Over the last year, brands of all sizes have sought to adapt to a radically altered economic landscape and redesign their communication strategies. Some have been successful. Some have seen significantly diminished sales and revenues. And others have been forced to shut their doors indefinitely.

So, what separates the brands that have successfully adapted from those that haven’t? We invited communications expert Catalina Abadia to discuss this important question.

Catalina works for the Hain Celestial Group as the U.S. advertising director. She is an EU Business School alumna and is currently based in New York. The Hain Celestial Group has a broad product portfolio, including personal care products, teas, organic food and snacks and more.

Catalina has over fifteen years of experience in the brand communication space and has helped a large number of businesses, including CPGs and companies in the technology, financial and luxury sectors, to create and implement effective strategies. Before joining the Hain Celestial Group, she managed advertising for The Clorox Company and was responsible for all of Latin America.

Understanding Shifting Consumer Habits and Practices

Catalina began her presentation by outlining how disruptive the COVID-19 pandemic has been for businesses and brands. From general buyer behavior to companies’ day-to-day internal operations, nearly every aspect of the economic landscape has been affected in unprecedented and unexpected ways.

Catalina pointed out that any successful modern brand strategy needs to begin with an understanding of how human beings react in crises. Specifically, business leaders should recognize the individual tendency to turn towards self-protection and attempt to regain a sense of control. Consequently, companies need to go beyond the mindset of seeing products as purely functional and look at how they provide value and meaning to customers in a broader context.

One area where Catalina and her team noticed a significant change was in relation to the consumption of particular product categories. From the outset of the pandemic, customers started to spend larger amounts of money on essential items and sidelined products they viewed as treats, expendables or “postponables” (things that aren’t needed immediately).

Equally, lifestyle habits shifted dramatically. There has been a broad move to online retail channels, working from home, virtual classes, online education and a greater emphasis on health and sanitation standards.

Catalina described how all these behaviors affected the evolution of brand communication strategy. If, for example, fewer people are likely to see a brand image on a store shelf or shop display, it becomes preferable to funnel resources into other areas such as online advertising.

Catalina said that brand strategists must understand all types of behaviors that relate to a typical buyer’s customer journey. Without a clear picture of the “normal day” of a consumer, along with the needs, worries and desires that emerge through that typical day, it’s impossible to put together an effective communication strategy.

Fundamentally, effective brand communication is about understanding how consumers behave and then creating as many compelling and meaningful touchpoints as possible.

Building New Communication Strategies

Working from an understanding of how consumer habits have changed due to the pandemic, Catalina and her team built an updated brand communication strategy equipped to deal with future uncertainties.

She outlined ten components of her updated approach to brand strategy:

1. Adapt to new media consumption habits: With more people at home, people have understandably started to consume more online content. Brands need to shift their promotional activities to account for this trend.

2. Focus on dynamic messages: Catalina emphasized that content has to be relevant to a company’s audience. In a crisis, customer needs change rapidly. As a result, large portions of core messaging often need to be altered at short notice.

3. Activate special offers: With people being more careful about how they spend their money, promotions and special offers have become essential tools.

4. Re-allocate resources based on the understanding of new consumer habits: The ability to respond quickly and re-assign advertising funds without lengthy checks has proven an essential part of Catalina’s brand strategy.

5. Adapt messages in real-time: Because of the fast-changing nature of the pandemic, messages may need to be adapted in hours rather than weeks and months.

6. Strengthen social media: With most people communicating online, social media has become the primary promotional channel for many businesses. Catalina has allocated significant resources to sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

7. Focus attention on online distribution channels: Brand strategists have to work hand-in-hand with other departments in a company. With the rise in e-commerce, working collectively to leverage online distribution channels has become a priority for brands.

8. Open up new customer service channels: High-quality customer service has become a critical competitive differentiator for all companies. As such, new channels, such as social media and live chat, have become crucial in this process.

9. Design cross-selling channels: Cross-selling refers to the process of promoting complementary products across different categories. Building promotional channels such as email that allow for cross-selling have enabled Catalina to maximize online revenues.

10. Personalize communication: Personalization allows Catalina to target customer segments with specific campaigns and product offers. Once personalization infrastructure is set up, it is very easy to drive further efficiencies.

Catalina also pointed out that it was essential to implement an infrastructure that allowed her to track performance and efficiency. Often, brands want to increase market share and penetration in concrete terms. She was also keen to point out that while brand strategists have had to adapt to an unprecedented situation, the fundamentals of marketing remain the same.

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