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Positioning Your Brand in the Covid Era

The lesson to retain about positioning your brand in the Covid Era? Lean In To What Makes You, You.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, you’ve been working hard on business plans, raising funds, building the perfect team, and doing everything else you needed to do to hit the ground running once you were ready and the world was “back to normal.”

So, you have a startup that’s ready for the world?

But so much has happened that couldn’t have been predicted a year ago. And it seems like there is no going back to normal. So, how do you position a brand in the era of Covid? Or, fingers crossed, the post-Covid era?

The good news is, brand positioning and branding, in general, are naturally adaptable practices. The world changes, consumer needs change, markets change, the art of branding takes all that into account. It’s just that, this time, things have changed faster than usual. It feels disorienting.

Are you sitting on an e-commerce startup?

Let’s assume you’re sitting on an ecommerce startup. Many of the steps to position your new brand will be the same as ever, but COVID-19 has added new factors to consider

And even the most avowed techno-optimism would agree that the extreme changes to consumer behavior caused by the covid crisis are likely to be further magnified at some point soon, as the effects of climate change really begin to bite.

An Agile Business is Always a Good Business

My point here is not to spread doom and gloom, but to hammer home the idea that we can’t see the current period of upheaval as something that we can “wait out.” Whether it’s temporary or a part of larger changes, a good business is an agile business.

Grab a piece of it for yourself.

In a way, this is an opportunity to become a leader in a new landscape — plenty of less astute and adaptable brands won’t make it — leaving gaps in the market. Add to the gaps and find new areas of consumer interest, and you can see that we’re heading into a time of real opportunity.

But before we can work out how best to position an ecommerce startup’s brand for the covid era, we need to take a look at what has changed.

How have consumers adjusted their behavior after a year in and out of lockdowns?

What Consumers Want in the Covid Era

Given that Covid has, according to McKinsey, covered ‘a decade in days’ in terms of consumers adapting to digital services and experiences, there’s no doubt that after all of the upheaval of the pandemic, consumers are feeling wrong-footed.

The somewhat strange feeling has had a few different effects on the population. Firstly, many consumers are feeling negative about the economic future of the country they live in. This kind of economic pessimism drives consumers back to core values they tend to hold — plus, it makes many people spend less money or, at least, spend more carefully.

On the other hand, during the pandemic, many consumers have tried new ways of shopping, be that shopping online rather than in stores, or simply trying new brands and companies for both products and services.

People want to try new stuff.

People may be more wedded than ever to their core values, but they are also more open than ever to try out new brands that represent those values! Illustrating this, consumers responding to a McKinsey survey cited quality and purpose as two of the main reasons they have tried new brands recently or would do so soon.

What are the values that people are so attached to at the moment and looking for in new brands?

That depends on what kind of consumers you’re looking to attract.


At Squadhelp, we recently conducted a study into brand positioning. We were trying to determine which demographics react well to modern branding and which respond better to classic, historied branding.

The question we asked:

The question we asked just over 300 people was as follows: “Would you be more interested in working with a new, innovative company or a historied, trusted organization?”

Our findings:

Our findings weren’t all that surprising, but they were surprisingly definitive. We found the following:

  • 25-34-year-olds strongly prefer new and innovative branding. Just over 50% more of these participants chose new and innovative than chose historied and trusted

  • 35-45-year-olds prefer new and innovative branding, but this group was pretty evenly split between the two options.

  • Both 45-54-year-olds, and 55-65-year-olds are more interested in historied and trusted organizations

  • 55-65-year-olds were the most drawn to historied and trusted branding, with almost twice as many participants preferring this option compared to innovative brand names

  • Men were found to have little to no preference in siding with trusted brand names compared to those that are innovative

  • Women were more likely to choose the historic and trusted brands, with just under 60% of our female participants siding with this option

  • Overall, out of 301 participants, 153 opted towards historic and trusted and 148 went for new and innovative, which means that each direction can be a great choice, depending on who you want to engage with as a brand.

The clearest piece of data here is the difference in preferences for older and younger consumers — but predictable — it has always been thus…

Younger consumers like innovative, new brands; older consumers want historied and trusted brands (or at least, brands positioned to seem historied and trusted).

It’s intuitive to assume that, in times of crisis, people will look towards places and brands that are comforting and strong.

People are looking for brands that elicit confidence — and this has been borne out by recent research. But the kind of brands that illicit confidence varies between age groups — older consumers want history; younger customers see strength and trustworthiness in innovation.

The Importance of Brand Tone for Positioning Brand — Nail that Tone!

When you position your brand on that spectrum between historied and trusted, and innovative and new — you are making the first steps towards choosing a brand tone.

The tone, in turn, is the first step towards naming your brand and all the marketing, advertising, communication, and day-to-day decision-making that will flow forth from that name choice. So, what has Covid changed about brand tone?

If anything, Covid has made picking the correct brand tone even more crucial to the success of your new ecommerce startup. If you nail that tone, consumers will trust you. They’ll become your customers.

The five most popular brand tones are:

  • Preeminent
  • Pragmatic
  • Emotional
  • Intriguing
  • Fun

Remember, any one of these tones could be right for your business if it’s a tone that will appeal to the sort of target customer profile you have built and want to bring in. That being said, the tone should also work for your business. If you make custom gravestones, you probably won’t be going for “fun” in your business message, for example.

If you’re a B2C ecommerce business, selling mostly to millennials and gen z, on the other hand, you should aim for intriguing, fun, or potentially emotional if it fits your product.

These are brand tones that reflect the core values younger consumers hold dear. In other words, these are the brand tones that make millennials and gen z feel safe — something we all need during Covid — to feel safe. Have you nailed the safety factor?

Choosing a Name

The most important initial decision you need to make as a business owner once you have decided on a brand tone is the name for your startup.

Naming your company is a multistep process, and it’s neither a quick nor easy process — but don’t be disheartened by that fact. No name is a magic bullet, after all. You are trying to avoid a bad name, not come up with a perfect name. In fact, there’s no such thing as a perfect name.

If you need some help starting the engine, you can use a business name generator. For example, the Squadhelp company lets you enter your industry, keywords, and emotions you want to evoke. When you enter the information, make sure that the name ideas it suggests fit with your brand tone.

The match between name and brand tone is crucial.

Watch the match between name and brand tone. How else will potential customers know, on sight (or on hearing), what your brand tone and, ultimately, your brand values are?

At this stage, tone, industry relevance, and emotions should pretty much be your only concerns. So if you’re working in a group, write all those key things down on a whiteboard and just start throwing names out into the room.

This is the brainstorming stage, and the key is to throw as much as possible at the wall and see what sticks.

As a rule of thumb, innovative brands like a new B2C that are positioned somewhere around “fun” and “intriguing” tend to be successful with names that are misspelling, blends, transmutations, or compounds.

Why not try coming up with a few of each? Here are some examples.

  • Misspelled: Lyft, nimbl, Mohawx
  • Compound: SnapChat, SplitWav, WhatsApp
  • Blends: Groupon, Yuconic, Winvested
  • Made Up/Abstract: Orizia, Itorix
  • Transmutations: Zappos, Zumba

If your name clearly indicates the position of your brand — more consumers will pick up what you’re putting down. In addition, they will find themselves immediately aligning with your new business.

Once you have a whole list of appropriate names, you can start to weed out anything that is awkward to say or spell, and anything either tonally off or potentially problematic. At least, anything you see as such.

When the list is down to ten or fewer names — it is time to do some audience testing.

Testing your potential name lets you see if your target audience actually responds to the tone and name you have chosen. Of course, you want the audience to respond in one way — but that doesn’t always happen. If you get no response — you just go back to the drawing board; no big deal. You can’t force people to like your choice; they either will like it — or not. And people as a group will respond to the best or the correct name.

Easy to change your name or tone — fix it — at this point.

Don’t press on if you’re not getting the reaction you want from your target demographic — they won’t suddenly all change their core values because once you have sunk money into a domain and a trademark. It’s easy to make changes now and will be much, much harder later.

Although you want to focus on your intended demographic at the testing stage, it’s important to make sure audience testing is also intersectional. Remember what I said about weeding out anything potentially problematic? A wide cross-section of people will be able to cover that far better than a narrow group of testers with similar values and experiences.

After testing names, you’ll probably be down to just one or two. There might not be the fanfare you expected for this momentous moment, but you have your name. Remember, no name will build your brand for you, but a good name becomes a great name by its association over time.

What’s a google??

No one knew what Google was twenty years ago. But now it’s a verb. And most of us also know it’s a really, really big number. But that’s not even important at this point.

Of course, naming your startup is only the beginning of cementing your brand positioning. But once you have both a name and a brand statement, the rest will flow more naturally. Just keep your brand statement and your core values in mind with everything you do from here on out with your business.

Return to your base (name and brand statement) before making any major branding decision. Then, ask, does this fit with our values? Does it fit with who we are?

Future-Proofing Your Business for Positioning Your Brand in the Covid Era

There are many approaches to future-proofing a business. Of course, practical concerns like financial buffers and sustainable practices are all key to keeping a business running for the long term. But so is branding.

While it might sometimes feel safer to hover in the middle, offering everyone a little bit of what they want, but nobody all of it, the research (and my lived experience) tell us that’s a poor choice to make.

Strong branding has been important throughout covid, and it will remain important in the future, whether there are further global crises or not. If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it’s that anything can happen.

And when that “anything” does happen — consumers lean harder than ever into their preferences and values.

Future-proof your brand by making sure it has personality.

You need your customers to know exactly what you stand for and who you are. In other words, build strong relationships while times are good, so that you can weather times that aren’t.

The mighty pivot

Of course, we have all seen the importance of being able to pivot over the past year too. Maybe you will, at some point, have to adapt to new ways of working or to your customers’ changed lives.

The one thing you can never pivot on, though?

Your brand positioning.

Image Credit: kindel media; pexels; thank you!

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