In the last few months, unexpected changes to lifestyles and work habits started. Working from home due to the Coronavirus began. It impacted all corners of life and created a sharp decline in the economy due to the shutdown of many retail outlets. The entire retail and business infrastructure were taxed, largely disconnecting products and services from buyers. Besides the operational and financial challenges brands faced, consumers became more aware of how companies operate.

Additionally, we saw frequent stories on their employees’ inability to work and the global trade ceasing with limited transportation occurring. As impactful on our lives as they are, these changes have been augmented by the social unrest related to the Black Lives Matter movement — putting additional scrutiny on both the practices and social responsibility of companies to consumers. More than ever, brands are under increasing pressure to understand what it represents both internally and externally.

Consumer Preferences and Brand Supply Chain

When shelter in place started, consumers became hyper-aware of their consumption because certain items and brands were no longer readily available.

Consumers now know about the supply chains of many popular brands and why their products are unavailable or cannot be found on shelves. Consumers began to want information related to the sourcing and steps products took to get to them in light of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19 contraction. This level of transparency with consumers has forced many brands to provide their processes and logistics.

For consumers, this knowledge is part of the buying decision. They might switch to a more available brand or one they feel is better at addressing the interests of the public’s health. A brand’s supply chain and employee relations have been used as a differentiator in some sectors, but recent events are now an impetus for brands to think about and prepare for how to provide this level of information. 

Reflection of a Brand vs Antiquated Marketing

Along with brands increasing supply chain transparency, the scrutiny of brand ethos has become a discussion point in the media. Protests worldwide in support of reforms and changes related to Black Lives Matter have widened the discussion regarding how companies engage, represent, and support minorities and have prompted several well-known products to publicly announce changes. Quaker Oats announced it will retire the Aunt Jemima brandUncle Ben’s rice, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat are also no longer promoting the long-used images and mascots. The move to respond to the public’s disdain for insensitive branding extends beyond retail goods. The University of Virginia located in Richmond likewise announced changes to its athletic logo to remove a reference to the school’s history with slavery. 

All these efforts are direct responses to the public outcry and vocal opposition to mascots and imagery that is no longer seen as appropriate. For a brand, the desire to remain connected with loyal consumers and continue to garner new customers, and the priority of reviewing the pros and cons of changing the brands look and their messaging are not a small matter. In some cases, the shift from decades-old branding will be a significant move within a company and sector.

We will continue to see the social narrative motivate brands to evaluate their brand equity and decide if changes might be beneficial for both near and long-term growth. To rebuild a go-forward plan or to pivot away from what is no longer desired will require research and insights to craft the next generation of their brand image and how they want to be seen by their customers.

Evaluating Brand Health and Decision Making

Not unlike the public who adjusted their routines, shopping, and lifestyles, brands will need to adjust how they engage, message, and represent themselves to consumers. The trends and information from previous studies may no longer be useful in light of the recent events affecting their consumer base. What a brand cannot be is neutral during these times. The call is to be proactive in learning and understanding such concerns while pursuing a strategy that recognizes the risks and opportunities they may face.

By employing the use of brand tracking studies, companies can capture the consumer’s drivers and sentiments with respect to how recent events have influenced their buying decisions. While many companies may have existing studies in place, the realities of today require an objective review of what the study provides as it may no longer be relevant to the target audience.

Additionally, companies who have not maintained or done a brand health study, the benefits of this investment can help foster better-informed strategy decisions when looking ahead both for the remainder of the year and onward. Since brand tracking can include dynamics pertaining to consumers, competition, social and economic aspects, companies can get a data-supported assessment of how they are viewed by the public.

If you would like to learn more about the different approaches to brand health tracking or would like to start building a tracking study, click here to learn how Socratic’s Brand Health Tracking enables companies to make informed and data-supported strategy decisions.