COVID-19 has changed the context; brand tracking needs to adapt

Now is the time for brands to be proactive, not reactive. To do this, brands need the latest innovations in brand tracking.
01 December 2020
Kantar brand tracking article 3
Mary Kyriakidi

Global Thought Leader, Brand Guidance

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In my previous two articles, I’ve talked about two of the three marketing truths that have emerged during the pandemic, which are resurfacing the flaws of traditional brand tracking. In this article, we address the third and final of these – the importance of understanding and meeting the needs of consumers in the new reality they are living in. The context has changed, our home is now our re-discovered kingdom. Brand tracking has got to adapt accordingly.

For a good part of a year we’ve been adapting to a life that’s largely influenced by the social and movement restrictions. The kind of life that mostly takes place at home, where two thirds of all occasions now unfold. We’ve been re-taught how to wash our hands, more times a day and for longer, and our compliant behaviour resulted in a significant growth in the liquid soap market. We’ve worn less make-up due to working from home, not holidaying, and socialising with rules, and this new lifestyle significantly impacted the toiletries market.

We’ve had more meals and snacked relentlessly at home, and after months of phenomenal growth in the take-home grocery market, it’s only now that we are seeing the first signs of it subsiding. In terms of alcohol, there has been an increase in consumption at home with many of us staying loyal to our favourite brands. Yes, we still eat and drink as before and our preferences are relatively unchanged, but our motivations have altered greatly to fit the new context. Whilst enjoying a well-deserved moment of calm at home is not a novelty and winding down with one’s drink of choice is a familiar practice, the laughs are now (sadly) reduced in line with the restricted levels of socialising.

Staying relevant in the new reality

So, in this new life context, shaped by a new blend of in-home occasions and experiences, is your brand still culturally relevant? Is it essential or discretionary? Is it meaningful and different?

A few years ago, the above would have been a near impossible question to answer as brand tracking was single-dimensional, relying mostly on survey data. Now you can bring all of your brand and communications tracking data together with multiple other data sources, including social, sales, media, and more, to fully understand how your market and brand are performing and what the future holds.

For example, using our search and social diagnostics, you can track the velocity and the speed at which conversations are growing, to predict change, and proactively anticipate the new normal marketplace. What are the new or unexpected sources of competition (within or outside your category)? What are the borders of your brand, what opportunities can emerge by pushing them, and what are the possible disruptions you are not contemplating? Consumers (your current and likely future ones) are framing the context with their conversations depicting ordinary instances, rediscovered moments and newly adopted rituals. Advanced search and social diagnostics use the status of these conversations – some in their infancy, some have entered the mainstream, others already appear established – to set off an alarm indicating threat in adjacent categories, to kindle your innovation agenda, to steer your comms levers in pursuit of a differentiating advantage.

Keeping your finger on the pulse has never been more important

As the context continuously evolves during the pandemic, businesses strategically shift their focus to a different KPI. Staying within a whisker of your metrics’ movements is more important right now than in a year without turmoil. With Kantar’s Trend AI, hundreds of thousands of time series are analysed at once, revealing early marketplace signals for your category and your competitors. Think of Trend AI as your early warning system that does all the heavy lifting for you. It’s as if dozens of human analysts are working around the clock checking you are on track, identifying underlying trends behind your performance, predicting your future brand trajectory. You know tracking has become future oriented when your capability to anticipate and react to business challenges improves exponentially, painlessly.

Understand how to react to emerging trends

Imagine now a scenario where Trend AI shows that your metrics are not moving towards the right direction. How can you identify what’s wrong and get to the bottom of what consumers really feel? That’s when you need a diagnostic module to get to the heart of people’s stories. Conversational AI celebrates the honesty, the nuance and the richness that naturally surfaces in a one-to-one conversation with consumers. Not with another human though, but with a bot, a bot that encompasses well-designed tech (AI) and is impressively trained to probe for depth and authenticity in a conversational dialogue. With this diagnostic module, you can connect with people casually on familiar platforms, where people are already engaged (like Facebook Messenger and WeChat), and we have found that the emotive language consumers use gives our clients the desirable leverage to differentiate their brand.

Whatever the conversational method, in research, emotions have always presented a challenge in terms of understanding and measuring them. More so during a pandemic when unexpected emotions have surfaced at an unpredicted frequency. Using NeedScope, one of our behavioural science tools, you can get below the surface of consumer responses, revealing the emotion that drives consumer attitudes, preferences and behaviour. You can also explore new emotional territories that will better differentiate your brand; whether this translates in an improved product, service, brand and/or a better suited communications delivery, it’s about listening and meeting consumers’ emotional needs that will offer you the sought-after competitive advantage.

If your discoveries from consumers’ emotions and their evolving moments in our new context suggest your brand should re-engineer its positioning, you can simulate the impact of ‘what if’ scenarios on your sales using our mind to sales analytics app. Maybe you aim for greater meaningfulness, more striking difference or blatant salience using your image statements as a vehicle. Be sure that you’re identifying the best strategy to drive sales for your brand.

Now is the time to be proactive, not reactive

In the market research industry, we are facing a paradox: 90% of the businesses we have interviewed in Kantar’s Global Business Compass believe there will be a change in consumer behaviour, yet half plan on spending less on consumer understanding. Budget cuts aside, there appears to be a misplaced optimism that we could ‘wait this out’. Many are not necessarily respecting the amount of consumer change taking place or waiting to take place, and feel somewhat confident that a reactive mode (pretty much like the one we all adopted back March/April) will allow brands to survive through this.

Our view is different. We believe that adapting to new conditions and adopting a brave attitude are the key strategic practices to recovering quickly. And we would go as far as to say that growth is not unachievable in this climate either, not least because, naturally, fewer brands are gearing up for it during a crisis. As far as cost is concerned, flying blind and acting purely on a hunch might in reality end up being your more expensive option. Jeff Bezos summarises the irony in this following quote: “If you're good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”

We hope you have enjoyed this series of articles about the need to transform brand tracking and the way you make decisions for your brand, in order to protect and grow during the pandemic. If you’d like to find out more about how Kantar’s brand guidance solutions can help you identify opportunities for your brand during such uncertain times, please do get in touch.

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