Last reviewed 25 May 2022

As your business looks beyond the pandemic, what does post-Covid-19 branding look like? Have the components of a brand shifted? Are consumers looking to the brands they trust to evolve? Dave Howell reports.

For businesses, the pandemic meant, in some cases, making considerable changes to their processes and re-evaluating every customer touchpoint. According to Deloitte, companies that reacted positively were rewarded with higher brand awareness, with 58% of respondents to their survey stating they could recall at least one brand that quickly pivoted to better respond to their needs, and 82% said this led to them doing more business with the brand.

Strong branding has always been about communicating values to an audience. The pandemic shifted the power to consumers, who loudly made their views about all businesses' products or services known to their peers. The experiences they had, the environmental stance of each business and how they approach sustainability and diversity became differentiators.

Businesses needed to evolve their brands to become more socially aware and not just profit driven. Dr Olivier Sibai, a Lecturer in the School of Management and teaches Digital Marketing and Brand Management at the University of London, states: “The pandemic has certainly brought out the softer side of marketing. Our values have moved from an individualistic mindset of ‘how do I maximise my own pleasure and convenience’ to more ethical and traditional priorities”.

Sibai continued: “In response, brands are trying to show their compassion, both for their customers and for their staff. In the future, businesses will need to systematically integrate their values and societal impact into their practices and demonstrate brand activism. It’s no longer about managing the tension between profit and values – business should be entirely values-driven.”

How this new direction for branding manifests will mean assessing every customer touchpoint with the view to enhancing these relationships. The journeys customers now take to make a purchase can be complex and meandering. It’s critical that the identified brand values support this journey from beginning to end.

Neo branding

We spoke with Kathy Ennis, a business coach and mentor who has vast experience advising new start-ups on process, branding and customer services.

What does a post-Covid-19 brand look like?

“Much like a pre-pandemic brand, but with more emphasis on niche, artisan and proximity to the customer. More than ever, consumers are looking for brands that ‘really know them.’ This was a trend before Covid 19. What the pandemic has done is pushed the process forward by about a decade.”

Is branding in a post-Covid consumer landscape different than before the pandemic? Have the components of a brand shifted?

“The components of the brand have not shifted. Brands will always be based on an emotional reaction from the consumer. What has been changing is the type of emotional response – much more socially aware in many cases.

“Before the pandemic, it was obvious that consumers were starting to look more closely at the companies they were buying from. They were looking for authenticity, provenance, social and environmental aspects.

“The pandemic has been a factor in pushing forward the desire of the consumer to ‘know’ where their products are coming from, who is making them and whether they deliver on their brand promises.”

Are consumers looking to the brands they trust to evolve? If so, how?

“Take a walk down the aisles of any supermarket and you will see the impact consumers are having on the evolution of brands. Everything from the packaging to the ingredients is under scrutiny. Is it sustainable, is it recyclable, is it meat or dairy free, are the ingredients clearly listed? And it’s not just supermarkets – it’s everything from cars to cardigans.”

What of new businesses? Has Covid-19 changed how you develop a brand for a new enterprise?

“Yes, some companies didn't make it through the two years, but many who did change their model and came out stronger. We also grew start-up businesses as people realised that technology would allow them to build a business from home.

“The increase of savvy consumers has created groups who are more demanding; identifying with businesses who are an extension of themselves. Which means new business will need to be more niche-specific.”

Is ESG now a core branding component as we move into the post-pandemic era?

"ESG should always be a central component of a brand.

“Every business should examine itself against PESTLE if only to create a risk register. When we look at brand and the growth of consumer awareness societal aspects will become increasingly important. The key for businesses is that whatever they do in terms of ESG, it must be real. Consumers can sniff-out lip-service easily.”

What practical steps can businesses now take to ensure they have a robust post-pandemic brand?

“Business owners should go back to basics and ask themselves:

  • What are the core values this organisation is built upon?

  • Are those values represented in everything we say and in everything we do?

  • Are those values applied internally to our processes, practices, staff wellbeing etc?

  • Are they applied externally to our customers?

  • What measures do we need to introduce to ensure our brand continues to respond to our customers and broader environmental and societal needs?”

Tomorrow’s brands, today

In their current Future Consumer Index, EY concludes: "At the start of the pandemic, affordability was an essential worry as many consumers lost jobs or faced financial uncertainty. But the results of this index show that price is now a more critical concern for more than half (57%) of consumers, up from 49% in May 2021.

“Also, consumers are also now more aware of product availability, with a rise from 52% to 53% of consumers saying it is more important now than before the pandemic and listing it as a key purchase criteria for fresh food (39%) and packaged food (37%).”

This means that future branding is a renewed focus on what is now driving consumer purchasing. No brand is an island or is immune from the wider global market shifts, which in some cases have been seismic.

Post-Covid-19 branding considers these pressures and challenges to forge new meaningful relationships. Branding is now fluid and dynamic and must react to changing market circumstances, consumer behaviours and attitudes. Therefore, understanding current consumer sentiment supported with appropriate marketing messages is the key to creating a post-Covid-19 brand.