From the coalface: How FMCG brands can - and have - adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic

By Liz Richardson

- Last updated on GMT

How are businesses adapting their marketing messages during COVID-19? / Pic: GettyImages-marchmeena29
How are businesses adapting their marketing messages during COVID-19? / Pic: GettyImages-marchmeena29

Related tags: Marketing, COVID-19, coronavirus

How have FMCG brands pivoted in the face of coronavirus? What agile and adaptive strategies have they employed? In her monthly column, Liz Richardson, managing director and partner at Heyhuman and member of the FoodNavigator editorial advisory panel, shares observations from the coalface.

I’m sure you, your business, your family and your pets have been told to adapt during the pandemic. To pivot. Be agile. But what does that actually mean​ in an FMCG setting? It’s all well and good telling people to do these things, but for an industry that relies on providing goods to customers, there are plenty of challenges

Adapting to this new environment is not a one-size-fits-all quick fix, but there are three key ingredients that are delivering value. 

Adapt those marketing messages - now

Despite everything that’s going on, people still want to hear from FMCG brands; only 2% of consumers think brands should stop advertising completely, according to Kantar. But brands need to make their communications relevant.

People are being bombarded with a stream of information about COVID-19, social distancing, self-isolation and whatever new terms might be coined in the weeks and months ahead - it’s all too much. It leads to what’s known as ‘cognitive overload’: when there’s so much information being presented, it can be hard to retain anything. 

This means brands need to make their communications direct, empathetic and relevant to the current situation. And what do humans respond well to? Stories. According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, people are up to 22 times more likely to remember information when it’s woven into stories. It needs to be easily digestible, or something I like to call unusual everyday: getting the balance right between providing novelty, which gets people's attention; and everyday, using things that are familiar to people.

We worked with SlimFast to build a motivational and supportive pandemic brand voice, helping people achieve their goals with gentle encouragement and some fun thrown in. It was all about uplifting Spotify playlists, inventive recipes and providing extra support.​ It’s a subtle, but noticeable change in emphasis that’s particularly visible on social channels. 

The goalposts have shifted: less emphasis on the product or service, and more on how it can actually support people. For SlimFast, that means telling people it’s OK to take time out or to change their weight-loss goal in these challenging times.

Mixing up your selling methods is a must

People aren’t acting normally, they’re not purchasing normally, so you shouldn’t be selling normally. 

We undertook a social media campaign for premium pet food company Natures Menu, which nudged customers to its D2C function - this resulted in an uptick of 50% for online sales. 

A simple tweak like this keeps brands in customers’ minds, adapting to their wants and needs while they’re hunkered down. This also presents an opportunity to drive them back to physical stores when the time is right, because it’s not about physical versus online - it’s about the brand assessing the situation to ensure customers get what they need now, and​ in the future.

Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene

It might seem obvious, but hygiene is vital. Even before lockdown, our clients were still ahead of the curve. They offered socially distanced home delivery, they installed antibacterial dispensers in offices, warehouses and delivery vans - and this was all clearly communicated to customers over email and social media. 

Showing people that your factory floor is clean is great, but that has to be executed across the entire product and customer journey.

The products might have been packaged immaculately and safely, but that’s no good if the delivery driver handled them with the same pair of surgical gloves they’ve worn across the entire working day. And for brands working in-store, similar precautions apply: no more product bins, no sample handouts, no uncovered food. If it doesn’t feel safe, it’s not.

It’s the little things that make the biggest difference. In a post-lockdown world, customers aren’t going to settle. Their wellbeing has come sharply into focus, and now more than ever, FMCG brands have the opportunity to take the mantle and really show people that they care. 

Liz Richardson is managing director and partner at behavioural marketing specialists HeyHuman and a member of the FoodNavigator Expert Advisory Panel​​.

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