Which Brands Were Able to Make Their Pandemic Pivot?


As trend watchers and cutting-edge digital marketers, everyone at Hanlon understands implicitly that markets are evolving — and the rate of change is only increasing. Any company optimized for last year’s reality is going to find its relevance and the effectiveness of its marketing outreach on a path towards diminishment.

Today, every firm must be nimble, adaptive, flexible, open to change, always on the lookout for what’s coming down the road, and ready to shift priorities in a hurry when that far-off view comes into focus. That was true even before the pandemic hit, but a once in a century health crisis put the need for timely pivots into stark relief. The organizations that moved the quickest reaped outsized benefits.

Move Fast and Fix Things

Mr. Rogers, the patron saint of public television, once said that when he is distressed at scary things in the news, he always remembers to “look for the helpers.” Crisis demands action, and time and time again, the helpers and fixers rise to the challenge.

Right away, everyone, across industries, started working the problem:

  • Clothing manufacturers began producing masks and other PPE
  • Liquor distillers turned their vodka and gin operations into hand sanitizer factories
  • Supermarkets built out their online ordering platforms from trial balloons into their primary customer touchpoint and source of revenue
  • Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet smartly lowered barriers to entry and courted a mega following almost overnight
  • Hospitality brands invested in air cleaners and other prophylactic measures intended to assure nervous guests
  • Restaurants went all in on online delivery services

Not everyone succeeded. Many businesses closed their doors for good during the pandemic, but those that pulled off their pivot saw record revenues and profits. Best Buy announced that in the second quarter of 2020 its online sales exploded by 242-percent as homebound, locked down consumers snapped up gear to keep themselves entertained and to build desperately needed home office and classroom setups fast.

“Today, every firm must be nimble, adaptive, flexible, open to change, always on the lookout for what’s coming down the road, and ready to shift priorities in a hurry.”

Uber Eats was a lifeline for the ridesharing app when few people were willing to get into a stranger’s car even with a mask on. Its revenue grew 230-percent annually in the first quarter of 2021. DoorDash shattered internal records, processing 329 million orders worth just shy of $10b in Q1 2021 and expects to process another $9.4-9.9 billion in orders in Q2.

The New Normal Is Now Just Normal

That forecast is so rosy because many of these changes are here to stay. Even as lockdown restrictions ease and restaurants reopen their dining rooms, the volume of online deliveries is holding steady. A recent survey by JD Power reported that an incredible 71-percent of consumers said they would continue to order delivery as much as or more than they had during the pandemic.

DoorDash president Christopher Payne hopes local governments will support businesses that want to extend their pandemic pivot into something more lasting by passing laws making outdoor dining and home alcohol delivery permanent. “Most restaurants want to meet customers where they want to be,” said Payne. “The reality is that customers want both occasions. They want to go in the restaurants and have the great experience they miss, but they also want to get what they want at home.”

While restaurants adapted to delivery platforms, the platforms, including Uber Eats and Doordash, also made some over their own pivots, adding ondemand groceries, pet supplies, dry goods, and alcohol to their list of offerings. This success brings new challenges and consumer demands, however.

“One of the consistent trends has been that, as they get more convenience, consumer expectations go up, not down,” explained Christopher Payne. “The arc of wanting more convenience, more things delivered to you faster, it seems to only go in one direction.”

Convenience, in particular, has become an incredibly desirable brand differentiator post-pandemic, across industries. Millions of consumers that eschewed online shopping for many years were forced to rely on it — and the vast majority liked what they saw and will continue in the years to come.

The brands that pivoted successfully are now pushing convenience aggressively in all their branded communications, touting the added value they can deliver, and introducing new upselling opportunities for even greater convenience (e.g. faster and contactless delivery, online order tracking, and high quality human or digital assistance in the customer experience).

Challenger Brands Court Communities

Uncertainty isn’t typically good for the economy. It’s generally thought to lead to more saving and less spending, but even as unemployment skyrocketed, the global marketplace and supply chains were upended, and a novel virus spread uncontrolled, consumers were still willing to open their pocketbooks — provided the product, buying experience, and brand aligned with their needs and values.

“The brands that pivoted successfully are now pushing convenience aggressively in all their branded communications.”

When you can get virtually anything at extremely competitive prices and fast shipping from Amazon, why would anyone pay more? The answer is twofold. First, trust in Amazon and some of the other mega etailers has dropped amid growing fake reviews and counterfeit goods scandals. Several hundred or even thousand 4+ star reviews on Amazon used to be a clear signal that a product was as good as advertised. That’s not always the case anymore.

In fact, consumers are advised to use review and seller analyzing platforms like ReviewMeta and FakeSpot to sniff out the frauds. For reasons of technical proficiency and inconvenience, the vast majority, however, never will. They will instead, when faced with repeated issues, defect to other, less gigantic merchants that aren’t plagued by scammers.

Second, outside the confines of Amazon or Walmart, the diversity and quality of brand experiences available are growing. Sure, you can buy dietary supplements on just about any ecommerce platform, and few will sell for cheaper than Amazon, but what you’d miss out on is a curated, high-design shopping experience, as well as a dynamic community of like minded consumers and merchants to interact with.

Leaving a review on Amazon is like shouting into a maelstrom. On smaller, more niche platforms, it can be the start of an open and productive discourse that both educates consumers and engages them in a manner that primes them for conversion from first time shoppers into repeat purchasers and then into brand advocates who organically share branded content and hashtags and even their own user generated content that promotes the brand.

And they do it not because they have to or even just to win a promo code, because they feel a genuine connection to the brand, it speaks to something within their own identity, and they are authentically driven to share the good news to their social followings. It creates a sense of belonging and kinship, positive emotions that brands would be wise to nurture in their audience and cement connections to.

New Opportunities Are Always Outside Your Comfort Zone

Change was already afoot when the pandemic hit, but now things have been kicked into overdrive. A decade of digital transformation occurred in less than 18 months, entire industries have irrevocably altered consumer behaviors and expectations, and the fastest growing and most durable brands today have wholeheartedly bought into the new normal, made their pandemic pivot, and are now poised to flourish in the post-pandemic marketplace.

The lesson is clear: to gain anything, you have to be willing to risk something — and to face uncertainty with equal measures of confidence and strategic planning.


Looking for a guide to help navigate the post-pandemic market? Ask the brand strategists at Hanlon how we can help.