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How Brands Can Stay Irresistible in Uncertain Times

As a response to COVID-19, brands need to rethink their marketing playbooks. The creativity they apply to these new strategies may be the difference between winning and losing in the future.

A lot has been written about how brands can, and should, respond to the pandemic crisis now, while it’s happening. Bright ideas have been generated to help drive demand for and access to goods and services—from local restaurants quickly creating delivery and pick-up apps to offer customers minimal human contact, to Trader Joe’s and other grocery operators designating specific shopping hours to higher-risk consumer segments. Necessity is truly the mother of invention.

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Like many in our field, we’ve spent the last few weeks connecting with clients and offering ideas and strategies on how they can get through this crisis. Because so many of our clients’ products are considered consumer staples, the issue they’re facing right now isn’t demand, but rather supply. For CPG marketers, what do you do when your products are flying off the shelves to the point of out-of-stocks, or when faced with the fact that shoppers now have a two-month supply of your product in their pantries? We have some thoughts.

Reward loyal customers who were forced to sample new brands
In times of uncertainty, consumers choose brands they know, love and trust. But if their favorite brands are not available, people are forced to choose competitive products just to fill the void. They’re not shopping around at other retailers or waiting until the next trip to the store. They’re choosing another option right there at the shelf. In fact, our recent research found that 69% of shoppers have been forced to buy a brand that is not their regular brand due to out-of-stocks (OOS), and here’s the real issue—nearly 75% of them say they are likely to buy that brand again in the future. This not only represents a lost sale for the preferred brand today but presents an even greater risk of losing that consumer forever.

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So, what can marketers do to regain those once-loyal customers who were forced to sample new brands due to OOS issues? One might try new twists on tried and true tactics like Catalina coupons with long expiration dates for switchers triggered using basket data when a “new” brand appears in the cart. Or create an innovative promotional program like a “pantry unloading event,” where people are encouraged to donate unused products to charity when the crisis is over—then get back to enjoying their real favorites. Or could we identify our biggest brand fans and give them product for life… so they’ll never have to go without again?

Shift from demand generation to consumption generation
Currently more than one third of the world’s population is in some form of lockdown and many Americans have stocked their pantries full. In fact, 45% of consumers globally say they’ve purchased extra food and drink supplies and according to Helen Dickinson, Head of the British Retail Consortium, “There’s £1bn more food in people’s houses than there was three weeks ago.”

This phenomenon means that shoppers will have little need to buy again for a while, therefore upsetting the supply chain even further. We can’t help but wonder if there is a new “moment of truth” that marketers need to pay attention to: the pantry shelf.

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When P&G introduced the concept of the First Moment of Truth (FMOT), they defined it as the 3-7 seconds after a shopper first encounters a product on a store shelf. It is in these precious few seconds, P&G asserted, that marketers have the best chance of converting a browser into a buyer by appealing to their senses, values and emotions. What if in today’s reality, the pantry shelf is that crucial encounter? The 3-5 seconds that we stare into our pantries and cabinets and ask some critical questions: What should I make today/tonight? What can I make with what I have? How glad am I that I have this on hand and at the ready?

And when we think about this Next Moment of Truth (NMOT), marketing’s role is now to convert buyers into consumers by appealing to their desires, emotions and critical needs. It represents a huge opportunity to use social and digital content to deliver new recipes to try, alternative product uses or even a call for donations to those in need once the fear of scarcity is lessened.

Step up your Ecommerce game
According to Nielsen, just 4% of grocery sales in the United States came online in 2019. But amidst this new crisis, the online grocery delivery/pickup world has gone from slow adoption into hyperdrive. Ecommerce orders have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, which sets up a huge opportunity for marketers, but also presents risks if you are not ready for the demand.

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Source: Attentive, COVID-19 E-commerce Trends & Tactics, March 2020

From supply chain issues to pricing and profitability concerns, to a lack of specialized skills where manufacturers need them most, many marketers struggle to get ecommerce right—and manage to do more than the basics at a time when ecommerce is really starting to ramp up. There is the potential for households that rely upon curbside pickup or home delivery during the pandemic to continue using those services once it is over, however many shoppers are finding it hard to secure a delivery spot and inventory issues still abound. While it remains to be seen if the shift to ecommerce shopping will stick post-pandemic, in the event that is does, brands should be looking to firm up their ecom-readiness through organizational structure and training, KPI setting, enhanced content capabilities and commerce specific strategies now.

Be a leader in the Coronavirus battle
Consumers have been hit hard by COVID-19. Their lives have been turned upside down, old certainties have been shaken, people are fearful about what the future holds and they have very clear ideas about how they want brands to respond. According to GlobalWebindex, consumers are looking to businesses to lead the response to the virus, especially in markets where the government has been slow to react to the threat. Although some marketers might be wary of looking like they are trying to take advantage of a crisis, there’s value in thinking about what businesses and brands can deliver to help people that governments can’t. Recasting marketing efforts in this creative mold makes it feel less like a for-profit exercise and more along the lines of a public service.

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Our perspective
As CPG marketers think about how to stay irresistible in these uncertain times, we believe the key is to bring your marketing resources to bear in solving problems for people in a way that aligns with your brand’s purpose. Leo Burnett once said, “Creativity has the power to change human behavior.” We believe that whether it be rewarding our loyal customers (even if they bought competitive products), showing people how to creatively use the products they have on hand, or using the resources we have available for the benefit of all, harnessing creativity and marketing for good, will help brands remain irresistible through this crisis and beyond.

April 10, 2020