Lesley Foottit dissects the relationship between lockdown brand comms and customer loyalty
Lockdown was hard on everybody with the global population adjusting to a different way of living. From a business point of view, nobody had a rulebook on how to navigate the crisis. There was more pressure than ever on what brands were doing and how they were communicating through lockdown and nobody had any prior experience regardless of team pedigree.
The last few months have seen many a brand across all sectors come a cropper for myriad reasons: from the revelations around practices at Boohoo factories in Leicester that wiped £40m off the business overnight, to Amazon, DPD and JD Wetherspoon who have all come under intense media scrutiny.
Despite the severity of the pandemic and action taken to mitigate the effects, expectations of brands did not drop. In fact, they rose with consumers expecting more than ever. A survey found that a brand’s proven support for the local community, as well as their own staff and frontline workers was the most important thing a business or brand must demonstrate in order to secure their loyalty after lockdown (65 percent).
Second came clarity about health and safety measures taken (60 percent), and third was keeping them informed with timely, relevant communications (58 percent), while the availability of offer promotions and rewards for loyalty was also rated highly as a driver for loyal custom.
The key to all reasons for customer loyalty is communication. Brands may have implemented fantastic initiatives to support the front line, or even chalked up some amazing discounts for returning customers, but if the communication isn’t right, all that effort will go to waste.
The platforms brands chose to communicate through was also relevant. The most effective channel is a brand’s own website with 84 percent of respondents opting to look there first, while 29 percent would visit a mobile app if there was one. Unsurprisingly, social media was also high on the list of information sources for checking about extra measures and safety reassurances at 57 percent.
This revealed how important it is for brands and operators to engage with customers digitally to keep them up to date on response efforts and safety measures and to potentially maintain some sales through online ordering for home delivery. On the latter point, 41 percent said that a business that had continued trading during lockdown – including online-only for delivery or click & collect – would also add confidence to their decision to return post-lockdown.
So, which brands did well in their communications over lockdown and are in good stead for the next phase of the pandemic?
Beer brand Brewdog was, unsurprisingly, vocal from the outset. One of the first brands to produce its own hand sanitiser and donate thousands of bottles to the NHS, it remained present throughout lockdown including weighing in on Dominic Cummings’s gaff at Barnard Castle and most recently indulging in good-natured humour with Aldi.
Calling out the discounter for launching a product bearing undeniable similarity to its flagship Punk IPA, Brewdog was quick to launch Yaldi IPA.
The supermarket countered with a name change to Ald IPA and the two entered talks to ‘make it happen’. Brewdog stayed true to its values and strategy, engaging consumers and it didn’t hurt that home drinking soared in lockdown.
Again, benefitting from a population living under lockdown, Just Eat saw revenue shoot up in H1 by 44 percent Beyond the obvious reasons for a sales boom, the food delivery giant did the right things. On 13 March – long before the pandemic was declared – it rolled out contact-free delivery, therefore ticking the ‘safety’ box. In early April, it introduced a 25 percent NHS discount resulting in one million meals sold in the first fortnight, and in doing so ticked the box for caring for community and front line. The list goes on, but it also nailed the discounts and promotions so desired by consumers with sign-up fees for new members waived in March and plenty of money-off deals to cash in on the country’s euphoria at the return of football in June.
North London’s Camden Town Brewery also successfully hit the right note and ingratiated itself to consumers by rebranding its popular Camden Hells lager as ‘Camden Heroes’. It gave away a six-pack of the beer to every NHS worker as a thank you.
Yet another brewery, Budweiser, hit it just right with its ‘Whassup’ campaign, which aimed to remind people to check in with each other in isolation. Again, this hit the right message encapsulating ‘care’ – care of the NHS and care of others – as well as acknowledging that people would be finding lockdown difficult mentally.
Conversely, some brands failed to evoke the desired sentiment in the public with some efforts deemed short-sighted. Some larger brands fell foul when adapting their logos for impact. Volkswagen, for example, increased the distance between the V and W of its logo with the caption: “Thanks for keeping your social distance.” McDonalds Brasil responded in exactly the same manner, separating the golden arches in its iconic “M” for a Facebook post.
Other big brands using their logos to convey government messaging includes Guinness, which replaced the foam of its pint with a sofa to encourage people to stay at home; and IKEA Israel, which circulated a version of an assembly manual for the furniture company with the words ‘stay höme’ alongside a picture of a house, with icons of a key, lock and toilet paper.
There was criticism that, though clever, these were short-term PR stunts that failed to instil the desired emotion and trust in their audiences. The reaction is demonstrative of an unsettled and fear-filled population that was looking for reassurance from their favourite brands rather than a clever twist on design. In any other climate, no doubt these ideas would have gone down well and it must be said that not every effort has to be a big change.
And some brands, perhaps fearing negative reaction or any backfiring, held off to see how the short-term future unfolded. Coca-Cola, one of the best loved brands globally, was thwarted in a major marketing campaign in February just before the pandemic took hold. It did everything right – pulling ad spend and redirecting its efforts into a smooth COVID response including ensuring the safety and wellbeing of its workforce and donating £93m globally to organisations leading the coronavirus relief efforts. It stormed back into our consciousnesses last month with its multimillion-pound ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign that champions optimism and the search for a “better normal”.
Another well-loved brand put its foot on the brake until H2 – Cadbury and Oreo owner Mondelez International. It saw custom rise in lockdown as people spent more time at home and is looking to capitalise on that with a 30 percent increase in investment in ‘working media’ across Europe to create a bigger buzz around its brands.
If brands take nothing else from 2020, it should be that communication is key, digital presence is essential and a little humour goes a long way.
Lesley FOOTTIT, Account Director, Definition. Lesley’s a corporate communications expert who elevates the profiles and manages the reputations of leading companies across FMCG, professional services and retail brands www.definitionagency.com