News • 19 01 2021

Seeing through the fog – brand priorities for an uncertain year ahead

Looking ahead into 2021 is still a bit like trying see through thick fog. Uncertainties abound like never before, making it hard to plan, but plan we must, and finding some focus is critical.

With 2020 (thankfully) behind us, business and brand decision-makers must carefully balance managing risk and pursuing opportunities. Cautious optimism feels to be the order of the day, as leaders begin to consider what success looks like in 2021 and how to best organise themselves to achieve it. Is this about growth or stabilising recovery? How will customer and consumer attitudes and behaviours shift? What do we prioritise or pause?

Whilst blurriness remains, here are some considerations we see for brand and marketing decision-makers that we believe should be front of mind as we take tentative but optimistic steps forward in the New Year.

Ask the big questions now

The COVID crisis may have forced the world to slow down, but it has also allowed us time to take stock.

Too often the speed of business as usual means putting off the big conversations about your brand. There’s always another product launch, another quarterly statement, or another internal initiative that gets in the way.

Now’s the time to take action, looking at the big picture of your brand, asking the challenging questions, and setting a strong direction for the future and understanding how brand is supporting your three- five- or ten-year plan.
Is your core purpose fit for purpose? Does your planned service expansion fit under your current brand or does it need its own vehicle? Has increased digital activity shifted your priority channels?

Now is the time to be answering these questions.

Establish firm brand strategy

It’s often surprising how many businesses don’t have strong brand strategy at the heart of their decision making.

Mature businesses that have shifted direction or experienced rapid recent growth may have brand strategy in place, but have simply outgrown it. For young businesses where key factors are constantly changing, investing in advertising focused on awareness and distinction rather than holistic brand thinking has been the priority.

Either way, this may deliver in strong performance in the short term, but not strong brands in the long term because they lack a platform of consistent yet flexible ambition and understanding.

When it’s time to expand the offer, diversify service or audience, where do you go without a strong sense of who you are and why you’re here, the broader benefit you’re creating and how you do it?

Establishing or restrengthening your brand strategy will help best position you to pursue new opportunities, win new clients and empower your internal culture.

Make sure your identity is digitally fit

The importance and role of digital channels for brands was undoubtedly one of the biggest impacts of 2020, whether through necessity, convenience or the fast evolution of technology and adoption of tools.

Whether you were accelerating your existing digital strategy or scrambling to make do with what you had, the question of how best to design digital experiences is front and centre for all.

For many brands this exposes existing gaps in their visual and verbal identity, often not built with digital at front of mind and lacking breadth and depth in assets, particularly voice, motion and sonic.

You might only need evolution to an already strong identity, or you might want to see a revolution in how your brand expresses itself, but either way identity change with a digital-first mindset should be seen as a future-proofing investment.

Put experience at the heart of your brand

We’ve always championed brands as the sum total of the experiences they create. It’s not enough to define what a brand stands for, but how it is recognised through its behaviour, whatever the environment.

With businesses being forced to focus online with direct-to-consumer channels, e-commerce and online video meetings replacing in store experiences and face-to-face meetings, that thinking becomes even more important.

Brands will continue to need to adapt at speed while maintaining consistency across different channels. Building brands on behaviours (actions you take and are recognised for) rather than values (things you believe in) helps establish clear brand experience principles that provide a firm strategic foundation of ambition and understanding.

A brand built on experiences provides a consistent thread that runs through every touchpoint that is brought to life in different ways across different channels.

Relationships not transactions

It’s clear that the impact of COVID has and will continue to influence consumer behaviour for some time.

As more people have been looking local, wanting to greater work / life balance and continue to judge business for their broader action (or inaction) on social issues, the brands that appear to be getting audience understanding right go above and beyond the immediate transaction of the product or service.

Whether they aim to empower us to make better decisions or use their business as a platform for good, it’s never been more important to for brands to build meaning and affinity.

Taking every opportunity to engage with consumers, customers or clients and understand how what is important to them is shifting is essential in order to build brand activities that will resonate.

Supercharge the sustainability story

2020 was a wake up call on the broader health of the planet as well as a human pandemic, but one of the most hopeful green shoots of recovery was the opportunity to build back more sustainably.

COVID has provoked increases in sustainability driven purchase behaviour and increasing demand for positive behaviour and action from businesses and brands. There’s also been growing noise around green investment, as doing good for the planet becomes even more good for business too.
This is the time to fix your vision on a more sustainable future and be clear on your role and contribution to it. Rather than treating sustainability as a sideshow in communication terms it’s essential to move beyond corporate reporting to actively telling your sustainability story through the lens of your brand.

It means shared ownership of the narrative, all aligned to present a coherent and more powerful thread, clear on your point of view and principles, in your voice, and creatively engaging.

By the Dragon Rouge London strategy team, led by Ant Cox, with contribution from Kate Sheerin, Emma Davies, David Partington and Tom Adams.
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