2020 . 04 . 24 | written by Karen Marin

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As the world grapples with the catastrophe that is COVID-19, business as usual has come to a screeching halt. Entire populations are confined, in shelter, under quarantine, for an undetermined length of time. Daily life resembles a science fiction movie as a new normal comes into being. Consumers are reassessing priorities and cutting back on their purchases. No historical event compares to what is happening now, but economists look to the recession of 2008 along with the first learnings coming from China as the country begins to emerge from the pandemic for clues as to how to weather the storm. What course of action can niche fragrance brands take to survive?

The first priority is to focus on what you can control such as expenses, internal and external communication, and the marketing plan. The overall consensus is that now is not the time to launch, it is the time to strategize, observe and push digital messaging. Online shopping and eCommerce are drawing a larger audience than ever before. As consumers become comfortable with the ease and convenience of this channel, it is likely they will continue in their new shopping habits post-crisis. Consequently, brands need to take a hard look at their own digital model to be sure it presents the full potential of the brand, is competitive and is equipped with the analytical capacity to assess business opportunities and performance. Tools that provide real-time insights and measure digital marketing ROI are essential.

Analysts agree that in times like these the need for communication is at an all-time high, so it is definitely NOT a time for brands to go silent. The following list proposes recommended digital messaging and dialogues that brands could implement right away.

1. Messaging now should strengthen the emotional connection to the brand and convey empathy. Be authentic, positive, helpful and sensitive.

2. It’s less about making a sale and more about creating value for the consumer. By creating content that entertains, educates, and tells new stories behind the brand the consumer will enjoy a rich and enhanced experience while in the comfort of their own home. Conversely, hard selling can be a turn off.

3. Emphasize the brand’s core values through rich heritage stories targeting lifestyle, with specific insight and a focus on the unique point of difference. Think of it as a virtual escape for customers.

4. Explain how you will continue to operate and provide the products and services your customers love. There is a reason why they come to you and are loyal to the brand – reassure them that they can count on you for what they know and love.

5. Tell the consumers what newness they can expect from you: if you are working on innovations, new ways to service them, new collaborations, entice them with what is coming soon.

6. If you work with Influencers, monitor how they are communicating with their followers. Be sure the tone and the content are in line with your principles.

What is key in all of the above is that you show how you are dealing with the situation, weathering the storm and finding ways to stay relevant to your community. It is a message of solidity and solidarity, coming from a position of strength. Remember that the communication that happens now may increase sales in the short-term, but it’s the long game that really matters as the dialogue will continue long after the crisis ends.

Aside from external communication, there are a few strategies that brands should consider while planning how to get through the coming months.

1. Work on creating a 30-60-90-day strategy that gets you to the end of the summer. Think about how you will re-enter the market, what actions you will need to take, and within what timeframe. Reassess the plan on a continuous basis, be wary of unforeseen circumstances as you deal with uncertainty. If you have a team, involve them in the planning process.

2. Commit a substantial portion of marketing resources to supporting and reinforcing the core products and the volume drivers.

3. Assess your portfolio and prune it back. Determine the lines that have little chance of surviving, the ones that have declining sales but could stabilize and the ones that can flourish.

4. As you narrow the assortment, don’t compromise on innovation. Novelty approaches in delivery systems, in product and packaging improvements and in repositioning classic lines will all get attention and peak interest.

5. Develop a plan for dealing with higher than normal levels of unsold 2020 inventory. Avoid discounting as it compromises the brand’s integrity. Consider using excess stock in a gifting strategy or as a reward for loyal customers.

6. Review and strengthen your CRM program. Make it relevant to the post-crisis consumer by reinforcing value, providing superior and personalized service and building stronger relationships.

7. If you have positioned yourself as a luxury brand, now is not the time to compromise. Luxury means attention to detail, exclusivity, excellence of product, and artisanal production. Don’t be tempted to cut prices or go down the promo route looking for quick sales.

Speculation is that some countries will rebound quickly whereas others will be much slower to come back to stability. Value for money may drive consumer consumption as people rationalize and trim their spending habits. Social issues including sustainability, respect for the environment, and ethical practices will weigh heavily on the post-crisis consumer, so brands must be vigilant in providing transparent communication on their products and practices. And, if history is to repeat itself, looking back at other traumatic events, consumers will gravitate towards craftsmanship, heritage brands and understated luxury.