7 Steps Out of the Unknown

Product & Branding Strategy

At the beginning of 2020, much like many other years, you developed a product planning roadmap, a branding strategy, and a marketing budget. Equipped with your plans for the year, you faced the year “as usual.”

Product & Branding Strategy

In the US, we were aware of the coronavirus in China, but unless you had products or component parts being produced in China, or it was a key market for your organization, you were feeling somewhat insulated. No more! It became tragically clear how interconnected we are globally. The world became smaller as we watched each country face this horrible virus. We saw how interdependent we are upon one another in terms of our learning, healthcare, economics, and approaches to slow the virus spread.

Today, our businesses face a “new start to 2020.” Let’s just say the product roadmap and budget you laid out, received stakeholder approval for, and communicated to your organization are…well...not worth the paper they were probably printed on. There was so much promise and excitement at the start of the year and the decade, but now COVID-19 and its economic fallout has had tragic consequences for many companies and industries. Now we must pick ourselves up and find our way through what might be the biggest challenge an organization or industry has ever faced.

What will you do? What will your organization do? How can you respond? Even though you would have never chosen this path, this is the path you are on. It’s not really accurate to think of “rebuilding.” Because the place you end up after rebuilding may be a very different place, and your organization may be a very different organization after COVID-19 and its impact.

These 7 steps will help you focus on reimaging your brand by focusing on your product roadmap and reviewing your brand positioning.


Let’s focus for a few moments on the new customers. There are people who have tried your product or service in the past 2 months (since the beginning of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders were widely declared in the US) who would not have naturally tried your product or service under normal circumstances. For example, they may have gone to the store or online to buy their typical brand of cereal and found that for a couple of weeks it was unavailable, so they decided to give your product a try. This pandemic and the product shortages have generated trial. You may “earn” repeat business from these new customers because your product or service is fantastic and the triers may be on the cusp of becoming regular users. How can you change this new trial relationship into a regular customer relationship?


How can you communicate with your new customers? Is there a way to enhance or update your website or app for these new customers? Are there places on your website for them to leave reviews for you? Have you asked about how they might be using the product or service? Is it the same way your previously established customers used the products or services, or are they being used in new ways? Is your product or service being combined with other products in ways that you haven’t anticipated? By monitoring your customers’ reviews and comments on your website and on third-party websites, you can learn what these new customers are experiencing. This would be a very effective way to improve the consumer insights being collected. How can you quickly analyze and share these learnings for product improvements?

How can you improve or what new products or services should be offered in the future? What can you suggest in terms of products to be bought together? Are there new flavors, new recipes, or other ideas you have never considered in the past? Direct-to-consumer communication is ideal, if possible, so you can learn as much as possible to make improvements.


Even your previously established customers may be using your products in new ways. Perhaps they are using the product at home now, instead of using it at the office, at school, or while “on the run” as they did in the past. Thinking about the former and current likely users, there might be new messaging or advertising that would be ideal. This could also impact packaging of the products going forward.


If your products are some of those that were wiped off of the grocery store shelves (or from online-shopping apps), you can also communicate that you are making as many of your products as quickly as possible. Of course, also communicate that the health and wellbeing of your employees and those in the supply chain is critical as you get the products back in the hands of customers as quickly as possible.

I believe most consumers understand that these are highly unusual times, and that out-of-stocks caused by so many shoppers who are pantry-loading is not something your company should be blamed for. Once your product is back on shelves, you can hope consumers will come back to your products. But if they have tried other products, then you may have to “win” them back.


Brand positioning is critical. As customers may be trying your products and experiencing your brands for the first time in a long time (or ever), you would like to have them learn about your company and organization and build long-term relationships. How can your brand be authentic to your goals and mission? Communicate who you are as a brand and organization so that you can win the hearts and minds of consumers now and for the long-term.


Think about the emerging trends and what will remain. What is important now and in the future? Humans are trying to find ways to connect with other humans (see Where’s My Herd? by Clay Dethloff). Some people are looking for deeper connections with smaller numbers of people. Others, such as teachers and coaches, for example, are trying to stay connected to all the people they knew and influenced. Those coaches and teachers who are leaders of many school-aged students are now relying on online/video meetings, email, text messages, and social media to continue to be influential examples to their students. How can your products and services help consumers in their quest to connect, stay connected, and be a part of something bigger?

Other trends include spending more time with family, spending more time cooking, or spending more time with pets. People have also been gardening and planting more than in the past. People are looking for ways to reduce stress and improve mental health. And what do consumers expect to do in the future? They are expecting to save more money, report planning to take better care of themselves physically and emotionally in the future, and they would like to spend more time with both friends and family, as well as support local businesses. Continuing to monitor these trends and finding ways for your products and services to help consumers with their goals will be key.


There are also ways to connect with or establish corporate philanthropy that fits your organization. If you are a health and wellness company, perhaps you could organize blood bank donations. If you are a food, beverage, or restaurant company, you could make a charitable donation of food for people who live in the areas of your restaurants, plants, or offices, etc. Challenge your organization and brands to be part of a solution to help others. It will not only improve the lives of recipients, undoubtedly, but will also give your employees and suppliers something positive to believe in and to be part of.

There is no better time than the present to develop these types of philanthropic programs or to become more active as an organization. Much like all communications and brand positioning, it must fit the overall brand identity and be authentic to who you are as an organization.

By evaluating ways to reimagine your product roadmap and by reviewing your brand positioning, you can take Steps Out of the Unknown of COVID-19 and its fallout! Consumer insights, strategic planning, and analytics can help your organization evolve your products, brands, and communications to respond to your customers and even grow your business. Let us know how we might help you reimagine your plans for the rest of the year and into 2021.


Bonnie Janzen

Bonnie Janzen


Bonnie helps drive growth for client companies based on strategic consumer insights, innovation, and analytics to shape marketing campaigns and new product development programs. She has consulted with clients on new business mergers and acquisitions including global expansion. Advertising and messaging research is a particular passion. She is very involved in the strategic direction of the company.

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