A 4-Step Roadmap to Help Brands Create a Marketing Plan for the ‘New Normal’

These are just some guidelines to help you grow again

Each brand will have different timing for each phase. Kacy Burdette
Headshot of Thomas Henry

None of us know when it will be and what exactly it will look like, but unless we believe that western democracy is going to collapse, at some point we will encounter a new normal. While it may seem far off, brands need to start planning for it now. The most useful way to do this is not as a timeline, but as an objective roadmap grounded in evidence.

At its simplest, the roadmap should have four phases. While these steps are uniform, the timing and specific action items at each stage will be different by brand. If we look at the principles underlying each step, we can better understand how they may be applied to your brand.

Help and reassure

This doesn’t have to be bold brand action. Simply helping people feel that some small aspect of normality remains in the brands we use every day can be hugely reassuring.

One way is to create content that lets people know that some of the world’s biggest companies have a plan and, crucially, have a heart. Facebook developed a great video to communicate this sentiment recently.

A recent Edelman study showed that one in three consumers had already stopped buying a brand they believed had not done the right thing in the face of the crisis. In addition, 71% of people agreed that if a brand were found to put profit before people during this time, then they would lose consumer trust forever.

Ultimately, whether it’s six weeks or six months from now, buyers will not only judge brands by what they did during this time but by what they didn’t do.

Wait for the recovery marker

There will be a point when you can transition from helping to getting back into sales mode. Specific markers that dictate a level of normality returning to your category will define this point. At Nike, for example, they paid close attention to retail stores reopening in China. This informed marketing decisions such as promoting products available in those stores or running advertising announcing that the stores are open.

Markers will differ by category, but the commonality for a recovery marker is that it represents an objective data point that can give you confidence in normative operational patterns resuming in your category. For example, apparel brands may look at order volume with their biggest retailer as the key marker, CPG brands may look at sales of mid-priced variants or increased sales of nonessentials as the key marker of recovery, restaurant chains may look at government policy around social distancing.

Whatever your marker is and whatever timeline it is on, this is your moment and your focal point to begin the process of actively marketing your wares to consumers again while creating operational processes that allow this to happen.

Plan to return to the driver’s seat

Now you’re on a path to resuming normal service, it’s time to get back in the driving seat.

Before Covid-19, your brand had goals. There was a new consumer group you wanted to attract, a new vertical you wanted to get into, a new service you wanted to offer the market.

The outcomes you want to achieve don’t necessarily have to change, but the timeline and path you take to get there absolutely will.

To assess which pivots you need to make, there will be a number of key strategic questions you need to ask yourself. Start with positioning, which is answering if you have shifted from being a staple to luxury in your category? Are you now looked at as the choice of the people where once you were cheap? Then move onto category dynamics, asking has the value system of your category changed? Is price—not service—now the only factor? Did people used to think of your category as an easy to justify purchase, and now they don’t?

From there, focus on the competitors. Do you have a novelty of some sense? Is it a brand or product at a certain price point that never drew share from you before? Is it a virtual option that consumers would never have previously entertained? And, lastly, look at technology. Is your brand now existing in a category where people have gotten far more comfortable using online solutions as a result of quarantine? Will this be a lasting phenomenon or something temporary?

Answering these questions will enable you to build a plan that can sustain your business goals, navigating to many of the same outcomes by taking a new path.

Get ready to grow

This stage is about taking what you’ve learned so far and creating your own new normal to meet the macro goals your business has for the medium or long term. By working through this process, you should have helped enough to maintain consumer trust, recovered sufficiently to keep pace with the market and planned thoughtfully to ensure that you’re ready for what comes next, even if you don’t know quite what that is just yet.

While none of us knows exactly what lies ahead, we can be certain of this: Those who fail to prepare must surely be prepared to fail. And if brands fail, our economy and our way of life fail with them.

Join Adweek for Purpose-Driven Marketing, a live virtual event on Sept. 29, to discuss authentic brand purpose and hear insights from top marketers on navigating these uncertain times. Register now

@ArtsUnknown Thomas Henry is a strategy director at Mother New York.