The word ‘post’ might be the wrong word to use in current times, as the end of our lockdown era feels ever further away. But planning for that fresh wave of freedom (in itself a tricky word to imagine and scope) is already a necessity.

Not just for traditional budget reasons or annual planning cycles, but for business reality and a sense of marketing continuance. Staying visible has already been key for business in the toughest of times as consumers have had more time to theoretically engage with communications than before, even if not at the point to always ‘buy now’

That doesn’t mean/hasn’t meant carry on with the usual of course. Messages have been nuanced, inappropriate campaigns that touch on people meeting have had to be parked, and tone has had to be fluid, which has seen a shift in some use of channels more than others. But what now? For the next wave of thinking and planning, what should we be looking to deliver and how?

  • Building in the corporate values

We are a nation that in many ways has rediscovered things that are important in life. Being nice. Being patient. Recognising the value of community. And caring more about how others are treated at work –  especially those key workers beyond the NHS who carried on making the country tick and ensuring our foods were still being made. It has been important for consumers to see how clearly employers have been looking after their staff, with many corporate websites bringing that to life. And those businesses that carried on with their charitable donations even in the face of shelf emptying panics behaved admirably in consumer eyes. The line between corporate and consumer has become even more blurred.

So thinking going forward needs to ensure corporate values are adhered to rather than ignored in broader creative development, that long term causes are live and visible and central to communications, and that employees perhaps become more front and centre storytellers. All in all ensuring genuine heart and soul communications are what stand out as the take out.

  • Influencers as partners

As a channel that grew in credibility, trust and engagement, the influencer space is one that won in lockdown with rises on all counts. Many stood up and became vital channels of help and assistance to those that were homebound, educators in the recipe and activity space, and sharers of positivity.

In growing as storytellers, with increasingly loyal followings, the value of  this channel as brand partners takes on new potential. Changing strategies should see brands partnering with fewer different influencers, and more select partners. Building authenticity, building association for the brand with the influencers’ everyday lives, and building commercial drivers and offers that feel natural and organic for the follower base. Engagement can move from that into something more commercially trackable if brands don’t change horses so quickly. Get creative with something bespoke for each partner, get them under the skin of your brand and suddenly we are in the ambassador space with increased sales potential from that closer level of association. This makes the channel even less of a commercial media buy, and even more of rich and engaged creative negotiation territory.

  • Dial up your sustainable agenda

Before lockdown, we were talking the decade of delivery. A little less conversation, a little more action please. Time to do things that matter. And although Covid has distracted the news agenda from this hot topic, the more we look around us, the more we are seeing the positive impact of less travel, less pollution, more community. The big challenge hasn’t gone away, and in fact it will come back with a vengeance. A build on the corporate values point above is around expectation of businesses as good citizens making the right choices. Most will have got the message around packaging, materials and waste and are already taking steps to address this in some way.

For those that are, the fact you are on a journey is a positive in itself, and there is mileage for your brand reputation in sharing what you have done, are doing and are exploring. Something is better than nothing. For those who aren’t cracking the challenge, time is against you in terms of both public debate and in some categories, brand one upmanship and shaming of competitors. This is a big rolling stone ready to gather a lot of moss. From a comms point of view, there needs to be a positive storytelling strategy underway and the right kind of reactive plan to handle the rest of the journey. For those too far behind, it’s time to prioritise, experiment and examine real alternatives.

  • Mental wellbeing

Again a topic pre Covid that has taken on new urgency since. Caring and sharing values matter and if these can be translated into brand action and partnerships, that can only be a good thing. Togetherness is what we have missed. Getting out to stretch the mind has been off the radar. Travel and social experiences have been sadly all too limited or fully parked. Mental wellbeing is all about creative stretch as well as helping those who need contact and care.

So for 2021, the challenge is to find ways to create virtual experiences and ways of engaging ‘live’, or in the next best format of perceived live to excite and invigorate customers.

Esports, virtual TV show audiences and social media events have led the way, but moving forward how can retail for example showcase its full estate through ‘shopstreaming’, something more engaging than a static ecommerce website, and in a way that engages more of the senses? How can food brands and food festivals live on and in colour through mass participation events beyond the instructional TV recipe slot? How can travel or music excite us with the visceral using virtual tech? How can brands be more micro in their marketing to help smaller groups of the ‘brand interested’ become ‘brand advocates’ with more personally targeted content?

There is no crystal ball for when things will become attuned to what is perceived as normal again. It may be as far away as 2022. But some things have changed for good, and adopting some of these strategies now, rather than waiting to see, will still stand us in good stead as actions that will remain relevant whatever our new world shape looks like.

As always, the danger in anything is standing still.

Image credit: Samuel Rodriguez.