woman cooking at home
Cookware brand Great Jones has been hosting virtual cookbook club meetings and having food influencers like pastry wizard Dominique Ansel take over its Instagram Stories. — Great Jones

The global coronavirus has brought with it a reckoning for brands of all kinds, challenging individual entrepreneurs and mega-corporations alike to reach consumers who no longer commute to the office, go to stores, eat at restaurants or attend events.

Supply chain and labor challenges aside, it’s clear how categories like grocery and pharmacy have faced heightened demand amid the coronavirus outbreak. But many other businesses are looking for creative ways to maintain revenue without those efforts appearing to exploit a desperate situation.

Some companies have found it easier to gracefully walk that fine line than others, pivoting to meet demands for home comforts like cookware, jigsaw puzzles and fitness equipment. Others have had to get more creative, experimenting with new digital sales channels and marketing strategies that promote products and activities conducive to the cooped-up lifestyles of the COVID-19 era.

“Brands are debuting their COVID pivots in earnest,” Frankie Caracciolo, a senior strategist with consumer marketing agency Team Epiphany, told CO—. “The landscape is remarkably different than it was a month ago and will continue to go through a cycle of changes and adaptations even after there is a return to ‘normal.’”

Brands shift strategies: From luxe perfume to artisan hand sanitizers and leopard face masks

More than anything, it seems the key to surviving in our new normal is going to be flexibility for both brands and consumers. That’s in part why, rather than wait for a return to business as usual, many brands across categories are exploring new digital options and developing strategies to remain relevant to their new housebound customer.

Many local and independent retailers, once dependent on physical sales, are scrambling to launch e-commerce efforts and keep up with fulfillment with just a skeleton staff. To help, eBayrecently launched its Up & Running program, pledging $100 million towards efforts to bring small business operations online. Through the program, eBay will give new businesses a free basic eBay store for three months, offering access to the marketplace's 180 million-plus buyers.

Those that were able to pivot quickly to produce essential items have thus far benefited from at least a dose of good PR. Manufacturers of alcohol-based products like perfume and liquor have converted factories to produce hand sanitizer, for example, seen at companies as massive as LVMH and Anheuser-Busch, as well as independent distilleries.

The landscape is remarkably different than it was a month ago and will continue to go through a cycle of changes and adaptations even after there is a return to ‘normal.’

Frankie Caracciolo, senior strategist, Team Epiphany

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Direct-to-consumer clothing brands including Reformation and Los Angles Apparel quickly converted California factories to making cloth face masks; and retailer Revolve offered free masks or artisan hand sanitizer with every order over $100.

Should social distancing continue beyond 2020, as some experts predict, behaviors like wearing masks in public spaces will become normalized, making these items even more important spaces for brands to expand into.

Pivoting from in-person experiences to digital retail therapy

From distribution and logistics to advertising and marketing, companies are struggling to recalibrate their strategies to reach what was, until this March, an increasingly experience-obsessed consumer. Caracciolo sums it up with the question, “How will brands show a need — or at least an excitement — over events or out-of-home advertising when we’re, for the foreseeable future, always home?”

“For brands to have an impact,” he continued, “they really need to meet consumers where they're already gathering online: across the social media and communication platforms that have become inextricable from daily life now.”

Social media and email marketing have quickly changed tone, attempting to soothe customers while pointing them towards the products most compatible to a life lived indoors.

Brands already catering to experiences inside the home have had an easier time of catering to the needs of housebound consumers. Further, they’re leveraging the shelter-in-place order to offer more intimate looks at the people behind the brand.

Otherland, a direct-to-consumer candle company, is reinforcing its social and email marketing strategy with a new series of “fireside chats,” whereby female influencers and entrepreneurs offer advice and insight from inside their own homes on topics like creating a home sanctuary, virtual vacations and mood-boosting activities.

Trendy cookware brands like Great Jones and Equal Parts are catering to the younger consumer who, now that they’re trapped at home, has no choice but to do a fair amount of cooking for themselves. Online, Great Jones is hosting virtual cookbook club meetings and handing over its Instagram stories to food influencers from pastry wizard Dominique Ansel to pop star-cum-chef, Kelis. Equal Parts, managed by Pattern Brands, has a range of pro chefs taking over its “Text-a-Chef” service, which helps its customers make meals out of what they already have in their kitchens.

 woman using peloton bike at home
Makers of at-home workout equipment are experiencing a surge in sales, including Peloton, whose $3,000 bike is on backorder as a result of the influx in purchases. — Peloton

And as more of our daily communication and activities move online, plenty of businesses have been able to successfully translate their brand experience into digital content. Some brands are experimenting with new channels, following users onto platforms like video games and eSports.

For example, Animal Crossing, a game released for the Nintendo Switch in March, became a viral hit among players who are trapped inside and spending even more time on devices. Within the digital world of Animal Crossing, users can customize their own environments and avatar’s outfits. Marketers quickly took note, with luxury brands including Burberry, Dior and Net-a-Porter offering virtual versions of their high-end clothing, accessories and home goods that are adorned by gamers’ digital avatars.

Catering to indoor lifestyles

While many retailers and services are struggling to stay afloat throughout social distancing, certain companies have found themselves with a uniquely lucrative opportunity. Demand has surged, for example, for cabin-fever distractions like jigsaw puzzles and video games, while sales of doomsday supplies like dehydrated food to Bibles reflect panic buying behaviors among a certain subset of the population.

It’s also a major moment for home fitness. Peloton, recouping from any negative press it might have garnered with its disappointing IPO and strangely received holiday campaign, is experiencing a backorder on its near $3,000 bike and a bump in stock price. One of its competitors, Mirror, has been racing to fill orders as well. Its hero product, an interactive smart mirror loaded with thousands of workout videos, is designed to turn any area of the home into a personal fitness studio. For now, Mirror is offering access to online classes while customers wait for their purchase to arrive.

Just as the demand for hand sanitizer and toilet paper has soared in the consumables space, demand for equipment like hand weights and kettlebells has skyrocketed in the home-fitness category. In response, fitness studios and booking platforms like ClassPass have quickly invested in beefing up digital offerings with live Zoom classes, FaceTime sessions and libraries of literally home-made videos.

For some of these businesses, the question is not only how to survive, but how to enjoy the spoils of success during a global pandemic and how to maintain them in the face of a deeply uncertain future.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 05, 2020