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Why now is not the time to go quiet

While now is not the time for opportunism or narcissism, Toto Ellis, Chief Strategy Officer at Mc&T believes every brand in every category can and should remain present and visible.

Toto Ellis, Mc&T

Chief Strategy Officer & Partner

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Numerous studies that have analysed the communications of companies during recessions have concluded that it is those companies which remain visible during recessions that will prosper as a result when that recession ends.

It would be reasonable to assume that similar rules apply during the current crisis, albeit with some very different societal realities at play. Added to the negative human consequences that will sadly arise from the economic situation that will follow this health crisis, we must of course first and foremost be very aware of the gargantuan task facing our healthcare professionals alongside the devastating loss of loved ones.

But it is not a time to just go quiet.

One only has to look at human behaviour. Those friends that have offered a helping hand, stayed in contact and thought of others are those that we remember now and will remember long after this is over.

Here are our observations on how brands should behave in this moment of crisis.

We can all too often be drawn into believing that volume of slides and verbosity in meetings are markers of our output. They’re not.

Toto Ellis

1. Simplicity is key

Early on in my career, I remember being sent this by one of the best CSOs in the business. I’ve never forgotten it. It was an early intervention into my own strategy career. As agencies often feel the need to justify their fees based on the time people spend on client business rather than the quality and originality of thought, we can all too often be drawn into believing that volume of slides and verbosity in meetings are markers of our output. They’re not.

What is the simplest expression of your brand and how can it be distilled? Government messaging has been distilled to ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ because Isaac Levido and Dominic Cummings are acutely aware that we really remember headlines. If this is all they expect us to remember from your own government, it’s instructive for brands to think similarly.

2. Your USP, core offer or functionality is probably more important than your brand purpose

I’ve never ever said this before, but now may not be the time to stick religiously to your brand purpose, unless it readily applies to this crisis. AirBnB’s promise to help people belong anywhere has usefully informed crisis-led initiatives. So too might Nike’s if they can keep helping unlock that inner athlete in all of us during lockdown, given that continual movement is a key pillar for immunity. But you only have to look at Dyson and Louis Vuitton and to see how sometimes you need to have the confidence to see how your core USP/functionality/skills can best apply to the crisis and not necessarily that cleverly crafted purpose.

We’ll always remember those who help us in a time of need, and constraint and limitation have long been seen as drivers of great strategies and creative ideas.

Toto Ellis

3. The new consumption behaviours within the category need serving, with an eye to what the long-term/post-crisis behavioural shift might be

Management consultants have moved fast to recognise the new behaviours we are necessarily adopting in this crisis. So too have the most plucky and nimble essential neighbourhood shops. There is an immediate new consumption behaviour in almost every category that must be served, but companies should have an eye to what the long-term behavioural shift might be. As people re-evaluate their pre-crisis consumption behaviours, new ones may be adopted for the long-term. Plus, the lockdown will be long enough for new habits to be wired permanently into our brains, and for old ones to be replaced.

4. First and fast (and beta) will garner maximum earned media value

Organisations such as Mercedes, Formula One and BrewDog have garnered national news headlines and mentions from government officials in the daily briefings in large part because they were the first to offer something. A whole host of alcohol brands and other industries are currently making hand gel, but it’s those who put their hands up first who we will hear about.

Building digital pubs and clubs may soon become de rigueur for many alcohol brands, but we were first to market to create a ‘WFH moment’ with craft beer client Beavertown via the creation of the ‘Beavertown Cheers’ platform on the first week of lockdown, something that we knew we could build on and improve over time with live drawing classes and more, creating an ‘appointment to view’ moment for this new at home behaviour. A note of caution, however. If providing something serious, it’s important to ensure it’s fit for purpose before making bold claims.

5. Utility and, maybe, entertainment are key

The best companies have always understood this. But it’s now ever more critical to focus almost exclusively through these two lenses. Start by asking if you can be of help or reframe your service in a new manner that’s built for the new reality. Then also ask, if appropriate, whether you could provide some much-needed light relief for the millions of people who are living within the confines of their own homes.

 

So, whilst this is absolutely not a time for opportunism or narcissism, it is absolutely a time when every brand in every category can and should remain present and visible.

Many tragedies lie ahead. But we’ll always remember those who help us in a time of need, and constraint and limitation have long been seen as drivers of great strategies and creative ideas.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Guest Author

Toto Ellis, Mc&T

Chief Strategy Officer & Partner,

About

Toto worked at TBWA for a decade, latterly as Head of Strategy at the London office. He was responsible for two Euro Grand Prix Effie winning product launches for Nissan, and multiple Cannes winning campaigns for Adidas, PlayStation and Nissan. Following this, he was headhunted to launch the London office of Droga5, where he was Head of Strategy for five years. He helped the agency grow from four to 44 people, leading accounts such as Peroni UK, Asahi Global, Bowers & Wilkins and ancestry.com and winning Campaign's Independent Agency of the Year in his fifth year of working there. Toto also directed and wrote a short film for the BBC called 'Two Angry Men' which is now on Amazon Prime. Toto is now Chief Strategy Officer and Partner of Mc&T, a London-based PR agency with clients including Kopparberg, giffgaff TikTok and Justice 4 Grenfell. He also set up Beating Heart in 2018 with Mc&T Founder Paul McEntee, which is dedicated to devising cultural properties and platforms for clients such as Levi’s, Warner Music and Extreme E.

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