Kate Jervis
Kate Jervis 4 December 2020

Silver Service: Why it’s Time For Brands to Stand Up And Take Notice

The usual rules of marketing no longer apply with once thriving industries such as travel, retail and hospitality plunged into uncertainty and their traditional narrow margins now a significant threat to future resilience. 

Covid-19 has meant every industry, vertical, and company has had to take a look at how it operates. While the initial wave of the pandemic looks to be flattening, there may be spikes across different regions.

It's why marketers must look at introducing a new service layer, one that plays to a brand’s strengths and assuages its weaknesses. It’s also why they must challenge outdated concepts, such as annual budgeting, and reimagine how they engage with agencies and consumers alike.

This new service layer world is paramount, as 43% of consumers look to brands and services that deliver reassurance. In one sense this crisis has proved an opportunity for all brands to snap out of their collective funks. Different verticals face different challenges but each has the ‘permission’ to press reset to save a business or take advantage of new market conditions. 

From Introspection to Action

For some marketers, this will mean stepping back and using the time to review and rebuild the way they operate. Whether that’s in terms of measurement, how they invest in campaigns or how they reach consumers. 

For others, it is time to evaluate agency structures – is how they work giving them the flexibility and expertise to succeed in times of chaos and calm? For instance, a big trend of the past three or four years has been in-housing. Yet the decision to in-house expertise need not be an all or nothing. A hybrid approach, or one that also engages external experts and consultants can help bridge any knowledge gaps within a company. There are more requirements now for very specific skills that might not be needed on a full time basis. 

These past six months should have been a time of introspection and look internally rather than be sidelined by worries of what everyone else is doing. 

This is a good thing. The direction of change was already here, forced by technology, and is now being expedited. Already we were focused on changes in areas such as in measurement and identity due to regulatory and browser changes that will effectively kill off the third-party tracking cookie. In that regard, this pandemic represents the perfect storm. 

The Myth of the Complete Customer View

We could potentially move towards more session-focused data, essentially anonymised user behaviour, rather than that fabled ‘complete view of the customer’.  

That customer-centric approach had already led to an over-reliance or obsession with capturing data rather than utilising it. The industry was planning for this perfect world, which if it ever did exist, certainly doesn’t now. 

Customer behaviour is oscillating as it never has done before, with less time to create the perfect customer segmentation. Whereas once it was possible to predict priorities, the world is much less predictable. Take hula hoops, or jigsaw puzzles which have both become popular lockdown purchases. Once that hula hoop might have been a gift for a five-year-old niece or nephew; now it’s as likely to be for the consumer who made the purchase. 

It means that marketers are having to do more with less, and that forces us all to be more creative and purposeful. Sometimes, the more known about the consumer the lazier marketers are with the creative and message. 

Delivering on the Promise of Purpose and Practicality

Strategy is great, but what’s the point of actionable insights unless they are actually going to be actioned? The industry has long been guilty of churning out more and more information for fear of making mistakes. Being a marketer has never been about listening to the data alone, and it’s why automation in the industry can only ever go so far. 

It’s about creating opportunities for customers with new buying intentions. While much of the travel industry is on hold or severely limited right now, what is the right approach for keeping a brand front of mind for when times get better, or for when travel is essential? Here, the legacy carriers and agents might hold an advantage, offering flexibility over rock-bottom prices, for example. 

The real challenge for many businesses is to survive during this period of unrest, particularly if sales are compromised as is the case with many in the travel and hospitality sectors. It is why it is vital to keep the brand front of mind, and ensure a positive perception. Right now, more than before, consumers are considering every purchase and companies are fighting over restricted demand.

The real challenge is how to continue to keep profit afloat? The main advice would be around brand perception because we’re in a very different space from when everyone had to fight for the same space all the time. There is a real consideration process that consumers are going through with their purchasing power. 

These are all big changes that won’t be solved immediately or through this new service layer alone, though it is the foundation on which success will be built. It will require huge changes to not only how agency and consultancy relationships are forged but within the business itself. And chief amongst these may well be how to support that iterative process needed for changeable times. 

For far too long we as an industry have been shackled by legacy practises, such as annual budget setting. If 2020 shows us nothing else, it’s that none of us can predict what is around the corner, so why should we set aside monies to do just that?

A good first step would be to have a substantial test and learn budget, something that marketers and procurement officers alike should embrace. See what works, tweak, and try again. These are short term steps that lead to long term success, and it’s how brands can deliver on the promise of purpose and practicality across entire consumer life cycles.

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