Digital Disruptors: Challenges & Opportunities for Online Brands

Take outs from our webinar, ‘Digital Disruptors: Challenges & Opportunities for Online Brands’ as part of  Brands2Life’s ‘Brands Transforming Our World’ webinar series.  

The events of the past few months have changed everyone and everything. Brands have put purpose before profit to fight Covid-19 and new consumer behaviours emerged almost overnight. In many respects, Covid-19 has ushered in an era where all brands must act more like disruptors to survive and thrive.

At Brands2Life we’ve always had a special focus on online brands and are very proud of how many we have launched and built since we started. The webinar looked at digital disruptors within the context of Covid-19 and how to find opportunity out of volatility as we emerge from the pandemic.

Hosted by Alex Williams, Head of Consumer Practice at Brands2Life, the panel comprised of:

  • Keith Abel – founder of organic home delivery service, Abel & Cole and Freddie’s Flowers also a delivery service for high quality floral products
  • Susannah Clark – VP of Communications at online luxury fashion retail platform Farfetch
  • Siân Grieve – Head of Communications for MoneySuperMarket
  • Bryce Keane – Partner and Head of Communications at venture capitalist firm Atomico
  • Simon Lloyd – Chief Marketing Officer of holiday and deals comparison site icellolly.com

You can watch the full webinar below or click here

How did you react to the pandemic?

The common thread amongst all panellists was a sense of crisis, urgency and adaptation, all of which has led to an increased workload.

Freddie’s Flowers had seen sales increase dramatically, Farfetch became the only sales channel for thousands of fashion boutiques, MoneySuperMarket pulled a major new ad campaign and icelolly.com was massively impacted by the shutdown of the travel industry.

All of the attendees noted that the transition to working remotely was much smoother than they anticipated and this has helped enormously. Keith Abel also explained how Freddie’s Flowers had had to hire transportation and catering services for his warehouse staff so that they were still able to get to work.

Most of their management teams had been quick to introduce new ways of working – daily crisis calls, support and initiatives for staff and daily reporting on key metrics around consumer behaviour. Siân Grieve from MoneySuperMarket noted this enabled them to see that consumers were cancelling car insurance as they took their vehicles off the road to save money.

Simon Lloyd explained that while icelolly.com had been massively impacted by travel restrictions, they made the decision to switch to longer term brand building over performance marketing.

How have you communicated during the pandemic?

Simon Lloyd felt that there was an appetite amongst consumers for fun. People want to get out and enjoy life again. Their strategy had been to articulate the brand better and be bold and irreverent. They made the decision to avoid the safe, digital only play and really go hard on longer term brand building, taking the opportunity to show customers what it does and what it stands for.

Sian Grieve spoke about the need for brands to be useful. As much as it is good to be positive, there is a lot of anxiety and worry. MoneySuperMarket is only pushing a commercial message where it can help people  as comms needs to be supportive and respond to their feelings and fears such as helping consumers save money by switching their energy bills. She explained that they have had half a million hits on their Coronavirus advice page and around 100,000 people used their mortgage holiday calculator.

Susannah Clark  discussed the importance of being emotionally intelligent – while it’s ok to sell things, it has to done in a way that connects with their customers. She explained how Farfetch had conceived and delivered a campaign that explained to consumers how its business model worked. In ordinary times consumers, just want the product, but in the context of the pandemic they felt it was important to show how using Farfetch meant supporting small businesses all over the world.

What are the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead?

All of the panellists, while realistic about the many challenges and difficulties faced by business, sounded a note of optimism about the future. There was a general sense that the pandemic had accelerated pre-existing trends in terms of the shift to digital.

Simon Lloyd acknowledged that despite the 2020 holiday season being badly affected, the early signs for 2021 are good, with booking interest being strong. Icelolly.com anticipated the staycation trend and partnered with Snaptrip on domestic hospitality businesses for the late summer.

Keith Abel noted that while the employment market is of course difficult, he had hired over 200 staff during the pandemic to keep up with surging demand. Many of whom were ‘rock stars’ who he felt were destined for big things.

Bryce Keane also said that talent acquisition was possible right now and noted that his portfolio of brands had over 600 job vacancies between them. He also explained that much of his time was spent – as usual – helping the firms his fund invests in, develop a path to profitability and taking advantage of the fact that so many consumers are behind screens at the moment.

He also observed that many of the best companies were formed in the wake of the 2008 crash and he would expect to see a similar level of hunger and entrepreneurialism coming out of this situation too. Keith Abel echoed these sentiments and pointed out that there was still investment capital available for people with good ideas and smart business plans.

Do you have one key piece of advice moving forward?

When ask for their advice moving forward, the panel gave an interesting range of views.

Simon Lloyd advised on focusing on the why. Why does your brand do what it does? It is good to speak up, but it needs to relevant and communicators need to avoid shoehorning messages and just speak for the sake of it. There needs to be company-wide decisions taken about the way that we communicate. Simon counselled that communicators should be resilient, bold and get on with things and reiterated that humans have a sense of fun and a spirit for adventure.

Keith Abel believes that businesses are the sum of their people and made a plea for employers to check in on the well-being of their younger staff who have been suffering the worst effects of lockdown.

Susannah Clark said that the brand is focussed on its values and constantly thinks about being revolutionary. As luxury brands can’t rely on the international / tourism markets for easy revenue over the next year , they will have to focus on selling to domestic customers.  Those ‘nice to dos’ have become ‘must haves’.

Sian Grieve wants people to give themselves a break. We’ve all been working very hard and time off to re-charge is important.

Bryce Keane reminded the webinar that consideration is at an all-time high and that consumers are looking for new products and services to support them and keep them occupied.

This session was a fascinating look at how some of UK’s biggest digital brands are coping with the disruption caused by the pandemic. We found the discussion energising and inspiring and here at Brands2Life, we’re relishing the challenge of supporting our clients to communicate through the issues and the noise created by COVID-19.

If you would like to carry on the conversation or need help with a comms challenge please get in touch.

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