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Tesla, Target and more: Brand lessons from businesses that have prospered during the pandemic

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Despite the extraordinarily difficult conditions brought about by the pandemic, some organisations have successfully negotiated the challenging trading environment to build their brands.

22nd Feb 2022
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A new report by market research firm Forrester has identified a handful of brands that have flourished during the pandemic – including Tesla, Target, and Yeti – and picked apart precisely what it is about their strategies that has enabled them to drive success at a time that has strained the resolve and resources of many others.

The report – Brand Spotlight: The Pandemic Persists, And So Do Successful Brands – suggests that there are three ways that brands flexed to stay successful. 

1. Reintroduced themselves

The pandemic clearly affected different brands in different ways. For companies like Starbucks who pride themselves on creating a great physical customer experience environment – comfy chairs, the smell of freshly ground coffee, free wifi, etc – the increase in remote and hybrid working restricted the marketability and appeal of this strategy. 

Whereas, a company like Wendy’s – renowned for its witty and light-hearted social media presence – was forced to adopt a more sombre tone due to the severity of the pandemic. 

With restrictions lessened, at least to some degree, almost everywhere across the globe, brands now need to reintroduce themselves to consumers; reminding existing, and informing new customers, precisely what was so unique and effective about their pre-pandemic service. 

2. Humanised tech 

As part of the pandemic-enforced ‘dash to digital’, organisations rushed to provide  services for a homebound population. As time has moved on, companies have managed to hone and perfect these systems, with the most successful usually involving a generous dose of human intervention.

The Report outlines the sophistication of Four Season’s chatbot service, which added a human component alongside the AI to provide an experience worthy of the brand’s legendary customer service.

3. Blurred boundaries 

Home is now work, and eating out is ordering in. The boundaries between digital and physical experiences are blurring, and the brands that realise this will be best placed to prosper going forward. 

The growth of social commerce reflects this: the Report reveals that by 2023 over a third of online retail in China will be on social channels. Gucci can outfit you today just as easily in the “metaverse” via Gucci Garden on Roblox, as it can at its flagship store on Fifth Avenue.

Brand spotlight

Despite the findings revealing that the above three areas were essential for pandemic growth across all brands generally, Forrester did place the spotlight on three specific brands due to their phenomenal growth:

Tesla

Spearheaded by the charismatic yet polarising Elon Musk, Tesla achieved a staggering 275% annual brand growth in 2021, compared to an automotive category growth of 33%. 

Two of its most successful ventures included extending its impact within the auto rental market, with Hertz purchasing 100,00 Teslas; as well as moving into the commercial market, with Pepsi set to receive delivery of Tesla semitrucks.

Tesla has the most loyal fan base in the industry, with 81% of customers returning to market lease or buy another Tesla.

For Dave Mayer, senior partner at Lippincott, the single most important factor in Tesla’s success is their ability to empower the consumer to do things they couldn’t do before:

“By buying into Tesla, consumers feel like they are buying into a sustainable tech revolution.”

Target

Arguably the most impressive part of Target’s pandemic brand growth is that they managed to reverse last year’s trend, which saw them edged out by rival Walmart. This time around, the Minneapolis-based retailer grew their operating income by 46%, compared to Walmart’s 18%.

Key to Target’s success was their focus on the stores themselves, providing grocery sections that rival supermarkets, private labels that challenge apparel brands, and unique offerings like Ulta Beauty.

A firm belief that employee experience drives customer experience is at the heart of Target’s success.

A firm belief that employee experience drives customer experience is also at the heart of Target’s strategy; a point typified by the brand’s decision to make Thanksgiving a store holiday, and allow all store employees to spend it with their families.  

Yeti

Despite operating within a crowded and commoditized category, and providing products at a premium price ($1,300 for the grizzly-proof cooler), Yeti’s stock price still managed to significantly outperformed the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Index throughout 2021. 

The outdoor products provider, managed to grow and strengthen their brand by shedding the hubris often attached to traditional marketing. The story of Yeti is rooted deep in the hunting and fishing community, and is told by guides and fishermen serving as brand ambassadors. 

Yeti managed to grow and strengthen their brand by shedding the hubris often attached to traditional marketing.

Yeti’s ability to create an emotional bond with their customers has enabled them to continue to build a strong and prosperous brand in spite of the pandemic. 

Best practice brand strategies

Despite the diversity of the spotlighted brands, the Report also produced some common best practice strategies that were prevalent across all three companies:

  • Invest with confidence: a strong brand is among the best insurance you can have. Investing in your brand during the good years, will allow you to draw out in the bad years, so that payback comes when you need it most. 
  • Use brand investment to build experience: Modern brand building dispenses with dated notions of ‘advertise and they will come’. In 2022, liberate your brand from its top-of-the-funnel shackles, and embrace the end-to-end customer experience wholeheartedly.
  • Adapt brand strategy to address market dynamics: For established leaders, the next step is to constantly reinvent to fend off disruptors nipping at the heels. There is no boilerplate brand strategy; you have to find the strategy that is right for you and your customers at that specific moment. 
  • Deepen relationships by amplifying the brand’s role in peoples’ lives:  Brands will resonate when they empower. Organisations must highlight and emphasise how the products they are offering will allow the consumer to enhance and improve their quality of life.

 

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