If there’s one thing the pandemic taught brands

...it's that people want brands that beat with heart (not just deals), says Tony Chapman.


By Tony Chapman

For decades, mass brands stood like giant castles, surrounded by a deep moat, which made their market share impenetrable. The more they advertised, and the more they secured distribution, the stronger their fortification. Consumers bought into their mass advertising, and they paid a massive premium to associate themselves with a label. If you wanted to be it, you drank a Coke. Forever young, well, I’ll have a Diet Pepsi.

The moat is drying up as consumers are no longer buying into proclamations. Marketers now rely on lubricating their supply chains by bribing the consumer with discounts, offers, promotions and slashed price tags. What used to be a small segment of professional coupon clippers and contest contestants, has manifested into most consumers finding a way to gamify the system and put the best deal forward.

Loyalty is collapsing, margins compressed. And as the castle walls collapse, we see that many brands lack differentiation and are vulnerable to disruptors, apps that catapult directly into the consumer’s phone, offering faster, better, and more convenience. Who owns the consumer? SkipTheDishes or McDonald’s? Booking.com or Hilton?

I like a deal as much as anyone, but what makes my heart beat is when brands move with personality, and with a higher purpose and pursuit than simply just profit. When I was in the agency world, Dove was one of our biggest clients. Its campaign for “Real Beauty,” which intended to eliminate false beauty stereotypes and improve self-esteem, resonated with me as I was a father of two daughters. I continue to be a loyal Dove consumer.

Creating those deeper, more meaningful connections is more important now than ever before as more and more people start to put their money where their heart is.

When COVID struck, I personally connected with what Labatt did to encourage consumers to “Rally for Restaurants” as an advocate for small business owners. I tip my Stella to their cause. I also like what Google is doing to help small businesses and what IBM is doing to provide technology to support not-for-profits. Or how Wes Hall, executive chairman and founder of Kingsdale Advisors, is using his platform and personal experiences with racism to encourage other leaders to be more inclusive.

For the past eight months, RBC has been the presenting sponsor of the Chatter that Matters platform I created and they provide me with the funds to develop content and the media dollars to stage it. I did a podcast and video series where I matched small business owners up with thought leaders, and not once did RBC ever ask to promote their products and services. Instead, we focused on promoting the company’s Canada United platform (which brought together Canadian business associations and dozens of other major brands to encourage Canadians to shop local) and its Future Launch, which is a $500 million initiative to help Canadian youth find and pursue a purposeful path in life.

For a brand to be valued versus sell on value, it must beat with what makes my heart beat. I don’t care who is the fastest, the biggest or the best, and I am not interested in the company that you keep, or the celebrities that you pay, to capture my attention. I care about brands that help my family and me get to where we need and deserve to go. I care about brands that care about jobs and my community, and my planet; if I feel you have a higher purpose than profit and that you are personally vested in my outcome, I will open my mind and wallet to you.

Tony Chapman is the founder of Chapman Reactions. He is also host of Chatter that Matters, a weekly podcast that tackles solutions to challenges that small business owners are facing during COVID-19.