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The Xfactor Collective brand specialist Darren Taylor answers the question that every organisation is now wondering – how to stay relevant and connected in with the communities they serve.

As the world muddles through amidst various stages of lockdown, we continue to see very specific trends in the way people are interacting with brands, which are presenting challenges for many to cut through. The brands that have learnt and adjusted quickly have not only succeeded in cutting through, but have strengthened their relationship with audiences.

Why it’s harder to cut through

There’s more noise than ever. Despite record levels of time spent by consumers on digital channels, we have seen a commensurate increase in brand-initiated digital activity meaning that brands have to be smarter to stand out.

“There has never been a more important time to adopt a ‘one look, one feel, one voice’ approach. And make it distinctive.”

While people are being personally affected differently by the COVID-19 situation, it’s fairly safe to say that most are in a completely different headspace, which has upended how they interact with communications. The usual rules of engagement don’t apply.

What you can do: 

  1. Adhere to basic direct marketing principles

COVID-19 is not a cue to communicate with everyone on your database or people with whom you have not communicated for some time. Only up the frequency of your communications if you have a valid or relevant reason to do so. Additionally, audiences will reward you for personalised and segmented communications. If possible, consider new segmentation based on an understanding of their COVID-19 mindset and needs.

  1. Avoid saying the bleeding obvious

They were relevant and funny once, but they have quickly become hackneyed and noise pollution. Avoid statements such as “we are working from home and washing our hands too”, and the like.

  1. Be authentic

With the rise in volume of direct marketing, audiences have become desensitised to clichéd and trite phrases such as “we’re here for you” and “we’re all in this together”. While you might genuinely mean that, it’s best to avoid phrases like these that have very quickly become “loaded”.

Authenticity is indeed the gold standard, but must be more than skin deep. It’s a brand promise; a contract with your audiences. For instance, I was quick to call my bank in response to a full page ad in The Age detailing the support measures they were offering their clients. After one of the best brand experiences I have ever had with my bank – genuine and empathetic – I am yet to hear back from them. That was six weeks ago.

  1. Add value to the conversation

A heightened volume of communications has quickly bred an intolerance for repetitious, say-nothing comms. Before communicating, consider that it is likely for many others to be sending the same message to your audience the same day. What value are you adding to the conversation, to their situation, that hasn’t been said before or at least, the same way before. Before you hit the big red button, read through your communications with a critical eye and ask yourself, will the recipient be better off from receiving this communication?

  1. Be distinctive, but not just through consistency

There has never been a more important time to adopt a “one look, one feel, one voice” approach. And make it distinctive. We have new clients coming to us complaining that their digital brand engagement has plummeted during COVID-19. There are many possible reasons for this; one of which is that COVID-19 has highlighted their lack of brand distinctiveness. When brands are communicating more, they have to work harder to stand out. This is partly achieved through maintaining absolute consistency, but also through reconnecting with your purpose, your unique value proposition, your differentiators and expressing them clearly and powerfully in your visual and written communications – for example, brand identity, messaging and communications. Importantly, this also must be backed up by the behaviour of your people. 

Is it time for a rebrand? Maybe, maybe not. But now is certainly a good time to reflect on and possibly hone your brand approach.

  1. Don’t pitch, offer genuine, personalised solutions

The increased volume of comms and the millions of consultants who have jumped on the “we are here to help” bandwagon means that most commercial propositions are ignored. Audiences are more open to organisations who show genuine understanding of their situation and offer potential solutions without the commercial sting. Commercial conversations do and are happening, but they are generally requiring more effort and empathy.

The black swan event we had to have

COVID-19 has certainly caused profound trauma, loss and disruption around the world. But as an optimist, I’d like to think COVID-19 is having a therapeutic effect on how brands engage with their audiences. As it shines a spotlight on organisations’ branding and communications deficiencies, it will be the enlightened ones among us that will adapt and be better for it on the other side. 


Top three tips to prevent your brand from being ignored during COVID-19

  1. Adhere to the standard direct marketing principles. Don’t spam. Don’t send to people you haven’t spoken to in years. Segment based on people’s COVID-19 mindset and situation. Personalisation is even more important.
  2. Be authentic. Avoid stating the obvious and resorting to clichés. Make sure your entire organisation understands the promises you are making as an organisation and what they personally and collectively need to do to deliver them.
  3. Be distinctive and vital. This is not a time for beige or being inconsistent. Reconnect with your purpose, review and refine your visual brand and messaging to focus on your uniqueness and what makes you valuable. Add something of value to the conversation.


About the author: Darren Taylor is a specialist business member of The Xfactor Collective, and runs a boutique brand agency that offers leaders of small to medium organisations a very personal and immersive approach to creating brands that move people and stir the head and heart.

The Xfactor Collective is an Australian-first community where changemakers go for expert support and advice, including pre-vetted specialists across 100-plus areas of specialisation, specialist triage support services and a free video library.

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