Luxury brand management strategy for the Covid-19 outbreak
As the world began to move into lockdown in March, product sales took an almost instantaneous hit in spite of the record food (and toilet roll) sales caused by panic buying. However, as people began to adapt, online sales recovered quickly. A month in, a number of industries have seen a massive increase in online sales growth against the pre-Covid world: with 84% growth in technology; 75% in cosmetics and 63% in fashion. Whilst luxury has recovered more slowly, it has also shown growth against the pre-Covid world. All this demonstrates that brands can survive and even grow as long as they move fast and communicate effectively to maintain brand awareness and loyalty.
The most important step to take from a branding perspective is one that most brands will have already taken: shifting the focus to online channels that embody the spirit of the brand in question. When thinking about long-term strategy it should be borne in mind that that whilst physical channels will re-open at some point, the shift to an increased focus on the online world will be an enduring one. It therefore makes sense to establish a detailed strategy for online whether your brand is already digitally savvy or is rapidly adjusting to the new normal.
Brands that have resisted the embrace of the digital world thus far could do worse than to look to Ferragamo’s strategy. Until the Covid-19 outbreak, the brand had been as offline as it was possible to get. Now it has a brand new website as well as clienteling services and even a Spotify playlist. An accessible and engaging website has the potential to open up sales in much the same way as the renovation of a physical store.
Whilst the mainstay of a brand’s online domain is likely to be their website, brands with an already established online presence should consider how they can broaden the scope of their online output in order to develop brand relationships in this time of increased stickiness. With consumers in a state of flux they are more likely to develop meaningful relationships with the brands that they choose to engage with. If a brand is looking to reach a new market or even reach their existing markets in a new way it may be worth broadening the scope of online output to social media. As well as developing brand relationships, social media can be used to drive sales which is where it becomes particularly valuable.
For some brands, a pleasing Instagram grid with direct links to products on the website and the ability to target the right demographic using the world of AdTech will be enough. Other brands will want to maintain the more personal touch that they benefitted from in physical stores. For those brands live streams – available publicly or to a select crowd (be they loyal customers or prize winners) – are a great way for a brand to reach a consumer inside their home and create a buzz akin to a store opening or product launch.
Brands may also want to consider using shop staff for such live streams (to the extent that they haven’t furloughed those staff members) as those staff will have an intimate knowledge of both stock and the brand’s core customer base. This is merely another way of shifting focus from physical channels to digital ones.
As well as developing online channels, brands must tackle IP infringement. Just like a normal brand, infringer’s businesses have also been hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. However, infringers, being on the wrong end of the law, are experienced at pivoting and therefore are creating new products as fast as, if not faster than, before. The other crucial element here is that customers are more vulnerable than ever; the current state of the world means that a number of consumers may be driven to take risks with products of unknown origin in a way that they wouldn’t have necessarily done before.
It may be worth taking the time to identify and eliminate your most significant pirate competitors because these “brands” are arguably more of a risk to your brand than your traditional competitors. Particularly if you are having supply issues as some infringer’s are managing to circumvent such issues and thereby snag sales from consumers desperate to get hold of certain products.
Another way to protect your IP is the more obvious, but not to be overlooked, route of making sure that it’s all registered or otherwise protected as applicable in each region that your brand is concerned about now or expects move into in the future. Protecting your brand’s rights from the outset will make it is easier to enforce them in the future.
A major issue now is the potential for negative associations caused by infringers for whom taking an established product and putting on a Covid-19 twist is bearing dividends. For example, pirates have been using Peppa Pig branding to sell baby formula that claims to make babies immune to the coronavirus. Entertainment One (owners of the Peppa Pig brand) were quick to recognise the added danger here that people might think that this was a genuine product and moved quickly to obtain enforcement against the infringer thereby removing the threat to consumers.
In order to respond as well to similar issues, brands would do well to set up searches for properties of theirs in connection with words to do with the coronavirus outbreak (i.e. “covid”, “virus” or “mask”). While some brands will have the resources to do this in-house, others may need to look to the market for tools such as Dupe Killer; a tool that searches the internet to quickly identify content that might infringe a brand’s rights. As with all brand strategy, right-sizing your team and approach is critical in order to fully reap the benefits whatever your budget.
At times like these when misinformation can spread so quickly, it is important that brands are making sure that they’re alerted to such issues as soon as possible. Take, for example, Dettol’s prompt response to President Trump’s comments regarding the use of bleach against Covid-19.
When fighting infringers it’s important to use all the tools at your disposal and brands would do well to take advantage of the systems that online retailers have put in place. Take for example Alibaba who have quite a sophisticated system for the detection of pirate content. This is particularly important online as it is much easier for a pirate to mimic a brand online and to disappear and re-surface each and every time that they are identified than it is in the physical world. Again, unscrupulous pirates disguising themselves as part of your brand can do significant damage to your brand’s image making it crucial that brands are willing to work with online retailers to eliminate pirates or at least effectively and efficiently identify and take down pirates as they pop up.
A final argument in support of expanding your online presence is that, if a brand has a genuine presence on a social media site, consumers are less likely to confuse pirate branding for genuine branding. As ever, in the world of piracy, the best way to avoid consumers buying from pirates is to have an established legitimate presence in the environment yourself.
In summary, if you grow your online presence, protect your intellectual property from the outset, tackle pirates and watch out for unwanted associations, then there is material opportunity for your brand not just to survive but to thrive.
If you’d like more detailed advice on protecting your brand, speak to our team.
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