April 20, 2020

How strong branding beats all odds

By Blair Burchill

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth thinking about the business impact and the effect on marketing strategies. Be consistent, look professional, and stand for something good.

Businesses are often faced by shocks beyond their control such as natural disasters, strikes, protest movements and health crises. We’ve had all of these in the first quarter of 2020, which leads us to think: if you wrote such a script for Hollywood execs, they would knock you back for being too outlandish.

Without ignoring the sad loss of life that will happen with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth thinking about the business impact and the effect on marketing strategies.

Brand Strength

Firstly, brand strength: If you have a strong brand and its core image is not affected by COVID-19 or other events, you will be in a good position to ride out the downturn. If your brand stands for something strong, positive and emotionally beneficial, then you will be well-placed as customers return in search of good feelings. They will seek brands that provide certainty of a positive experience. Your brand may be a single café, a national chain of cafés, a whiskey, an airline, a holiday resort or a home renovation service – almost anything.

The topic of brand strength is not just for big brands. For small businesses, it is the same and the second truth applies: If you don’t have a strong brand position you are always at risk of being displaced by brands that do, and this is more likely after economic shocks.

Customer Retention

Secondly, will customers return? Yes they will. It is guaranteed that after an economic shock there is a boom as consumers return. Building booms follow natural disasters. Consumers who cancelled vacations will travel when the all-clear is given. Business trips will return filling hotels and restaurants. Bars and restaurants will fill as social lives return. Delayed renovations will happen, old family cars will be replaced. Everything comes through the supply chain and the activity will ripple through the economy quickly.
Pent-up demand needs an outlet; Will your brand be ready for it? Do you stand for what consumers want? If you, as the business founder, know it intuitively – have you made it clear to your customers, and more importantly those who aren’t your customers yet? Are you hoping customers will find you organically or are you actively chasing them?

Stand For Something

Finally, what can marketers do? Make sure your brand stands for something good, build a strong identity, and make it one that your competitors can’t own. Build a lighthouse identity – what you stand for – and tell it to the world (or your target audience at least). I recommend you read Adam Morgan’s seminal marketing book, “Eating the Big Fish” (how challenger brands compete against market leaders) for more on this topic.

Heavyweight global brands are currently holding their breath knowing their brand-strength will bring them through at the end. McDonalds, Qantas, Expedia, Toyota, etc. have their brand strength and marketing houses in order. Why not be like them and create ads and marketing content that is unique?

Be consistent in your delivery, look professional, and stand for something good. While shocks will always come, you will be the first to rise from the ashes when markets return.


Blair Burchill , Strategy Director

Blair has 25+ years experience in advertising agencies from Ottawa to Brisbane to London. His experience transcends consumer brands from airlines and lottery operations in Australia, to petroleum and fast food in the UK, to government and public utilities here in Ottawa. His aim is always to find a point of difference for a brand that is based on an inherent truth, and bring it to life with campaigns in targeted media channels from traditional to digital and social. In addition, Blair spent over two years on the client side as the national director of marketing for a Cisco UC provider in Australia, working on B2B lead generation campaigns. His interests are advertising, rugby and summer.