Is there anybody out there?

Brands should take some time to reflect on both their purpose and their messaging in a post-COVID world, says Ashgrove Marketing’s Terry van Rhyn.

Browsing through my vinyl collection recently, I came across The Wall by Pink Floyd and, in a somewhat nostalgic mood, laid it on the turntable. It took only a few moments for it to strike me that there are a few interesting parallels in the theme of this album and our current state of isolation.

I do not for one minute suggest that we are in the same dark place as Roger Waters was during the time he wrote lyrics such as Is Anybody Out There? But the idea of separation from the outside world does create a few interesting comparisons to our current lockdown.

From a marketing and branding perspective, a similar question could now be asked: “Are there any customers out there?” This is especially pertinent as world markets start to open again.

Even in a pre-COVID time, most people’s ability to recall a brand was very low and their recall of the relevance to an actual product often not very accurate. Post-COVID, marketing professionals will need to navigate their brands through some new and perhaps treacherous waters to find clever ways to re-connect and engage with their current audience and attract a new one. How do we do that?

In my mind, there are two key issues to be addressed when you start along this journey. The first is to revisit your purpose (why you do what you do) and find the one thing that defines your brand and makes it different from all your competitors. This may change over time so it’s important to go back and challenge your thinking on this in order to be able to move forwards with confidence and conviction.

The second is to find an emotional trigger that will resonate with your primary target audience and make them engage with you.

As humans, we have limited capacity to recall specific messages, especially when we are endlessly exposed to many thousands of remarkably boring and poorly-conceived advertising messages on a daily basis. If you want your brand to stand out from the humdrum, it’s vital to distil your brand message down to a singular and unique expression that relates to its primary purpose for existence.

Once you have defined what problem you have solved for your audience, the answer to that one thing you stand for will come into focus quite naturally. Just don’t fall into the trap of finding a problem to fit a solution rather than finding a solution to fit the problem. One is a lot easier to accomplish.

There’s also no need to over-complicate things: we will not remember all the many things you do well, we will only know how you make us “feel”.

When you come to articulating this message to the outside world, it is important to be bold and do something truly memorable and significant. The world is filled to the brim with mundane, average and simply boring communication messages, not to mention the abundance of utterly dull and uninspiring advertising.

Capture the imagination of your audience, stand out and, for heaven’s sake, be brave and let your message make an emotional impact. Be distinctive and sell the solution of the problem you have solved for your customer/client and not the product.

It’s well-known that, as consumers, we respond to emotional messages and we make buying decisions based on emotion and “feelings”. A study by Binet & Field found that emotional campaigns are twice as likely to work than rational ads and are more than twice as efficient at driving market share.

The simple truth is that we are all emotionally motivated to purchase one thing rather than another. As marketing professionals we rely on cognitive dissonance to help consumers resolve the paradoxes that may exist when they make a buying decision. When you feel good about the purchase or the brand relationship there is less chance that dissonance will occur and even if there a slight “buyer’s remorse”, it can be easily countered by offering a reminder of the reason for your purchase.

As advertising giant John Hegarty so eloquently states, “In reality, a brand only ever exists in the minds of consumers.” It is the job of the marketer to create the right conditions for that to happen.

To quote another Pink Floyd song, do not become Comfortably Numb by being anaesthetised against the reality of going out into the world again. We live in an era of perpetual change and, for marketing people, the trick is to keep your eyes open to see what is happening around you, listen to what your audience is asking for and be ready to react accordingly.

Failing to do so will most certainly result in your business and brand falling behind and even becoming irrelevant in the process. In fact, you might become just Another Brick in the Wall…