A Brave New World?

How the lifting of restrictions takes us into the uncharted territory of customer-led comfort requirements.

Can you believe it? After nearly 18 months the requirement to stretch a face covering, be it fashionable, colourful or just plain utilitarian, is finally, along with a slew of social distancing and limiting measures coming to an end by mid-July. Is this a cause for celebration? Quite possibly, but do you think everyone is as giddy as you about this? And, indeed, will this change actually have the effect of turning some people away from mixing more?

Brands, especially those in hospitality and leisure, will have to consider all of this along with the logistics of reopening their venues back to their full capacity for the first time in over a year. Will all customers return with gay abandon and get back to ‘normal’ or will this, indeed, put off those people who have already decided that they are going to continue to follow social distancing and mask wearing.

The important thing here is to find a balance – ensuring that your audience, no matter their viewpoint, has an enjoyable and safe visit.

Balance in all things

First, I’m not going to lie to you and say there is going to be a one size fits all offer that will please everyone. Instead,  we will all need to think about what actions and messaging will resonate the most clearly to all audiences.

To do this, I’d suggest you’d follow the Three ‘B’s of COVID communications:

Be clear about what your current COVID policy is

From ventilation to mask wearing and cleaning protocols – be clear about what you are going to continue to offer your customers. This isn’t about pandering but being honest about the offer, allowing audiences to make an informed choice

Be upfront about the changes you will be making to capacity

You do not need to apologise for opening up and getting busier, instead be up front about your offer. Do you have particularly busy periods, or quieter times? Showcase them so you audience can make their own  

Be ready to respond to COVID-specific feedback

Think about the types of enquiries, feedback and honestly, complaints as the world opens up. Try and have a structure of responses ready that you and your staff can use to try and answer as honestly and upfront as possible

By communicating clearly and effectively your policies around the ‘C Word’ you can then focus on promoting your full offer and what guests can look forward to experiencing.

Photo by Ty Feague on Unsplash

Your Post-COVID Offer

This then begs the question: what will services look like now we have more freedom? If you are an events organiser, an attraction, a restaurant, a shopping experience do you feel confident to offer full capacity visits in the long term? Do you worry about potential restrictions or is this a little pessimistic? Well, old PW has been called that before, on occasion, but these are important questions to ask.

The simply reply would be – focus on offering the best experience and be ready to augment your offer to match the needs of the time.

Is there a potential for digital engagement alongside your on-site activity? This could be especially impactful for events organisers. Allowing audiences who feel uncomfortable visiting in person, or can’t reach you, think about streaming content –offering a paid-for digital package to help drive engagement and potentially inspire audiences to visit in person in the future.

We have seen some excellent examples of digital engagement during the pandemic, and thanks to these trail-blazers audiences are more aware and comfortable with this offer.

Indeed, all businesses can take advantage of digital engagement to showcase your offer through video content and live-streams. Keep the engagement going, and show what you offer for those intrigued or potentially nervous. The key here is to be as experiential as possible and promote the offer in this exciting format.

No simple answers but lots of content

The next few weeks and months are still going to have challenges.

We have already seen a host of hospitality businesses having to close down due to staff having to self-isolate due to Track & Trace – and this, again, is something that brands need to be open and honest about. Customers will be understanding if they are communicated to as quickly as possible.

We are entering a new era of engagement with our customers, and the most important thing to do is to keep communicating, keep engaging and show your offer and service in an honest, authentic and exciting way as possible. By doing all this we will, hopefully, have a strong summer and go into autumn and winter in a good position.

Keep talking, and listening – that is the essence of good marketing.

Let’s have a lot less value washing and a lot more action…

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

I’m writing this just after the end of Pride month and if I listen very carefully I can hear the sound of social media managers from across the western world taking down their specially prepared rainbow-tinted logos. It was audible due to the sheer speed that this takes place each and every year.

Why do I even care about this? In fact, you are probably asking yourself why you’re even reading this – and both are good questions, but stick with me as I want to talk about authenticity and the pitfall of value washing your brand. 

What is Value Washing?

When a person or organisation uses a political or cultural movement for their promotional activities but doesn’t act on or systemically support the ethos of the movement, that is value washing. 

This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with or celebrate brands that showcase their commitment to ideals, especially Pride, but it has to be more than changing their logo to have a rainbow filter over the top of their existing brand for 4 weeks in early summer. The same is true for important movements that have risen to prominence over recent weeks, especially Black Lives Matter.

Yes, the urge to be relevant and part of the narrative of major events feels important. This always needs to be balanced with what you are doing this for, and if it is only for shallow reasons, with no meaning or actions, you will instead be in a position of value washing your brand and this is detrimental to your long-term brand position.

Why Your Brand Shouldn’t Value Wash

  • Your audience sees right through it – not authentic
  • You will create more questions – what have you done to support, what haven’t you done before?
  • Is your brand in a position to support this cause? Have you always had the same position on the subject in question?

Without any activism or engagement in the cause, you run the risk of looking tokenistic. Indeed, if your brand has a less than savoury history in certain aspects (see Llyod’s of London and their connection to the slave trade) then your promotional use of a movement could backfire spectacularly – and rightly so! 

Think of it this way, if you are a retailer or a visitor experience you wouldn’t just wish all your customers a Merry Christmas on 25th December. No, you would spend months planning your activity – the products, the services, the experiences and ensure everything was in a place with a plan. This plan would link to tangible actions and supported by robust procedures.

Indeed, you would just limit your action to just placing two candy cane emojis next to your brand name on social media and call it Christmas. You would do more, a lot more.

It’s About Action

This is all feeling a little negative, isn’t it? And I don’t want you to feel I don’t support brands that are acting responsibly. I really do – but do you know why? Because they are doing something.

So, let’s make a deal, oh patient reader, for the rest of this article I will move away from the negative and instead focus on celebrating the brilliant and inspirational work brands have delivered to both addresses their difficult heritage and showcase the positive steps they are taking to make the world a little better. 

 Natural History Museum

Personally, I love this approach by the Natural History Museum to both celebrating Pride and addressing their institution’s record on engaging with indigenous cultures and race in general and the deep roots of colonialism. 

They are being honest about the issue and making it clear that both know they need to do more and making a promise to do so. It is a deeply complicated issue but by tackling it head-on they have the opportunity to build more supporters and advocates.

Their Pride content caught my eye too, and just because of the beautiful, bright imagery used.

What they have done here is augment their content to celebrate LGBT+ people and their contributions whilst also keeping to their aims of educating and celebrating the wonder of the natural world. The Pride flag is composed of colourful aspects of nature, creating a stunning example of the beauty of the world and the beauty of Pride in one image.

Trixie Cosmetics

You’re thinking to yourself, Drag Queen makeup?! Yes, a successful makeup range, targeted at a female audience and developed and marketed by a superstar Ru Paul’s Drag Race alum (and winner).

Trixie Cosmetics has strong values at the heart of their brand, they have been donating to bee protection charities since their inception and during the recent BLM protests, they took decisive action on their channels.

For such a light-hearted and frivolously fun brand (they have just released a series of YouTube videos where Trixie cooks using a children’s toy – worth a watch) to change their tone so dramatically showcases their true brand values and commitment.

Again, this reads authentic and is backed up by the actions of Trixie Mattel herself on her personal channels. As a TC consumer, you can trust in their activism.

What you can do to support and celebrate

  • Tell their story – promote ways your audience can support the cause
  • Tell your story – tell people what you have done and continue to do to support – the initiatives, the donations, the products that support the donations
  • Make any statement meaningful – speak from the heart and avoid meaningless language
  • Don’t just do it for the day, week or month of the campaign – embed the cause into your communications all-year-round by promoting your continued activism and support

Remember, when you align your brand to a political or philosophical movement it isn’t as easy as celebrating a season – it isn’t placing a filter on your existing logo or placing two Jack O’Lanterns emojis next to your name for Easter (I don’t have anything against emojis or seasonal activity, I hasten to add!).

It is a much deeper, more meaningful act, one that should be authentic and backed up with action. This action doesn’t have to be huge programmes or donations. Instead, it can and should be about the robust HR procedures you have in place to ingrain diversity and inclusion in your organisation or your ethical purchasing policies. Customers do care about things like this, and anything you do will put you above your competitors, so don’t be shy about showcasing what you are proud of and what you can and will improve on.

Of course, I’m all for marketing that cuts above the noise. You should absolutely take advantage of the news cycle, but only when it really means something.

Trust me, your customers and your employees will thank you for it – with loyalty.

Happy advocacy.

Practice what you preach – click here for links on how to support Black Lives Matter.