01 / Article

Vulcan Q&A: How do you grow a brand during the third quarter of the COVID pandemic?

Erin Doland
Erin Doland
9 min read

A client recently confessed some of the trials his brand is facing during the long haul of the COVID Pandemic. This was hardly the first time we’ve heard such worries and frustrations in recent days, and we doubt it will be the last. As we were preparing to work with his team, we realized our process framework could be helpful to marketing, product, and brand managers everywhere who are now six months into the pandemic.

With his permission, from his email:

“Half our product line no longer exists because of supply chain issues. All our resources have gone into launching [new product], but our brand still looks like it did six months ago. We need to rebrand and grow to survive into next year … Can you help?”

Like the haircut you desperately need after months of quarantine, your brand could probably use some attention right now, too.

You pivoted and made adjustments to how you do work back in the early spring—and those transformations are keeping your business afloat—but who your company was in April and who it is now could look and feel like very different companies. (Do you even recognize your own face in the mirror these days?)

Now is the time to clearly define your company as it is in this moment and what it does in this altered marketplace, especially if you want to build your brand through the long-haul of the pandemic. You need an infusion of creativity, energy, and ideas. You need to do more than merely survive this *gestures at everything* mess.

Your brand is a combination of who you are and what you do. Your brand is what hollers to the world how you’re distinct from your competitors. Your company logo, messaging, voice, colors, products, packaging, each piece of digital and printed material, the ways your customer service agents respond to inquiries, even your email signature, and numerous other elements combine to communicate your brand. And if we were the betting type, we’d put money on the table that some or all of your brand assets are in need of a makeover.

Though similar to how you might have built your brand a year ago, there are a number of changes to consider for your strategy throughout the remainder of the pandemic. We’ve gathered together four steps that we know will help you build your brand over the next six months of market uncertainty (and beyond).

Like that hastily purchased home office desk chair you’ve been sitting in for most of this year, we’ve got your back.

An illustration of a magnifying glass inspecting a growing seedling

  1. Audit your brand

A good, ol’ fashion brand analysis is required to establish the foundation upon which you’ll build your brand’s growth strategy. You need to know your current brand—the good, the bland, and the stress monsters that are keeping you up at night. Collect data and be brutally honest about the results you’re discovering. You and your team need to ask some hard questions to determine your brand’s baseline:

  • What brand resources, guides, materials, assets, and products are in place?
  • How effective are they?
  • What worked for your brand pre-2020, and is it working now in the third quarter of 2020? (Probably not; don’t sugar coat it.)
  • Do your buyer persona’s accurately reflect your current customers?
  • Are your ads relevant to the persona’s you should be targeting?
  • Is your brand active where your new consumers are?
  • Does your website’s content and functionality best serve your priorities?
  • Does your logo and imaging reflect the current focus of your business?
  • Has the main focus of your brand shifted?
  • What gaps exist between who you were and who you are now?
  • Is what made you unique pre-pandemic what currently makes you different from everyone else in the market?

We asked these and other similar questions when we helped HomeWorks Energy redefine their visual identity and messaging.

HomeWorks Energy’s goal was to grow their business in the Greater Boston area. In order to do this, we did a study of a random set of individuals living in the region, in order to best identify what they found valuable in the brand.

The conclusion: most folks who were looking for their services also valued affordability of the products, reliability of the implementation, and the sense that they were getting the very best. Our branding efforts prioritized conveying exactly this information to potential consumers and spurred growth.

An illustration of two bags of seeds slouched against each other

  1. Build consumer trust

This true-blue brand building step is vital irrespective of what’s happening in the market. Without consumer trust, you won’t have consumers. But now, more than ever, people have closed their wallets and are only opening them when they feel they can get a reliable product and solid value from a trusted source. Have you been on a spending spree lately? Unless you’re Jeff Bezos, it’s doubtful. But when you have spent some coin, it’s most likely been with brands you trust. And trust is exactly what your brand needs to grow.

Meet up with your team again and ask the following:

  • Is your brand meeting consumer needs at this stage of the pandemic? (We’re six months in and could easily have another six months or more.)
  • What can you do for the greater good that will help consumers, even if it doesn't yet impact your sales in the short term? Are there problems you can solve or services you can provide?
  • Does your brand need to be more likable? More of an authority? More genuine? More courageous? More transparent? More customer centric? More interactive? More quirky? More of that je ne sais quoi to win consumer attention and trust?
  • What resources (blog content, charitable giving, email newsletters, webinars, product reviews or samples, client testimony, etc.) can your company provide to people in search of answers?
  • What are your core values and how might they speak to consumers at this time?
  • What are you doing at the product level? For example, if the pandemic has created supply chain issues for one of your popular products, have you instituted a “recommended alternatives” link for nearly identical products or notifications for when the product is available? Think of ways you can go that extra step for your potential customers—remember they’re overwhelmed and trying to navigate this new normal, too.

An illustration of a watering can providing water to an out-of-frame growing seedling

  1. Shower attention on your existing customers

You've already gained the trust of your existing customers, and now is the time to reward them for their loyalty. Give them a reason to share your name with peers and continue to work with your brand. Find ways to remind them why they chose you. Even if they’ve gone dormant since the pandemic began, at some point it will subside and your clients will remember what you did for them in the interim.

An Edelman study conducted last year of 16,000 consumers revealed, “Some 8 in 10 US consumers (82%) and three-quarters (75%) of global respondents say they will continue to buy a brand they trust, even if another brand suddenly becomes hot and trendy.” (TL;DR: Check out the article summary we’ve just quoted.) Eighty-two percent is massive, so find ways to hold onto that business.

If you haven’t already informed your existing customers of new products or services you’re offering, now would be a great time to update them. When was the last time you had a listening session (phone call, surveys, or simply reading social media comments) with your customers about your brand and the changes you’ve made during the pandemic? Never? Maybe set up that call.

Additional ideas:

  • +1 everything—go that extra step and over deliver on projects in the pipeline
  • client town halls—like a webinar, but less programmed, and full of information your customers can use
  • service upgrades—everyone likes to feel like a VIP
  • secret sale—for a limited time and only for those in-the-know
  • free tools—eBooks, templates, guides, industry research
  • create community—forums, branded swag, “clubs”
  • loyalty programs—reward them for coming back
  • referral bonuses—recommend friends and get a bonus
  • brainstorm—you know your clients best, so what is it they would love to have from you?

An illustration of three pots, each containing a strongly developing seedling

  1. Invest in your brand

This is the step in the process where you invest the time and energy to make all your growth ideas happen. Make your dream list, prioritize and plan your projects, and start working now to build your brand. (While you’re ticking items off your to-do list, order a pair of hair shears and an electric trimmer while you’re at it—YouTube has some great videos for how to cut your mop or have someone in your quarantine circle take care of it.)

If you're like so many companies amid the pandemic, you may have had to lay off some of your in-house marketing team or you're on a hiring freeze and can't expand the way you need. Instead of exhausting the remnants of your team, consider looking for a full-service agency (like Vulcan) that can complement and empower your branding efforts. We can take your brand goals and make them a reality. In fact, we’d love to help.

Here at Vulcan, we helped real-estate mogul Tom Ferry by branding their new SaaS product alongside their existing materials. This task involved a bit of retrofitting in order to make sure that cutting-edge software paired seamlessly with their yet-to-be-updated branding.

During the project, we valued cohesion above all else. We connected with their existing and prospective client-base to best determine what they valued in the brand as it stood, ensuring the best elements were incorporated in our new implementation.

Achieve your brand building goals—Contact Vulcan!