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Leveraging Brand Bonds in Times of Crisis


MISSION's group chief executive, James Clifton, on why brands need to focus on nurturing their established bond with consumers

Leveraging Brand Bonds in Times of Crisis

Brands are facing a gloomy outlook as consumers watch energy, grocery and mortgage bills soar while the exchange rate, house values and their spirits plummet. That old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”, certainly feels like it applies right now. But rather than grappling with short-term pricing pressure, brands need to focus on nurturing their established bond with consumers.

It makes sense to worry that loyal customers might opt for the cheaper alternative or, worse, own-label. A customer lost is not easily recovered and almost never cheaply. But tactical discounting isn’t the answer. Price is often seen as a proxy for quality and status. Long-term discounting can undermine your real price point (see Pizza Express, Café Rouge et al) and erode brand equity. 

The better answer may be hiding in plain sight: your brand. 

If you’ve laid the right foundations, you know why consumers prefer your brand and can bolster those core values as a more durable and effective defence against price pressure. It’s all about your brand story, purpose, and personality. For example, if you’re all about ethical, sustainable ingredient sourcing, bolstering those credentials will remind consumers why they prefer you and strengthen price resistance.

Similarly, if superior performance is a key brand attribute, say in the detergent space, then communicating how Persil needs less product to achieve a superior outcome can reassure customers it’s worth paying extra. This was a key message for P&G’s Fairy Liquid for decades, the other being ‘kind to hands’, helping make it a sector juggernaut.

Brands with strong bonds to consumers enjoy many benefits. Research shows that 57% of consumers who feel a strong bond to a brand will increase spending, 76% will buy that it in preference to a competitor, 64% will consider themselves ‘loyal’ and 68% will recommend the brand to a friend. This can even help overcome the odd misstep: 38% say they will still buy even after a bad experience.

Brand bonds can literally be anything – from packaging to provenance to perfume. And they needn’t be tangible. In fact, emotional bonds can be amongst the strongest: nostalgia (my Mum always used Camay), a way to show love (my grandkids love Smarties), a reward (my Estee Lauder face cream is my treat to myself), an expression of who your values (TOMS shoes) or a way to project status (yes, it is the latest iPhone).

Understanding what your brand’s key bonds are and leveraging them at times of vulnerability or distress can be highly effective. Identify the key connection points driving positive sentiment and then amplify and reinforce them to increase sales. Social activity can be a highly effective way to do this, being both fast and relatively low-cost. It doesn’t need lots of new content creation either, just expanding upon or retelling core truths about your values. 

Often marketers neglect such activity, assuming everybody knows it. Not so: consumers have only so much bandwidth. But happily, it’s the kind of activity they welcome. Research done by Headstream with UK consumers showed 79% wanted to hear authentic stories from brands they liked, 44% would share them and 55% would buy that brand in future. 

One note of caution: you can’t leverage what’s not there. It’s very difficult to start building a brand story from scratch in times of price distress. You should have already laid the brand foundations and built equity beforehand in order to leverage one or more of the key elements for this to work well. 

Furthermore, done well, you can actually be a positive source of comfort for your consumer in a turbulent world. While it’s very easy just now to believe the world is crumbling around us, still having your favourite brands to hand can be a tangible reassurance that we’re still in control and that we will survive these “interesting times”.

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krow, Thu, 26 Jan 2023 11:27:38 GMT