Why a Downturn is the Best Time to Build Your Brand and Grow Fans

We often talk about the value of creating fans of your brand, not just customers. Your brand is the emotional connection between your business and its customers (or potential customers). Yet for so many businesses, especially in ecommerce, we don’t know how to effectively build that connection and how that connection can be used to drive business success.

In this article we’re going to show you why your brand is so important to your business and how to use an economic downturn, crisis, or any problem (like the coronavirus / COVID-19) to build your brand in ways you could have never before.

Why is Your “Brand” So Important to Your Business?

Before we talk about anything else, it’s important to understand why building your brand is valuable in the first place. The concept of “brand” is often thought to be something abstract and fluffy— not exactly a revenue driver. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Your brand is a revenue driver

A strong brand means you have an influential voice in the marketplace, which gives your business a great advantage. Think of your brand as a gauge of your influence. The stronger your brand, the stronger your influence. An influential voice used wisely means you can essentially predict business success.

Your brand is your only competitive advantage

Your brand sets you apart from other companies and gives you an advantage over your competition. It’s practically the only thing about your business that others can’t rip off. An influential brand voice is an asset that can be built upon over time, grow increasingly influential, and be used to produce real results.

If that’s the case, why don’t more businesses invest in branding? When times are good, consumer confidence is high, and there are minimal disruptions in the market, it’s easy to focus only on short term business. It’s easy to survive by selling products every day without any real brand influencing the purchase. Companies focus on short-term transactions (sale after sale) rather than long-term attention (developing a brand voice).

There’s an ecommerce business that I know of that began hitting massive sales each day back in December, and that continued to climb into January and February. They were on a huge upward trend. However, they were not investing any resources into really building a brand. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., daily sales began to fall and now they are down about 45%. Now, you may say “that’s every business right now”. Not true. There are several brands in our portfolio that are holding steady through this crisis and some are even gaining momentum. And aside from critically impacted industries, the single biggest factor in that success is their brand – the relationship with their customers and potential customers in the marketplace.

It just goes to show that if you’re not intentional about investing in being an authoritative presence in your customer’s world and developing a relationship with them beyond the transaction, they probably won’t stick around when hard times come.

This situation is so common in business because, as we’ve acknowledged, it can be difficult to invest in brand-building while times are good. This is because everything is expensive, there’s a lot of noise, and customers are bombarded. But in a downturn, this is often not the case, and that’s where the opportunity lies. So if you run an ecommerce business, know this: The opportunity to build a brand actually increases in the down cycles.

The Opportunity in Downturns

I want to be very clear about one thing: This is not about being opportunistic in times of crisis. In fact, that would directly conflict with the idea of building a high-quality brand. If you’re brand-building during a downturn, you must be authentic and sensitive in every message you put out.

During an economic or social crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, your competition is likely distracted in survival-mode, plus the cost of advertising is down, and consumer consumption is increased. This creates an opportunity for your business to make its presence known.

Also, in times of disruption, consumer confidence is low. There are a lot of uncertainties keeping people up at night and that means they are probably not eager to spend money. However, people spend more time at home and generally consume more content. It’s the perfect environment to put direct response marketing aside and focus on building your brand through valuable content instead.

Another reason a downturn is a great time to focus on branding is that people are looking for leadership and certainty. If there is a lot of uncertainty, your audience needs someone they can trust. And if you can offer certainty in just a small area, people will listen. Plus, in crisis it’s relatively easy to speak to your audience because you already know exactly what is on their minds. During the coronavirus crisis that’s occurring as I’m writing this, we’re all worried about health, personal finances, businesses, and the overall economy. This is one of the only times you’ll find your entire, diverse audience in a relatively similar headspace.

How to Build a Brand in Times of Crisis or Disruption

If you’re looking for genuine ways to begin connecting with your audience and establishing customer fans, here are some of the steps you should take:

1. Know Your Why

Crisis or not, this is vitally important to your business. You need to be clear about why you exist. What is your purpose as a company? Your “what”, which is your product or service, is not your “why”. Establish your story. Determine what about you is relatable to your potential customers and start building an emotional connection with your audience.

2. Prepare in Advance

Hard times are inevitable and when they come, no one is really exempt. So if you want to thrive during a downturn, using it as an opportunity to invest in your future, you need to prepare in advance. Have a healthy business so that you are ready to act (and invest) when the market dips.

3. Create Genuine, Helpful Content

The rules of effective content marketing still apply here. Generic content won’t get you very far. So, if you’re producing content for your audience, make sure it is helpful, valuable, and has a connection back to what your company does.

One obvious way to create content during difficult times is by giving back. If you do that, make sure it’s evident that you are giving genuinely with pure intentions. In times of crisis, people are hurting and you never want to get remotely close to using that for your advantage. But if you have a product that relieves some of their pain, be genuine about it and get it out there! Give by way of donating, offering resources, or giving discounts if appropriate. This will likely not be a big revenue-driver for you, but that’s not the point. Seeing help come from a genuine place will foster long-term loyalty and brand fans.

Another form of helpful content is to simply offer certainty, hope, joy, or peace in your message. When your audience is overwhelmed by anxiety, use hope to connect with and inspire them. We’ve loved watching brands become “good news” reporters, sending emails or posting videos with positive stories for the day. If it works for your brand, use humor. Laughter is therapeutic and a great way to connect, as long as you remain sensitive to the crisis at hand.

4. Run Sales and Promotions

This has become a controversial topic in the marketing world as we navigate the coronavirus challenge, but it’s the case in any challenge or crisis. When is it appropriate to run a sale? Here’s the short answer: If you believe your product helps someone in some way, even if it’s just taking their mind off this stressful situation, it’s your job to get it in their hands.

However, if you are running a sale, timing is important. During the first two weeks of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., stress was very high and it would have been insensitive to run a sale. However, now that we’re 4+ weeks in, things are definitely still stressful, but many people have adjusted to a new “normal”. At this point, we are seeing brands running sales to help brighten customers’ days or make them more comfortable at home, and they’re seeing good results.

The bottom line is the best thing your business can do in any downturn or crisis is be successful, which means you need to continue to do business, all while helping people of course.

5. Build Your Email List

Lead generation. It sounds like a slimy marketer term, right? That’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about intentionally crafting your email list and nurturing those leads into real relationships with potential customers. As we mentioned earlier, ad costs are down and consumption is up during these downturns. However, most advertisers’ costs per acquisition are up. This tells us that people are consuming content but not buying. So instead of pushing sales, take this time to build your list and build relationships.

If you’re wondering how to do that, think of ways you could add value to a potential customer, especially during the health crisis, economic downturn, etc. When confidence is low and anxiety is rampant, customers are looking for certainty and hope. So give them something they can be certain about! Help them during this time using content and valuable resources associated with your brand.

Time to Take Action

Whether you’re reading this now in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, or down the road when there is another downturn, it’s time to take massive action. While other businesses are distracted by survival because they didn’t think to plan ahead, you must take the opposite approach. Act fast to fill that void, start making your purpose known, add value to people’s lives, and sow the seeds for future customer relationships.

In the last month or so, we are seeing some awesome examples of brands thriving despite this difficult time. Thriving does not necessarily mean sales are up. It means they are using this time to step forward and add value to people’s lives.

Examples of Brands Who Are Surviving and Thriving

Freedom Co: This is a high-quality clothing company whose purpose is rooted in social good. They are doing well during this season, primarily because of their genuine approach to building their brand. They were also able to re-purpose some of their manufacturing facilities to make face masks for communities in need.

Groove Life: Groove Life makes silicone rings and watchbands, but as a brand, they are much more. They find purpose in adventure, exploration and connecting with other people. Right now might not be the prime time for people to buy new wedding rings or to travel. But they’re still engaging with their customers by sending positive news stories, funny videos, and even running entertaining contests for cash giveaways if you’re bored at home.

Ritual Vitamins: This is an all-natural women’s vitamin company that has a very strong presence on social media and a commitment to getting women the nutrition they need at all phases of life. At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, they announced that they would be doing a give-back initiative where they donate a 3-months supply of vitamins to any healthcare workers treating patients on the frontlines of COVID-19. The response was overwhelming and they actually have had to shift and find another way to give back. But you can be certain that they have gained some lifelong customers through their generosity.

Allbirds Shoes: Similar to Ritual, Allbirds volunteered to donate a pair of shoes to any healthcare worker on the frontlines of patient care during the pandemic. After donating $500,000 worth of shoes, they have moved to a Buy a Pair, Give a Pair initiative, where customers purchasing shoes can bundle an additional pair that will be donated to a healthcare worker.


Looking for ways to build your brand and thrive instead of just survive?

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