Should brands play it safe in 2021

By: Laura Anne Danaraj

During the pandemic, marketers scrambled to get creative by taking risks and trying new things to get the attention of consumers. Some shifted marketing strategies to address new consumer shopping habits and experimented with different channels and tools to engage consumers – integrating their brands to become a part of the consumers’ lives. These creative marketing approaches will remain a main driver of change, and potentially new opportunity through 2021 and the best strategies will become consistent.

On the flip side, some brands might want to wait until the dust settles and have a clearer view of what the new landscape will look like instead of leading a response within a volatile market. Also, with the proliferation of internet-empowered consumer groups and social media, consumers are responding to things they don’t like and get a reaction instantly, sparking a backlash with brands suffering from public mauling.

So do you reinvent the entire playbook or do you stay cautious? I believe if brands are able to take a calculated risk while remaining flexible are those that will stand out. Completely stopping innovation will only become dangerous in the long run.

In this interview, we speak with Michael Ryan Chan, Managing Partner at Evye LLP to find out if this is the right time for brands to rescale and reinvent.

Yes! Now is the perfect time to experiment, take risks and start anew. Never before has the world been so comfortable being digital-first. Never before have we moved so quickly to adopt new technologies, policies and even new paradigms. So, in the wake of all this agility on the part of consumers and businesses (albeit due to necessity), it makes the most sense to me to leverage on this momentum to make new inroads. If 2020 was a time for reflection and reconnecting, then 2021 is when we bring those lessons to bear.

If you are a brand developing a branding and marketing strategy for 2021, you can ask yourself these 3 broad questions to help point you in the right direction:

1) What did you do differently than planned in 2020 because of the pandemic?

2) Did that different approach continue to bring in customers and revenue?

3) Do you think you can take that approach to the next level without the restraints of COVID?

If you can answer yes to #2 and #3, then you are already positioned to do things differently in 2021. Of course, this is very broad and really depends on the real facts and circumstances of your brand.

Do you think the emphasis right now is on marketing to existing customers rather than acquiring new ones?

I believe the emphasis should always be (and should have been) about existing customers. If your baseline has always been about new customers and not about your existing ones, then that strategy wouldn’t really have much legs in the long run.

Focusing on existing customers shouldn’t be an afterthought due to the pandemic because it seems harder to reach new customers. Rather, you should already be marketing to existing customers as an intrinsic part of your marketing strategy, pandemic or not. That’s because your existing customers are perhaps your greatest asset to convince new customers!

However, rather than focus on getting your existing customers to buy more from you, make them love what they already bought more. It could be following-up on their last purchase, sharing other use cases of the product they bought so they can derive more value from it, or good companion products (even if it’s not your own) to all that builds up towards giving existing customers an emotional and logical incentive to recommend the product to others. And that’s how you can effectively get new customers, pandemic or not. 

What changes for the better and/or worse have you seen in the marketing approaches of brands since the pandemic hit, and will those continue in 2021?

There was a lot of bandwagon jumping in 2020, and there were many approaches that felt like lip service. For instance, it is okay to be “standing together against Covid” in March 2020, but not so much in December 2020 when that attitude is the expectation, not the exception.

That’s why I believe that this is the best time to rethink marketing strategies and not just play it safe. The tremendous changes in the world are but opportunities to discover. Some brick and mortar brands have transformed physical appointments at their stores into an experience customers would pay a premium for, while ensuring that their online retail still allowed their customers to buy whatever and whenever they wanted.

Like Michael, I agree that focusing on existing customers should remain a top focus. Brands can no longer “play it safe” even with existing customers, because they will continue to change their behavior and loyalties — rapidly. A shift to digital, online-offline, CX, q-commerce, influencer marketing etc. has made standing still almost impossible. This makes a multi-pronged approach an inherent part of any retail marketing strategy.

For brands that are waiting it out or receding to tried-and-true tactics, it’s time to take this leap of faith, grab the reins and do something bold and big!

Return to Blog