The new normal is a phrase we’ve heard an awful lot of over the past few months. What will our post-Covid world look like? How will we get the economy moving again? And how can brands make sure their voices continue to be heard?
For Charlotte Nichols, managing director of PR and marketing agency Harvey & Hugo, the message is clear: “I believe Thomas Friedman’s hands to heads to hearts theory will never be more true as we emerge from lockdown. In the past we worked with our hands, and the technological era saw us lead with our heads, the future belongs to us making decisions with our hearts.”
In a post-Covid world, human connections, lost during lockdown, will prove vital for engaging audiences, and smart brands will capitalise on this.
As Charlotte explains: “Sensible businesses will have continued to promote their brands throughout lockdown, and science and history prove these brands emerge stronger. Your market share is proportional to share of voice, and so it follows that if your share of voice is greater than the share of market, you will gain Excess Share of Voice and brands will grow.
“During lockdown, smart brands played the long game and maintained or increased their voice while competitors reduced theirs.”
So, what does the future look like for building brands?
Firstly, you need a clear plan. While the temptation may be to go in all guns blazing, Charlotte explains you need to ensure you have the right message for the right people at the right time.
“Before you do anything, remember who you are. Has your product or service offering changed? Are your target audience still the same? Have your purpose or values shifted?
“If the answer is yes, you need to adapt and build those changes into how you communicate. You may find you’re having to revise some of your targets and objectives, and that’s fine – as Einstein said, ‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.’
Another key element of your post-pandemic strategy must be clarity. As Charlotte says: “You need a clear message to cut through all the noise of a post-lockdown world. Make sure you’re clearly communicating your purpose; are your values particularly pertinent now? Let everyone know.
“Telling your story is more important than ever – we’ve all been through this together, so sharing your lockdown experience honestly is a great way of capturing that human touch.”
And while your brand is going to be focusing on the outside world for a time, don’t forget your internal comms; your staff have all been along for the lockdown ride with you.
Tied in with the above is consistency; audiences trust brands that have provided some sense of familiarity. If you’ve not been as visible, Charlotte says now is the time to be brave and get back out there. “Keep your message and tone of voice consistent, both in terms of your presence and your values. Now is the time to take back control.”
Amid all the doom and gloom, what sticks with many people are the tales of good deeds, and this is true for brands too. Charlotte says: “At Harvey & Hugo, we build loveable and memorable brands, and now is the perfect time to show that your business is considerate and compassionate.
“Audiences are looking for meaningful content where they can learn something and improve themselves. Think of the ways your audiences have been affected; how can you help them? Take some time to reflect on what your brand can do to make the world a little brighter.
“At Harvey & Hugo, we practice what we preach, and we were pleased to be able to donate 20% of fees earned from Pay-as-Hugo packages to charities throughout lockdown.”
In showing your heart, you give your brand the chance to be creative – although remember to stay sensitive. Plenty of people and businesses are still suffering, and while TikToks of dancing nurses entertained the nation for a while, many audiences began to find the jollity jarring. As Charlotte says:
“By all means have fun and show your silly side – if it fits with your brand – but bear in mind the crisis is still ongoing.”
Brands may also look to play Covid-19 at its own game – after all, there is a reason why things are described as going viral.
In his book The Rules of Contagion, Adam Kucharski uncovers the underlying principles that drive contagion, from infectious diseases to online misinformation. From this, we can see how the now-familiar concept of the R rate can apply to content too, as it spreads exponentially through audiences. It’s such an effective tool that Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed, uses a formula to work out the R number of content to see how effective a campaign has been.
Charlotte says: “To transmit, you must create unique content that can ‘mutate’ - it needs to be adaptable and able to be repurposed for various platforms, as people also like to add their unique twist.
“You can further boost the R rate of your content by working with influencers – the super-spreaders of social media - to help share your content at a rapid rate.”
Perhaps most important is a contingency plan. “Brands must consider options if we re-enter lockdown or are hit by a second wave,” explains Charlotte. “Brand-building doesn’t need to stop, but you need to adapt and consider current situation.
“At Harvey & Hugo, we offer a range of services to help businesses react to the changing landscape, from retained monthly services to our flexible Pay-as-Hugo packages. We also offer training in PR, social media and content marketing, which is a great way to keep furloughed workers up to speed or simply refresh your teams’ memories.
“While the pandemic has caused untold upheaval, I truly believe that there are valuable lessons to be learned from it in terms of how and why we communicate with our audiences.”
Charlotte Nichols set up Harvey & Hugo in 2009, and has 16 years of PR and marketing experience, with a particular interest in the science behind brand building.
Harvey & Hugo work with a wide range of sectors and industries, with specialist expertise in professional services and built environment.
In 2010, Charlotte won Entrepreneurs’ Forum If We Can You Can Award for her flexible Pay-as-Hugo PR services.