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Covid has changed the way many businesses operate. 2020 and 2021 have tested many of us as business people, as leaders and as entrepreneurs. We have been constantly pushed to pivot and innovate our lives and to adapt to a new world, whether that involves making online experiences more personal, going green or integrating new technologies. On top of that, a growing understanding of society’s responsibility for marginalized communities has further shifted business priorities.
But what comes next? How can businesses adapt in an era of pandemic fatigue, social change, fear and languishing?
If you’re wondering what your customers are going to want moving forward, you’re certainly not the only one. After all this change, many business leaders are having to question their strategies and ask themselves whether, in this time of uncertainty, we should once again perform branding pivots, this time focusing on trust to sell our products or services rather than innovation.
What we know about innovation versus trust
We recently carried out some research on branding practices, and, more broadly, on brand positioning. We asked people whether they were more likely to use an innovative and modern brand, or a historied and trusted brand. Overall, we found that younger consumers prefer new and innovative brands, with over-45s going for historied and trusted. Men also turned out to be more enthusiastic about new and innovative brands than women overall, and the over 55 age group leaned overwhelmingly towards historical and trusted.
The data is from just a couple of months ago, so a reliable gauge of feelings from mid-pandemic. It’s hard to say if they would have been different before Covid-19 hit, or BLM protests rocked the USA, and it’s not particularly useful to know what people would have said anyway.
This research tells us pretty clearly that, now, in the midst of Covid, younger people still like innovation. That means a brand position that involves uniqueness, innovation and often some fun. Older consumers tend to be more traditional, and prefer solid, historied brands.
But “trust” is an interesting word here. The thing is, young people trust innovation. Consumers under the age of 45 find innovation in itself to be trustworthy. So, if you stop innovating, you may become untrustworthy to many consumers.
Of course, that has limits, and you have to keep doing what you do well, but changing and adapting is important. I mean, look at how much we have all needed to change over the last year.
McKinsey figures from 2020/21 bare out the idea that innovation has been essential in getting through the rollercoaster of the past year or more. In fact, a whopping 85% of executives in tech see the Covid crisis as an opportunity for growth. That implies that they are seeing it as a moment to innovate — a catalyst for change.
And it has been — we have leaped forward years in terms of digitizing our lives and integrating technologies into day-to-day life in just a handful of months.
Unfortunately, not many businesses have been able to capitalize on opportunities in 2020 or 2021 so far. Everyone has been preoccupied by maintaining the status quo. But, as more people in the United States and around the world are vaccinated, it’s time to act.
How to innovate effectively
So, how do we avoid slip ups as we move into this more active period of positioning ourselves in this new normal?
Problems happen when a brand positions (and therefore sells) itself as innovative or as socially conscious and doesn’t deliver. Consistency is what’s important in branding, and if you’re already innovative (this applies to most tech companies, hence those glass-half-full tech execs), stick with it. Just show your customers they can trust you to remain true to your brand values.
A great way to make sure you are staying true to your brand is to come up with a list of brand values, plus a value proposition. This, combined with a description of who your target customer is, will keep you on the straight and narrow no matter what happens.
A value proposition is just a couple of sentences about what your company offers, and why and how it’s uniquely qualified to offer that. You should be able to whip one up easily enough.
In coming up with your values, value proposition and your target customer description, you should be able to work out where your brand should be positioned. Which end of the spectrum are you going for? Are you selling yourself as historied or as innovative? Whichever it is, leaning into it is how you create trust.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of the work you have to do to build up your business over the coming months, but a strong base is essential if we want further branding efforts to succeed.