Our own Scott Gardner recently co-paneled a virtual forum, Marketing & Branding in a Time of Political and Economic Turmoil. He was joined by Mike Lee, CEO of Manticore, in discussing how brands are staying upright in an upside-down world.
A huge thanks to the Association For Corporate Growth, Silicon Valley, for organizing the virtual forum and to all who participated in the discussion of Marketing & Branding in a Time of Political and Economic Turmoil.
If you were unable to attend, listen or read the recap below.
What Is an Experience Agency?
Scott kicked off the conversation by touching on what makes Liquid an experience agency. Where most agencies focus exclusively on brand, Liquid creates experiences for brands as well as their customers and employees. Liquid Agency helps align all three of these experiences with organizations’ true meaning and purpose, ultimately creating more business value for Liquid’s clients.
When Uncertainty Is a Certainty, Marketing Strategy Adapts
In an uncertain economic climate, companies have historically scaled back, gone conservative or focused on core customers. Scott noted how many brands have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in phases. The first wave of brand messaging simply informed customers that business was still open, still delivering the products and services that consumers needed. Next, many companies shifted to brand messaging that conveyed consumer empathy, reminding audiences that in challenging times, we always overcome adversity together. Currently, brands are moving into a new phase of introducing products, services and offerings to compete in an unstable marketplace.
A Brand Promise Starts With Its Employee Experience
With the new normal creating seismic shifts in consumer behavior, many within the industry expect brand promises to change as well. Scott pointed out that a promise is essentially a pledge that creates customer expectations. He went on to explain that it all starts from the inside—an organization’s employees have to deliver on that brand promise. A recent trend has revealed that companies that struggle to connect with employees also have difficulty cultivating relationships with customers. Organizations are now mobilizing their workforces to deliver a better customer experience. Scott added that there is now more investment going into employee experiences to help companies better understand and deliver on their brand promise.
No Employee Experience, No Customer Relationship
An organization’s employees can make or break a customer experience. Scott mentioned how some brands have produced award-winning campaigns with massive media buys. But when customers interacted with the brand and were met with employees who weren’t engaged, customers encountered a huge disconnect between the brand promise and the customer experience. With so many options available, it’s easier for consumers to switch brands than it is to suffer through another bad customer experience.
Employee Experience Communications: What’s Inside Matters
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to scale back or take conservative measures, some companies are experiencing marked activity. Scott mentioned Walmart, a Liquid client, as an example. Being an essential business, Walmart has needs that have dramatically increased. And to capitalize on its growth, the retailer has deepened its focus on its employees by providing easy access to better living. Liquid has been a key partner in building strategy around employee experience communications for over two million of Walmart’s associates. Helping connect and support associates inside the organization lives on to better serve customers and communities on the outside.
Spend Money To Make Money
Mike shared his observation of how he’d seen a lot of organizations initially react to the COVID-19 pandemic with employee layoffs and furloughs. But as of late, Mike has noticed companies transitioning to a more active position with their marketing. Organizations are realizing that they need to drive more business, which translates to connecting with more customers. What’s fueling companies’ decisions to invest more into their marketing efforts are government loans and funding. More organizations are now feeling compelled to spend money in an effort to make money.
Cornering C-level Audiences
Scott mentioned how Liquid turned the new norm of working from home into an opportunity with its B2B client, Coupa Software. Knowing that Coupa’s target audience of C-suite executives, as well as investors, were spending much more time at home tuning into financial networks like CNBC, Liquid devised a media plan and launched a global TV campaign called Lemonade aimed at increasing more brand awareness. By doubling down on the creative production and media, Coupa is already seeing huge returns from the Lemonade campaign. Liquid is also at work extending the campaign into news and sports.
Brand Values Connect With Customers
Scott noted Dove and Adobe as brands that proved their social stance through action. Dove’s Courage Is Beautiful campaign included a $2M direct relief donation toward personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers. Similarly, Adobe made its Creative Cloud available to K-12 students for free to supplement distance learning. Scott pointed out that the brands’ goodwill isn’t a commercial move. Instead, it does more by creating new consumers, engaging existing customers, and giving brands a more meaningful way to share their values.
Your Employees, Your Audience
Employees are as much a part of your brand’s audience as are its most loyal customers. When the death of George Floyd became a national flashpoint, many employees urged their organizations to take action and make a difference. Not unlike other companies, Liquid needed to listen and respond. Scott shared how important it was to gather leadership and lean into Liquid’s core values. He realized that brands weren’t expecting a racial justice message from Liquid, but his employees were. Looking through Liquid’s cultural lens, employees were able to craft the right message and commitments that could be backed up in the market. On balance, your brand has to connect and communicate with its own employees by keeping its promise and core values well defined.
Pivoting an Agency
Liquid found itself in need of pivoting during the early stages of the pandemic. Scott and his teams quickly realized that some clients might not be interested in six- to eight-month engagements. Instead, they’d likely want something that could be out in the market in a matter of weeks. The Liquid strategy team gathered for its own workshop swarms and built a program called Pivot to What’s Next. The one-week sprint swarms are designed to help clients identify and address immediate business challenges. Each session serves as a launchpad for moving organizations forward, from identifying the business problem to finding future opportunities to creating initiatives and roadmapping actionable plans. Scott explained how the Pivot to What’s Next offering is designed to address different sets of needs for clients and ultimately create new value.
Small Businesses Should Take Cues From Big Brands
As Mike put it, sometimes it’s better for brands to stay quiet and listen. Paying attention to how big, visible brands are leading or failing can be instructive, particularly for small businesses who can’t afford missteps or seven-digit donations. Scott agreed with Mike’s point on small business entrepreneurs, adding that there are fewer resources and there is more pressure to be creative in shifting their business model. Finding a pivot and acting on it can mean the difference between succeeding or succumbing.
Brand and Politics: Potential for Personnel Problems
Given the currently polarized climate, politics are a slippery slope for many organizations. Scott was wary of brands making a political statement unless they have an acute understanding of where their audience stands on the subject. However, brands that commit to a political statement risk creating conflict within their own organization. Most employees represent a broad spectrum of political beliefs, making it impossible for an organization to reflect all internal perspectives. Scott warned that a brand that dives into politics can create a cultural divide within its own company, eroding the organization’s core values as well as its employee value proposition.
Get a Marketing Strategy That Gets Creative
Mike and Scott wrapped up the conversation with a simple message to brands of all sizes: be scrappy, get creative. While advertising is an expensive medium, there are smart ways to develop new and engaging marketing strategies that build audiences, customers and revenue. Finding resourceful ways to differentiate your brand and deliver a great customer experience can go a long way in building your core consumers and growing new customers. At the end of the day, creativity wins.