Brand Strategy

Groundhog Day All Over Again? How we’re Building from Lessons Learned.

January 2022, didn’t feel that different from 2021. Instead of jumping into something shiny and new, it feels like we’re treading water in a sea of sameness. So we’re ready to flip the script.

Usually, when a new year approaches, I feel like I’ve been given permission to jump feet first into a fresh new start, both personally and professionally. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that January 2022, didn’t feel that different from January 2021 and instead of jumping into something shiny and new, it feels like we’re treading water in a sea of sameness.

Covid has certainly continued to bring many of the same challenges and barriers from one year to the next, both personally and professionally for many of us. That being said, it’s also taught us to consider what lessons we’ve learned from the past and hopefully what’s important to us and what we’re grateful for moving forward.

With one month behind us, I’m professionally grateful for two things that have remained consistent on the Harbinger business front. First, global and local brands continue to trust our expertise when it comes to helping them launch successfully in Canada. Second, we continue to help clients overcome one of their biggest marketing challenges at launch: breaking through the clutter and capturing attention in this lingering ‘auto-pilot’ state of consumer and shopper behaviour.

No longer are the functional product attributes alone setting brands apart. How the brand launches and the way in which the brand emotionally resonates with consumers is the critical differentiator. This is easier said than done, especially when lately, consumers don’t know how they’re feeling or what they need from one day to the next. The good news is there are some tried and true lessons from 2021 that our team is choosing to learn from and build upon to fuel our strategy and drive impact for our clients in 2022.

Positioning is the differentiator – as an agency, we’ve always felt very strongly about the importance of defining clear brand positioning as the ‘north star’ for a brand and the reason to believe for the consumer. An honest and differentiated positioning can be the impetus to trial, the tie-breaker at shelf or even the category driver to bring in new users. Once a positioning is defined, it’s critical to stay the course and be true to what the brand stands for at launch and for the longer-term (not just in the Marketing department, but across all touchpoints). Consumers are reconsidering their own purpose, the priorities in their life and what’s important to them. Brands will be successful at launch if they demonstrate to consumers how they can meet their personal beliefs or expectations.

Test and then test again – test and learn with channels that can quickly pivot and change course, if need be, particularly in the spirit of making your differentiation seen and heard. Many digital platforms and channels make it easy and fairly cost-effective to test, receive real-time feedback and course correct for awareness or engagement optimization. When every dollar counts, a pilot-approach may seem frivolous, but repeating the same strategy over and over and hoping for different or better results can prove to be less efficient in the long run.

Predicting the unpredictable – any launch plan needs to take into account various scenarios. 2021 caused its fair share of manufacturing, distribution and resourcing challenges. Scenario planning has never been more important for launch plans to help marketers proactively anticipate for what might be a very different road ahead and have a game plan in-place.

The consumer today and the consumer next week – as marketers, it’s always been important to show your consumers you ‘get them’ right out of the launch gate. How does your new product/brand make their life easier, add value, enhance their quality of life in one small way? We’re living in a world where what a consumer cared about and how a brand could be relevant today might be different in a week. Brands need to have their finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment throughout the pre, launch and post launch phases of any campaign.

Reading the room – successful launches involve constantly evaluating the brand’s narrative and key messages. Has something changed since the content was created that will now fall flat or worse, seem tone-deaf to Canadian consumers at the time of launch? Many brands over the past few years have missed the mark on their launch messaging, assuming consumer attitudes, behaviours and sentiment has no borders. Brands can’t undermine the importance of making that all-important first and lasting impression with Canadian consumers.

Omnichannel planning is the new “integrated” marketing plan – Covid has contributed to an increase in online shopping, curbside pick-up, ‘on-demand’ behaviours and in many ways, more choice for the consumer. As marketers, it’s critical to understand your shopper journey and think through how each channel can complement each other and work together to optimize awareness at launch. It’s not just about enabling an easy path to purchase. Rather, consider where ‘what I need now’ and ‘what I want now’ happens and how we fulfill the expectation of immediacy.

Credibility is everything – It’s safe to say when reviewing any recent political poll that Canadian’s trust has eroded over the past few years. This erosion of trust has manifested into skepticism. Relying on third-party credible sources to help brands communicate their story as opposed to hearing from brands themselves may never have been as important as it is now. However, the key in defining who or what will be seen as credible is really achieved by clearly understanding who influences your consumer and how closely linked that credible resource will be seen to your brand’s reason-to-be.

Close to home means something — If a brand is launching into Canada from elsewhere and cannot play the Made in Canada card, it’s still possible to show Canadians they are doing something unique for them that can really ring close to home. Harbinger has launched many US brands that have developed a specific Canadian flavour or edition for their Canadian debuts. It doesn’t always mean a brand needs to incur the costs of a new flavour (although infusing Canadian maple syrup into a beloved north of the border ice cream can be a delicious option). It might mean changing the name of an existing brand flavour as a nod to Canadian culture (i.e. Ben & Jerry’s Caramel Hat Trick – three goals for three ribbons of caramel that had Canadians swooning for more!). Embracing the ethnic and culture diversity of our nation. Or, simply amplifying and sharing the story of your brand DNA and benefits – especially when ‘local’ isn’t actually an option. Masquerading as Canadian isn’t the answer, but gaining affinity with Canadians as a global brand can be earned through authenticity, accountability and understanding.

With these lessons, we venture optimistically and eagerly into 2022. Here’s hoping for a year of seamless commerce, open doors, plentiful assortment and life to the fullest, and if there is a pause along the way – being ready with our plan b.

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Harbinger is a Toronto-based North American marketing agency with expertise in product launches. We help brands get noticed and purchased.


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