• Illy Jaffar: we need to ‘reset’ how we act, think and communicate

    From Iron Maiden to Chivas Regal, Illy Jaffar has been at the forefront of developing new marketing and communications strategies for some of the world’s biggest names, be they brands, individuals – or rock stars. He says the impact Covid-19 has had on how we all now live our lives has been so deep rooted we need a fundamental ‘reset’ in how we now think about still making our drinks brands relevant and exciting, but with very different ways of marketing and bringing them to life. Here he shares some of his ideas.

    From Iron Maiden to Chivas Regal, Illy Jaffar has been at the forefront of developing new marketing and communications strategies for some of the world’s biggest names, be they brands, individuals – or rock stars. He says the impact Covid-19 has had on how we all now live our lives has been so deep rooted we need a fundamental ‘reset’ in how we now think about still making our drinks brands relevant and exciting, but with very different ways of marketing and bringing them to life. Here he shares some of his ideas.

    By September 29, 2020

    If you’ve already made changes in how your business operates, then that’s just the start, says Illy Jaffar. The massive changes in our lives due to Covid-19 means companies are going to have to see change as being the one constant they need to follow.

    (You can hear Illy share his views as part of the free ‘One Step Beyond’ webinar analysing changes in consumer behaviour during lockdown on October 20. (Click here to register).

    March 2020 seems like an eternity ago and the reality of a lockdown beginning to sink in. That’s when Ed (Richard Siddle as he’s known) kindly asked me to put some thoughts down for this illustrious publication, thoughts about what it might mean to people and business as we entered unchartered waters.

    Everything changed in a heartbeat.

    So, six months down the line the pubs are open again and seemingly maligned for being the cause of an increase in Covid-19 cases, but theatres are not, there is no live music, but the kids are just back to school…. for now.

    However, just when you thought Brexit had maybe become a victim of the pandemic, it comes bounding back into our lives like a malevolent puppy – centre, left, right and global stage – illegally allegedly…If you’re going to miss panto this year “It’s definitely not behind you!”

    Before I get onto the serious stuff, I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of the advice and guidance we were given from a communications perspective. The government, and their communications teams, clearly had a big job to do around public health messaging and what we could and couldn’t do as a nation during lockdown. Not sure how successful they were when you revisit some of them, here’s a few that you might remember…

    What we were told to do (ish)

    It seemed everyone was giving us advice about what we should and should not during lockdown
    • You MUST NOT leave the house for any reason, but if you have a reason, you can leave the house.
    • Shops are closed, except those shops that are open.
    • There is no shortage of groceries in the supermarkets, but there are many things missing. Sometimes you won’t need loo rolls, but you should buy some just in case you need some.
    • Animals are not affected, but there was a cat that tested positive in Belgium in February when no one had been tested, plus a few tigers here and there…plus a cat in Brighton in June that was non identifying non genre specific so it could have been a Pangolin…
    • Stay 2 metres away from tigers and Pangolins and cats…..
    • Schools are closed so you need to home educate your children, unless you can send them to school because you’re not at home.
    • If you are at home you can home educate your children using various portals and virtual classrooms, unless you have poor internet, or more than one child and only one computer, or you are working from home.
    • Baking cakes can be considered maths, science or art. If you are home educating you can include household chores within their education.
    • If you are home educating you can start drinking at 10am.
    • If you are not home educating children, you can also start drinking at 10am.

    Well enough of the light-hearted look at the pandemic – one has to have a sense of humour I guess?

    Change is a-coming

    That’s all well and good, but if there’s one thing that’s here to stay, the one thing you can bet smart money on, that is change.

    But change is good right?

    There are some fundamental shifts in business and consumer behaviour. The solutions are probably not “oven ready” but the direction of travel I believe is firmly entrenched, for now anyway.

    The Big Issues

    Cities as business and social hubs

    London has been deserted for large parts of the last few months

    It doesn’t take a deep dive research project to see the massive negative effect that the pandemic has had on this intertwined relationship.

    Work from home was a slow burn trend, the pandemic has merely accelerated this and shown you don’t need 13 floors of prime real estate for your people to be effective. But there is a flip side to this argument

    I also understand that work from home has many facets and is dependent on many things – how well one gets on with the other half, to whether your broadband bandwidth is fast enough to cope with 40Gb files.

    The outcome, I believe, of this will be that offices will still exist, but they will be smaller maybe more transitory places. The role and form of the city in its old clothes is therefore up for serious debate and reinvention.

    Work Life Balance

    Ironically commuting in London during Covid-19 has never been easier, but cutting out the commute has arguably made people’s lives so much more productive, effective and healthier

    Whilst this is great for a massive swathe of the population the effect on cities businesses relying on all those office workers. It’s not just the coffee shops, it’s the bars and restaurants that relied on regular business patrons, on leaving do’s and office birthday parties let alone the all critical Christmas season.

    There has also been much debate around productivity and whether this has gone up. The jury is still out on this one, but taking out a daily commute has certainly made people much happier and therefore arguably more productive?

    In a world where mental health and employee wellbeing is top of the agenda, I guess this is an important consideration. If work from home is the way forward, then employers need to be on the ball in providing coaching and relevant equipment for the home office (sorry!). A joyous, motivated workforce presenting with RSI and lumbago is not a win!

    The Opportunities

    What are the opportunities for our industry?

    If there was ever a time that companies and brands have the potential to be forces for good and champions of societal change then that is now. Consumers are ever more making “brand for me” decisions based on these all-important credentials. It’s not good enough to pay lip service, from eco credentials to diversity, and everything in between, these are tangible areas where opinions will be made about your company or your brand.

    Hyper Local

    Northcote Road in Battersea has been pedestrianised at weekends  to encourage more local spending to great success. Picture Tony Belton.

    As the city model is currently in uncertain territory the move to increased localisation has been accelerated. You could call them High Streets or villages or even the community pub. These are the new urban/suburban hubs. These are the areas where people are now hanging out as it doesn’t involve getting on public transport, for instance. This is where opportunities lie for brands to communicate and engage directly in a relevant fashion, supporting communities. Quick before Pret takes over.


    As the opportunities to go out are seemingly being dragged from under our feet the propensity for consumers to experiment, recreate nights out at home, play to trading up, drinking better and added value.

    Agile Thinking/Agile Business

    There has been a lot of talk around businesses having to pivot and being agile. The latter is not a passing fad and needs to be a mindset, culture and strategy. We are in uncertain times not just the pandemic, geo-politics, nationalism and Brexit all mean a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty. Strategic drift is not an option for a modern business.

    Omni Channel Strategy

    This feeds into business and brands being agile. As businesses are increasingly no longer solely “B2B” or “bricks and mortar” our industry needs to truly look at this as we have a massive shift from on-trade to off-trade consumption and experience. I hope and pray temporarily. It does mean the three-year plan seems a little outdated. We now need more like a 12 month detailed view, with regular reviews to ensure the strategy is fulfilling, evolving or changing needs.


    Which channel do you use? It’s confusing enough as a consumer never mind as a brand trying to talk to them

    While it’s tempting to think that your message has a greater chance of getting through to your audience if you use as many channels as possible, that channel usage is reaching saturation point. And that’s when people turn away from traditional marketing channels (including digital) altogether and instead ask their friends to help them choose. The power of personal recommendation and advocacy never went away.

    Targeting and communicating with consumers has never been more complex than it is today. We are living in a world of “content shock” where multiple platforms, sources and screens are constantly vying for attention.

    Traditional advertising approaches are no longer effective, and businesses who think otherwise in this market are burying their heads in the sand. Poorly thought-out campaigns don’t even register on the consumer’s radar, and ad-blocking technology is pretty sophisticated and effective these days. To communicate to today’s consumer, brands must recognise that all communication has to come from a place of trust and integrity and must be consistent.

    Where do we go from here?

    In summary, uncertainty brings challenges, challenges present opportunities. I guess we need to take a stoic standpoint, things are not going to change any time soon, so we need to get on with…”things”. Time to try some new flavours, spice things up a bit. 

    From a personal perspective I am not sat here writing these words from some isolated ivory tower, preaching some new religion. The pandemic has directly affected me and my business with a year’s work of slated work disappearing in 36 hours, I am having to adapt too! 

    In terms of my experiential, live, immersive event background, I have spent a lot of time thinking through how we can create engaging on-line experiences using a “digi-immersive” mindset and securing the right tech partner to deliver the ideas.

    I know how important nosing and tasting is to the wine and spirit industry and there is only so much you can do on zoom right?

    There are now countless of online tastings taking place so how do you make yours stand out?

    I don’t feel that we should be seeing Zoom as either a panacea or indeed a restrictive platform. Of course, it, and other platforms, can only deliver so much in light of what’s needed. It will in its current form work for some and not others.

    Critically, I don’t believe you can’t try and do what’s always been done in the real world (even though I did say that back in March and as a lockdown fix) and just transfer it to Zoom. Tastings have always been done, annually, biannually, monthly but why? I’ve been in many a board or client meeting where the reason has been challenged. Its habitual rather than strategic in many cases.

    We need to think differently 

    Time to press reset. Sometimes a blank sheet of paper with some key stakeholders (and a glass of wine of course) can provide corroboration and clarity or lead to fantastic change.

    It’s time to take a look at what’s really needed to drive listings, drive sales or consumer engagement in the absence of the “tasting model”, where we find ourselves today and where we will be in the near future.

    We need to be positive, imaginative, dynamic. We need to take risks, learn, build, try again – design thinking if you like. It’s an iterative process. We should be forging new partnerships outside the category and our industry to join us on the journey. Partnerships which add value to our endeavours, but also adds value and excitement to the all-important consumer offer.

    A mindset reset might not be the vaccine you hoped for, but it might just be the medicine needed to get through this pandemic, a little bruised but not broken.

    • If you would like to talk to Illy Jaffar about exploring and developing new ideas and concepts on how to tell your story and communicate through these times then you can contact him by email at illy@kineticcc.com.

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