Why Brands Will Be Fragile In 2021 and How They Can Win Consumers

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Why Brands Will Be Fragile In 2021 and How They Can Win Consumers

In this article, Christian Jones, head of marketing, Hawthorne Advertising, talks about changes to the traditional sales funnel in 2020, brand loyalty in 2021, and new ways to win consumers.

Brand loyalty is a thing of the past – and more fragile today than ever before. Fickle consumers, purchase path disruption, and the radically altered retail environment born as the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 will continue in 2021 and beyond. Marketers must be prepared for the opportunity — and the threat.

2021 Consumer Experience Trends

The Fragility of Brands in 2021
The early months of the pandemic triggered an avalanche of panic buying and hoarding, resulting in empty grocery shelves and nationwide stock shortages. The alarming sight of empty shelves at some of the world’s most efficient grocery retailers was sufficient stimulus to recalibrate consumer expectations and sentiment immediately. The willingness to buy literally any brand of toilet paper, canned soup, energy bar, or hand sanitizer grew exponentially in those initial weeks and months.

The unprecedented, urgent recalibration of brand loyalty — where immediate need always trumps loyalty — has since extended from grocery into nearly all categories, including ecommerce. According to a HubSpot report, 50% of U.S. consumers left a brand they were loyal to because a competitor met their needs better. You can capitalize on this sentiment shift by ensuring your supply chain and stock is aligned with your paid media campaigns. Regularly refactoring risks or bottlenecks in your distribution and with vendors and suppliers is critical, given the array of unforeseen circumstances arising globally.

If your projections can augur potential stock shortages, then scale back on your media accordingly. Driving awareness with ill-planned media campaigns when a product is not available or delayed is a death spiral. By the same token, keep an eye on your competition. If their category-competing products are out of stock or delayed while you are flush, double- or triple-down on your media spend to seize the opportunity to convert consumers who are considering an alternative brand for their immediate needs. These competitive windows may only last a few days, so remain vigilant and agile and demand the same of your agency or media team.

The Low-Risk Transactional Environment
The ascendance of ecommerce, particularly Amazon Prime, has obliterated the traditional consumer funnel for lower price point items, generally in the sub-$50 range. The jump from top-of-funnel awareness to bottom-of-funnel conversion has exploded with the accelerants of same- or two-day shipping and free returns. Capitalize on this acceleration and this low-risk transactional environment by offering discount codes to create a sense of “exclusivity” or designing unique upsell offer configurations to sway new customers. Timely messaging that will address consumers’ immediate needs at that moment will capture impulse buys effectively.

The caveat is that if your main ecommerce channel is through Amazon and their subsidized, low-risk transactional environment, you will be missing a considerable chunk of first-party data on your customers. It is a classic Sophie’s Choice. If the long-term goal is to have a clear window into lifetime value (LTV) and the ability to pull levers to control that metric, then create a best-in-class ecommerce experience (with free shipping and free returns). Also, create a trade sales volume for valuable, long-term customer data.

The New Lenses of Assessment
America’s polarization and politicization will inevitably trickle down to brands, or at the very least brands that are targeting younger demos. Both the Millennial and Gen-Z demos have made it abundantly clear that they are seeking to align themselves with brands that are taking action to promote the greater societal good. Attracting these younger consumers with cause-based marketing, social responsibility positioning, and sustainably focused practices that eschew the current mainstream will ultimately gain traction with the target. But it may alienate large swaths of other demographics. Again, it is Sophie’s Choice. Brand loyalty is being attacked by myriad influences, and the landscape is shifting beneath us all. So, what is next?

The Next Step
We will turn a corner in 2021. Things will get better. But the effects of our collective experience as consumers, marketers, and humans will linger for many years to come. There will be decreased brand loyalty, increased customer churn, sporadic re-engagement, non-monogamous brand loyalty in every category. As a result, there will be more opportunities for brands to collaborate, cross-promote, and bundle. Ultimately, we have entered a new frontier, with an irreversible shift in consumer behavior. It will be driven by the frictionless swipes and the impulsive clicks that are enabled and driven by the low-risk, high-reward enticement of each purchase engagement.

What is the solution? Now, more than ever, it is critically important to be a brand that is “there” when the customer needs you most. Focus your brand vision, double down on your marketing investment, raise your awareness with your core and incremental audiences, and be ready to engage. If you are the friendly face and trusted voice when that brandless consumer is seeking, you will win them over in any environment.

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