The post-lockdown COVID era is seeing more and more brands competing frantically for attention. We’re seeing brands shifting their positioning, look and feel in response to the pandemic as attitudes and preferences evolve.
What was important before the pandemic, may not be as critical now. If you’ve already had some brand recognition, and maybe even an emotional response to a certain brand, you have an advantage in rising above the noise.
What can you do to ensure your brand is best poised for growth opportunities in these business unusual times? It’s a question we posed to our brand enthusiast and expert, Bill Downie, Creative Director and Founder of Pear Advertising & Design.
Bill has been a brand champion for over 30 years and has conducted hundreds of branding exercises. Bill Downie is currently working in partnership at Pear with his twin daughter Designers, Morgan and Sydney. We interviewed him to determine what the best practices are today for ensuring your brand is continuing to make an emotional connection.
What is the biggest difference you see today in branding that you didn’t see in your early days?
In the past, companies could influence their brand image by tapping into the dominant media of the time from TV, radio and print. Successful brands have always been engaging, fun and entertaining.
When I started my career, we tried to get people to aspire to belong to the brand. That’s not the case anymore. Successful brands aim to belong to the people.
Now that social media has eclipsed traditional media, empathy has become more important for brands to remain relevant. You need to consider inspiring your customers not just selling to them.
What brands are doing a good job during the pandemic? Do you have two favourites?
Brands need to be authentic. I applaud both Audi and A&W for how they are connecting with people.
In Audi’s case, they have moved their signature rings apart to support social distancing. Their brand messaging encourages people to take care of each other now more than ever, just by doing one simple thing – keeping distance. I love it!
A&W created an ad with a message of gratitude to its restaurant staff, essential workers and everyday Canadians “staying home to stop the spread” with the spokesperson at home with a partial logo visible on the wall behind him. It strongly connects with how we are all feeling. It’s real and authentic – two strong emotions that any brand would want people to remember them by.
What brand advice can you give to companies working through the COVID-19 pandemic?
More than ever, be true to your values. People will look back to this time and consider what your brand stood for during COVID-19. Keep asking yourself, “why do we do this?” Consider a brand audit to ensure that you are still properly communicating to people who are questioning everything due to the ongoing uncertainty.
Do you see any notable brand design shifts as a result of the pandemic?
Yes, I see more companies looking for ways to show optimism. Using colours that show more emotion.
Here’s an example, retailers have always leaned into using red as it used to show confidence. Today, red represents commonality more that setting you apart as so many companies use it in their brands.
I’m seeing use of more earth tones and natural colours as well. What is most important now is that your brand be visually effective online and in mobile formats. Having said all that, there are no ‘rules’ on how brands select and apply colour. A large dose of instinct and trust in your design partners will get you there.
Should brands consider conducting an audit?
I’d strongly recommend a competitive review to consider who has entered the space. The landscape has changed and so have the companies that you compete with to gain attention. There will be more competitors post COVID!
Ask yourself the obvious questions to be sure you don’t get lost; “What visual space can we occupy to stand apart from the competition?”, “What tone of voice best represents us and connects with our target audience(s)?”, and “What content will catapult us to becoming the opinion leaders?”
Are brand albums still essential for ensuring your brand is relevant and connecting with your target audience?
Branding brings creativity to purpose and brand albums are key to ensuring that emotional and graphic assets are consistent through all brand touch points. This important document delivers the result of an effective branding process and remains a valuable resource to any organization, big or small. It’s a pulse check to ensure guidelines are always being met.
The sorts of ‘Brand Albums’ that are effective are ones that are respectful of the user’s time. While the information is extremely valuable, nobody wants to read a clinical looking 45 page ‘Graphic Standards Manual’ and, truthfully, nobody does. We call them ‘Brand Albums’ because it implies something more personal and engaging. One of our most favoured feedbacks on a Brand Album we created was that it “Reads like a glossy magazine.” Thank you!
What are your top three brand strategies for companies to consider during the pandemic?
- Avoid being trendy – don’t chase trends as you risk losing your authenticity.
- Your choice of colour is more important than ever – colour evokes emotional connection.
- Break the rules – consider using colour palettes that change with the seasons or a logo that the literally evolves to better suit their interest of the brand community, for example.