Connection through chaos: why now’s the best time to build your brand

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Sidekick on how marketers can adapt to life post-pandemic and the importance of a good strategy

Planning brand strategy in a pandemic world is confusing. Nobody knows what to expect or how to interact, let alone how to best predict the future. The good news is that this has happened before. And it’s a great opportunity for marketers. Duncan McCaslin, managing director at Sidekick, offers some words of wisdom.

Whenever there’s a life-altering event, humans have a knack for adapting, evolving and changing our habits to fit a new tomorrow. Trend Hunter’s Window of Opportunity details it nicely. Pre-Covid, we were living in what Trend Hunter refers to as ‘path dependency’ – business as usual. 2019-2020 takes us into the ‘crisis’ zone. Then we see a daunting next three years of ‘chaos.’

We’ve moved from pandemic panic to a different kind of uncertainty – one in which we’ll be adapting and readjusting for years to come.

It’s time for marketers to figure out what their audiences truly need, which trends and tactics will reach them, and how to best build a path forward – without having all the answers.

Our new world: uncertain yet optimistic

This ‘chaos’ age will be a whole new kettle of fish. And that’s no bad thing. But paradoxes will arrive with this new world. People are moving out of city centers for a better work-life balance (a third of people in the UK), only to find their time, professionally and socially, is spent mostly online.

Real-world experiences are starting to return, uniting people in physical spaces, while innovations like the metaverse bring a new appetite for digital. Like this Gymshark business meeting. Or this Justin Bieber concert.

People want to see other people, and indulge in what an evolving and more complex digital world can offer. All of this while 41% of people are more concerned about the impact of the internet on wellbeing than they were pre-pandemic.

Life as it stands is shrouded in uncertainty... which, believe it or not, is the perfect time to figure out how best to connect with your audience. Our recommendation? Balance the human need for personal connection, so crucial after the last two years, with the desire for digital, embracing the innovations that have made our lives smoother. Easier said than done? Perhaps.

Your audience will always be number one

No surprise here. People around the world will either be aware of or embrace new technologies and ways to use them, but that will only work for you if that’s where your audience is.

A digital transformation that may change the way we interact, especially considering our desire to experience ‘live’ events from the comfort (and safety) of our own home, is the metaverse. The opportunities are endless. Games companies are hiring real croupiers for a blockchain casino called Decentraland. Investment firms are spending millions to buy digital property in 3D cities. As the popularity of the metaverse grows, it’s a possible space for brands to find success – if, and only if, your audiences are looking to go there too.

Think about Amazon’s automated grocery stores. Amazon reimagined its approach in a world dealing with a pandemic – creating spaces that flip online shopping back to brick-and-mortar. It’s smooth, streamlined and a little bit surreal, but certainly a way to connect with its customers.

Speaking of knowing where your audiences are, take Tinder’s date-night playlists on Spotify, which, considering over half of Spotify users are under 35, is a precise way to engage its audience. Or EE’s 3D nature experience with Sir David Attenborough, inspired by the BBC series Green Planet. EE knew its fans would enjoy something visceral and immersive, putting them inside the story they love. This joy is in the blend of physical and digital.

Strategy first, questions later

Strategy. Strategy. Strategy. Understand and articulate what you’re trying to achieve before selecting the channels you’re going to use to do it. Not the other way around, despite the temptation to keep with the trends.

Let’s take NFTs (non-fungible tokens), collectable digital assets that can be bought, sold and traded online. They can be anything. And they’re going for crazy money. Nike smashed it with its trainer NFTs, directly talking to sneakerheads and their collections, expanding beyond the physical to deliver iconic shoes digitally. Or, Team GB, the first Olympic team to create NFTs – developing an everlasting brand memento from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. It’s deeper than ‘NFTs are popular, let’s make NFTs’ for these brands; it’s about delivering on their strategic goals.

This thinking goes beyond trends. Once, developing your brand’s approach began with knowing your customer; now customers are dead. Not literally. But traditional audience profiling simply doesn’t work anymore.

It’s time to think beyond age, gender, income and ethnicity, evolving old demographics to include things such as social preferences, appetite for tech and motivational drivers. Social learning is on the rise, and it’s handy for meeting specific groups online. One of our favorites is Anna Lytical’s TikTok page, dedicated to short, engaging videos about coding fundamentals.

A better balance: merging offline and online experiences

The key to getting through these next few years? Balance the human need for personal connection with our growing desire for exploring the digital. Recently, we helped one of our clients do exactly this, with a scavenger hunt game using artificial intelligence (AI) to help 13,000 colleagues find real-life emojis around their house, using just their mobile camera. Westfield also nailed it with its Lady Gaga collaboration, bringing fans exclusive Gaga jazz performances through streaming platforms and at fan zones across 20 destinations.

So: embrace the change and optimize for human connection, online and offline. Now start thinking about the opportunities these ‘chaos’ years can provide for your brand.