrive in 2021.

What Changed in 2020?

When deciding what you want your brand to be known for, it’s important to figure out what it is that your customers want to see. What worked before might not be cutting it for the 2021 customer weathered by months of quarantine. COVID-19 changed what people are looking for from their brands, and that’s something smart businesses are going to keep in mind. According to Mckinsey:

Marketers will need to think hard—and differently—about what the consumer in the next normal will think, feel, say, and do.”

So what kinds of brands do consumers in “the next normal” want to see? Here at Seventh Gear, we’ve noticed a few pandemic-inspired consumer trends. A war-torn 2021 consumer wants a brand:

  • That stands for something. It’s becoming more important to consumers to buy from brands that both have and demonstrate a strong brand purpose.

According to WARC (World Advertising Research Center): “research in recent years has shown that consumers across all age groups expect brands to contribute to ‘social good’...and half have boycotted a brand that didn’t align with their values.”

Consumers aren’t putting up with empty platitudes anymore either. They’ve lost patience for brands being “all talk”, and they will hold brands to account for truly living their values. And 2020 has only accelerated these trends. That’s why a brand that both proclaims and practices a strong purpose can go a long way in 2021.

  • That has a strong online presence: There’s no going back now. The convenience of conducting business and leisure activities online is not lost on the quarantining masses. This year, online shopping reached new heights, and it’s going to stay that way. And the pandemic isn’t the only thing keeping 2020 consumers shopping online. Here’s what JungleScout found to be the top 20 reasons consumers shopped online in 2020:

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While online shopping is more closely aligned with B2C companies, savvy business owners and marketers will notice commonalities with B2B objectives on this list. Even though this graphic is more closely aligned to B2C companies, service-based industries still have some valuable takeaways. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. If more customers are going online to find new brands, see reviews, and preview products, you want to invest in an easy to find online, interactive web experience.

Developing a robust online presence means finding different ways to interact with clients and prospects. So consider what else your website can do for you (payment processing, online chat, client portal, online resources, booking appointments, etc). Meet your online customers where they are. If online consumers appreciate being able to compare prices, consider advertising bundled, value-based services with set prices instead of traditional hourly rates that are kept secret. Online customers want to have everything at their fingertips. Make it easier for them!

  • That’s local: When they’re stuck at home, consumers start to notice their local communities more. It’s becoming increasingly important to consumers to support local businesses and take pride in their neighborhoods. In 2021, try to localize your marketing efforts. Highlight your local appeal, build up local SEO efforts, and engage more with the community.

  • That’s responsible: People want to buy from businesses that care about their wellbeing. And even if they aren’t buying now, they’re still watching. They’ll remember which brands fully complied with public health guidelines (social distancing, mask requirements, etc.). They’ll remember which businesses still proactively tried to provide meaningful and safe customer experiences (bookable shopping times, at home engagement, etc.). And they’ll remember which ones didn’t. Going into 2021, consider how you want your brand to be remembered.

Good branding is going to be an important component of your business’s comeback going into this new year. And if you’re ready to invest some thought into your brand, we’ve got some helpful tips to help kickstart your efforts!

Branding: The Basics

Branding is a big concept that you approach from multiple angles. Your advertising, promotional materials, design/logo, customer service, and reputation all work together to create your brand. With this in mind, when starting to consider your overall brand, we’ve found that it can be helpful to break it down into four categories:

Brand Strategy: Your brand strategy concerns exactly what unique value you can offer your customers. Focusing on this category means doing some research into what competitors offer, and highlighting why what you’re offering is better.

For example, maybe you have niche expertise, better customer service, higher employee retention, or different services. You’ll need to pinpoint which difference between you and your competitors are 1) the most important to your customers and 2) the most unique to you.

Whatever special value(s) set(s) you apart, a good brand strategy finds what it is and builds memorable and quality messaging around it.

Brand Alignment: If you’ve ever heard the phrase “on brand” before, brand alignment is what it’s referring to. How “on brand” are the overall goals, culture, and personnel of the company? When considering brand alignment, you’ll want to make sure that every aspect of your company is consistent with your brand promise. When you’ve got a good brand alignment, your company, employees, and customers are all going to be on the same page. Employees should be able to clearly state what it is that sets you apart (see Brand Strategy above). Customers should have a unique experience when interacting with your product.

Your brand is only successful to the extent that you, your employees, and your customers can agree on what it is.

Brand Communication: Brand communication is all about how you convey your company’s messages to the public. In one sense, this category is concerned with how you communicate your brand. So, when considering brand communication, you’ll want to think about your marketing materials and advertising strategy. How distinguishable and consistent are the design and graphics of your logo, brochures, flyers, presentations, and ads?

But in another sense, brand communication is also concerned with how other people communicate your brand. This is where a good PR strategy comes in handy. How is your reputation in the media? What are your Google and Facebook reviews like? When it comes to overall branding, what other people say about you is just as important as what you say.

Brand Execution: You can have your brand all worked out on paper, but how does it exist in the real world? Brand execution is all about how you bring your brand to life. Your brand doesn’t exist outside of your customer’s perception of it. Focus your brand execution efforts on making sure customers have the experience your brand promises.

Decide how you want customers to interact with your personnel and product. How do you want customers to be greeted? How do you want their complaints to be answered? Do you deliver relevant and valuable services to your customers in accessible and memorable ways? Execute your brand right, and your customers will remember you.

Next Steps

When crafting your own branding, you may find that you want to focus on some of these categories more than others. Maybe you already have a pretty good idea of what separates you from your competitors (Brand Strategy), but your promotional materials don’t have consistent formatting (Brand Communication). Wherever you want to target your branding efforts, Seventh Gear is here to help! If you want to learn more, look out for our downloadable template “Developing Your Brand” where we break down some tips, tricks, and best practices in each of these four areas.

Ultimately, whether or not you already have a robust brand, you want to take another look at it going into this new year. It’s time to start thinking about how to incorporate some 2020 consumer trends into your brand going forward. Maybe you can adjust your Brand Strategy by emphasizing your overall brand purpose or your local appeal. Maybe you need to think about how your Brand Execution can still be strong in a virtual setting. Making these small adjustments now can make a world of difference down the line.

Throughout the process, be sure to engage your employees and customers or clients - their input is invaluable.

If you’d like personalized branding recommendations for your organization or need some more guidance from us, contact us anytime. We’d also love to hear your branding wins from 2020 - how did you set your company apart? Was the process unexpected or planned? Tell us in the comments or send us a message.