The One Question Every Brand Should Ask Themselves — Even If There's No Perfect Answer

In the post-COVID world, brand transparency, empathy and honest communication are key. With that in mind, we’re introducing The State Of Us, a weekly brand diary written by Editorial Director Amanda Richards. The State Of US will give you an inside look at how our brand is approaching ever-changing circumstances and navigating the new normal.

 

By Amanda Richards

 

A huge part of effectively marketing your brand is repeatedly asking yourself the same question, over and over:

What is the right message to share with your customers right now, and why?

Of course, in the time of COVID-19, asking that question is even more imperative. And it’s not just about considering what’s right for our customers — though that’s always the first priority. It’s about the company making the right decisions to stay afloat long-term, without any ability to plan for even a few weeks down the road. 

No pressure or anything. 

On April 6, the Universal Standard team had already been working from home for about three weeks. We’d brainstormed, shifted our priorities, and tried to think of ways to get creative. But in those early days of social distancing, city-wide shutdowns, layoffs, and revenue dips, the general sentiment (at least within the marketing team) was that we didn’t know exactly what we were supposed to do.

It’s not that any of our marketing or social media ideas or strategies felt wrong — it’s that for some reason, none of them felt right. I think we all had that feeling to some degree or another, both personally and professionally. It’s a byproduct of collectively experiencing something terrifying and unprecedented. You can’t know what’s wrong or right when nothing even feels real. 

So both for ourselves and for our customers, we came back to the same question: what’s the right thing to do right now, and why? Could we realistically adjust and meet our revenue goals? Could we continue to ship in four, six, or 12 weeks? Could we provide our customers with some level of excitement, and offer them real value? Could we even ask them to shop at a time like this?

All of these questions led to an idea that no one expected: another promotion. Some of you probably remember the Mystery Box, our last promotion, which was a discount on hand-selected boxes of our best pieces. The only catch? You could pick the style of box (options included Classics, Dresses, Outfitting, and more) but you wouldn’t know exactly what was in them.

Hence, the mystery.

The enthusiastic response to the Mystery Box was awesome, and also introduced Universal Standard to thousands of new people who’d never shopped with us before. Even so, the team wasn’t interested in making campaigns like this a habit; when it comes to promotional activity, the general consensus is less is more. It’s also a tremendous amount of work to coordinate. Our entire marketing team, from creative to social to design to product and e-commerce, worked on Mystery Box for weeks before it was ready to launch, each of us privately spiraling several times a day about the potential outcomes.

So imagine when, on April 6, we circled back to the idea of doing another promotion. And, not only that, we had to do it in a little over a week-and-a -half. 

Why the rush? Well, for starters, that lingering uncertainty. We didn’t know what the future held, including whether or not shipping would cease due to lack of workers or further restrictions. It became clear pretty quickly that if we were going to offer our customers something to treat themselves during this time, we’d have to act fast — while managing to avoid being sloppy.

However, when it became clear we had to do something, we decided to press ahead with our second major promotion of 2020. We looked at our best-sellers by region, created a pool of products and two price points for the boxes, reached out to a group of influencers, created dozens of ads, planned a full site refresh, wrote marketing emails, and strategized our approach to shipping and fulfillment to ensure both efficiency and safety for our warehouse employees.

And finally, in what felt like one millisecond later, Geo Trio surprise boxes were born. Our customers loved it — who wouldn’t want three of our best-selling pieces at a nice discount? — and our team saw all that hard, fast, work pay off. 

It wasn’t something we planned to do, and it certainly wasn’t easy. At the beginning of 2020 our idea of what we’d be working on in April certainly wasn’t another version of Mystery Box. We love the things our customers love, but we also pride ourselves on being able to do things differently, not rely on old formulas, and surprise you with something totally new. Unfortunately, we have to find alternative ways to do that, leaving behind the lofty plans we’d become so attached to. With this promotion, and with anything else we pivot to as this new normal unfolds (and trust when I say, just like you, we have no idea what’s next), we simply decided to offer you something fun, something you might need, something you love. It was one way to answer the question of what, and why — and these days, for a clothing company, having any answer at all feels like a win.