What any business should consider as they approach 2021
As 2020 draws to a close, many people’s notions of ‘normal’ are now dramatically altered from their views of normality just 12 months ago. The rug has been pulled firmly from beneath our collective feet this year, and despite the good news heralded by recent developments in Coronavirus vaccines, for many there remains a huge degree of uncertainty over the future; not just in terms of their own financial situation and personal wellbeing, but in terms of their world view as a whole.
With people’s beliefs being challenged and their faith in ‘normality’ being stretched for such a prolonged period of time, two factors have emerged. First, it looks as though a lot of people are developing a mistrust or scepticism about things far more readily that they might have done pre-2020. Consider the multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccines, or the angry environmental and racial demonstrations we have seen this year. People’s increased insecurities are fuelling greater frustration and reaction to events. Second, and rather ironically, we appear to have even more of a driving urge – perhaps it is a primal human instinct? – to place our trust and belief in something. Anything will probably suffice, but for now the arrival of a Covid vaccine in the UK is filling the void and relieving many people of the mental stresses they have felt during the year.
With these factors combined, it is not surprising that many of us have experienced a shift in the way we now view certain brands and businesses. We are inclined to be more questioning, sceptical and mistrusting, and can no longer rely on previously well-proven expectations about these brands’ and organisations’ behaviours and motives. It has become increasingly difficult for many of us to maintain the same degree of loyalty and trust we may once have had in some of the world’s biggest brands – in short, our understanding of what a particular brand stands for has in many cases become blurred and is now being questioned.
For those of us who work within the world of brand led communications, this is a situation we’ve not encountered previously in our lifetimes, and is something we need to be aware of. It isn’t a situation that only big brands need to think about, either. Any business, of any size, in any sector, should be aware of its own values and motive, and of the way the outside world understands those values and perceives the business or brand. If you are a business owner or manager of a brand, it is probably worth dwelling on some key tactics that will help you in 2021.
Have a clear purpose. And stick to it
In 2021, as in any other year before it, organisations that fully understand why they exist will fair better than others. A business that knows its purpose and is authentic in how it behaves and speaks is much more able to navigate successfully through uncertain times, and engenders more trust than other businesses.
‘Be yourself and be consistent’ is the mantra here. 2020 saw a huge media focus on a number of social, environmental and racial issues, contributing to historic events and mass global movements. We have subsequently seen a number of brands align themselves to these waves of change in order to demonstrate their solidarity with what are undoubtedly laudable causes. All good in principle, but it should be done with caution: if your business was not already walking that particular walk, and you are viewed as cynically jumping on to a band wagon, your actions can backfire and cause seriously negative perceptions. When a brand genuinely has something to say, of course, it shines through and enables consumer loyalty to be built and reinforced. But if a brand’s actions lack authenticity in any way at all, it can seem shallow and disingenuous, isolating and repelling its consumers rather than attracting and reassuring them.
At the end of the day, if you know who you are and what you stand for, so will your consumer. So make some decisions about what you really stand for. And stick to them.
Be more human
Given the increased levels of scepticism within society, a business that engages with consumers in a more human way during 2021 will also fair better than one that does not. Understanding one’s consumers has always been vital, but when those consumers’ trust and faith in the future have been tested to breaking point by the unsettling events of 2020, it is not surprising that they are eager to find something they can truly rely on; something in which they can place their trust and confidence.
Treating consumers like ‘consumers’ is never the way forward of course, regardless of your business sector or the size of your organisation. They need to be treated as people, as friends even. The way you speak to them and the respect you afford them needs to be human, warm and consistently applied in order to earn their trust. And, not surprisingly, it needs to be genuine. Or at the very least, it needs to be thought of as genuine. If sincerity isn’t something you can convince people of, you’re probably in the wrong business.
In the marketing sector, our world view has shifted just as much as everyone else’s. Our understanding of what might have been a sensible communications strategy 12 months ago may no longer be something we can be sure of. But until the ‘normality’ we crave is resumed and we can be self-assured again, we simply need to be aware that everybody’s belief systems are in disarray and their natural human need to place their trust and faith in people, and organisations, is not merely a challenge for us, but an opportunity to get things right.
Best wishes for the festive season and good luck to you all in 2021.
The Team at Just Us