Consumer brands are facing multiple challenges with the pandemic, social movements, and intense scrutiny. Some marketing trends in advertising include new content marketing and digital experiences, adapting offerings and messaging to reach consumers, and diversity and inclusion.
1. Content Marketing and Digital Experiences
- Consumers expect more from brands now than before the pandemic. They want purpose, empathy, and socially responsible actions, but more than anything, Americans are seeking value and convenience.
- As consumers change their shopping habits, trying new brands and channels, brand loyalty is suffering the consequences of shifting demands and increased scrutiny. The replacement of in-store purchases and offline channels by at-home alternatives and online shopping, associated with decreased spending and brand loyalty, are forcing brands to discover new ways to engage with consumers. At the same time, building trust is increasingly important.
- One trend that is escalating and changing is content marketing. The pandemic is increasing the demand for content and experiences while making it riskier at the same time, as brands cannot afford to be seen as taking advantage of the situation. As reported by Edelman, “71 percent of consumers agree that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.”
- According to the Harvard Business Review, companies need to demonstrate that “their contributions are material and not solely for commercial benefit. Consumers recognize authenticity and true purpose.” Some brands are achieving good results providing free, convenient, suitable, and helpful digital content and experiences, with subtle ad placements, hoping to avoid “coming off as insensitive or opportunistic,” while promoting brand awareness and loyalty.
- Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of retail consulting agency The Lionesque Group, explains that this strategy helps brands create human connections, which may not result in impulse purchases, but help build loyalty. She further adds, “Even if you are a product company, you have got to be a service company right now.”
- Nike is one brand reaching consumers with helpful content, using star athletes to drive engagement. Noticing that consumers were seeking at-home workouts and focusing on health, the company announced it would make its Nike Training Club app free of charge for anyone looking for tips, streaming workouts, training programs, and other features. The idea was initially implemented in China during the outbreak, and according to the CEO, it resulted in strong engagement and a 30% increase in digital sales.
- Additionally, Cristiano Ronaldo posted videos and pictures of him working out at home while using Nike gear, with the hashtag #playinside. He also launched the #livingroomcup challenge, where users needed to match the soccer player’s workout routine (examples of Ronaldo’s posts can be found in this google doc). The video has over 42 million views on Instagram. The company also partnered with NFL stars to offer virtual training to athletes, such as student-athletes.
- Lululemon is also offering free classes. CEO Calvin McDonald stated that the “free online sweat sessions” resulted in a 40% increase in digital sales, and 170,000 people joining the sessions.
- Nature’s Baker, a D2C healthy snack company, created a new campaign targeting parents looking for ways to entertain their kids during school closures. The campaign’s website has game ideas for kids, including a digital book called “What on Earth should I do with my kids?” The company used paid and organic social media, sponsored content, influencers, and programmatic native ads.
- Brewdog, an alcohol brand, hosted several digital events to celebrate dates people traditionally go out. The “BlankHoliday” event involved musical acts, a tour of the new DogHouse hotel, and weekly pub quizzes. The company asked consumers to register in advance, and then promoted the event to make consumers treat the event like a night out.
2. Shifting Focus to Reach the New Consumer
- The pandemic has altered consumers’ behaviors and priorities, as reported by Nielsen and Google. Brands are reevaluating their consumers to understand what product claims are the most relevant right now and how to adapt while acknowledging that they may shift again shortly.
- McKinsey points out that the pandemic could drive or reverse consumer trends, and brands will have to adapt. According to the consulting firm, as these “new behaviors solidify, companies will need to adapt to fundamentally different consumer preferences and behaviors regarding how consumers get their information, what and where they buy, and how they experience the product or service.”
- COVID-19 is also accelerating the agile marketing transformation. Circumstances are changing quickly, and brands have to build “rapid-response operating models internally and with agencies.” Chiquita Brands quickly removed Miss Chiquita from their logo, saying, “I’m already home. Please do the same and protect yourself.”
- Many D2C brands are changing their offerings and marketing focus to reach the new consumer, including relocating search budgets, focusing on targeted marketing, and putting different products at the forefront of marketing campaigns.
- For example, when Huda Beauty, one of the most successful D2C beauty brands globally, noticed a shift in demand, it changed the focus of its search budget to lure consumers:
3. Diversity and Inclusion
- The death of George Floyd ignited debates and protests nationwide. Silence is no longer considered acceptable by a large portion of the population, and brands are being pressured to speak out. Many brands are taking a stand, vowing to fight racism and inequalities, and support social justice causes. They are also making changes to operations to advance equality.
- Avoiding tone-deaf messaging and practices may not be enough anymore, as consumers demand action. In response, companies are seeking more opportunities to partner with black influencers, are removing racist stereotypes from their products and advertisements, and making meaningful statements on social media. For example, Quaker Oats removed Aunt Jemima as the face of its maple syrup and pancake mix.
- According to the Harvard Business Review, there are different response levels, and each influences how consumers perceive the brand:
Multiple companies pledged donations to social justice movements. Others are providing services to the Black community, such as promoting Black artists and creations. Laser removal firm, Removery, is offering to remove racist and hate tattoos for free. The company said it has seen a 30% increase in “website leads and consultation.”
4. Focus on Charity and Empathy
- Brands are trying to connect with their customers by sending marketing messages that show their charitable relief and frontline assistance activities.
- According to Rachel Strella, founder of Strella Social Media, companies are trying to show empathy and connect with their customers’ emotional challenges. “Many have adjusted their messaging to align with what’s going on in the world and within in their organization. I predict that messaging will soon focus on offering hope and positivity to counterbalance the sadness and uncertainty.”
- Tabitha Jean Naylor, marketing expert, also notes “a shifting trend towards empathetic messaging from brands on social media,” as brands try to connect with customers’ emotions during these challenging times.
- PepsiCo is engaging with customers and generating brand loyalty by sharing the company’s charitable and relief efforts on their social media, as seen below:
5. Advertising and Connecting through Social Media
- Social media usage has increased significantly since the lockdowns started.
- People can now buy products and services directly through social media apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, among others.
- Marketers should focus on advertising through social media to take advantage of increased usage of these platforms.
- In July 2020, digital advertising spending increased 3.6% versus July 2019, indicating companies are aligning their marketing efforts with the increased digital and social media usage of consumers.
- PepsiCo has launched two D2C websites in the past few months. The company is successfully engaging customers through online conversations on social media, specifically Twitter, as seen below:
Chewy, a D2C pet supply brand, is utilizing consumer generated content to connect with customers through social media. By doing so, the brand is trying to engage directly with customers, and is also using humor to connect on a personal level, as seen in both posts below:
6. Personal Messages and Transparency from Brands
- Brands are taking a more personal and relatable approach to communicating with their customers. By doing so, brands are trying to build trust, along with honest and authentic relationships with their customers during uncertain times.
- Glossier, a D2C cosmetic company, is providing COVID-19 updates written by the founder and CEO of the company, Emily Weiss: “In her second update published in early April, Weiss not only got personal about her own struggles as a first-time CEO faced with a pandemic, but she also outlined in detail what the company is doing in terms of compensation for furloughed employees and store closures.” This is helping customers connect on a personal level with the company.
- Neil Sheth, a digital content strategist, states that, “Since the lockdown took place, it’s been really nice to see the human unfiltered side behind brands. Whether that’s videos in the kitchen, with kids and without dressing up, it’s been great to see authentic content… Similar to brands realizing that their staff can actually work remotely, I expect brands to be more comfortable with creating and publishing unedited visual content.”