Zimmerman JoltZ: Scarface vs. COVID-19

"Tony Montana operated in a constant state of crisis, giving us clues on how to succeed in a state of turmoil and market disruption."

Since the beginning of COVID-19, Zimmerman Advertising began publishing a series titled JoltZ. A thought-leadership guide, powered by data, to provide businesses with real-time, actionable insights to navigate the seismic market shifts affecting retail brands today. 

Like most during that time, my home has been converted to a make-shift workspace, school, entertainment complex and restaurant, where my daily routine is occupied by videoconferences, phone calls, emails and the occasional turkey sandwich.

Somewhere among the ambient noise of a bustling household, my ear was recently caught by the echoing dialogue of an old favorite: Scarface. Tony Montana running an empire from his home office and the timeless quote: "Say hello to my little friend."  

It made me think about the parallels of COVID-19 and Scarface. The micro-virus bursting through the front door challenging our health, prosperity, and our ability to conduct commerce on every street corner, USA.

Tony Montana operated in a constant state of crisis, giving us clues on how to succeed in a state of turmoil and market disruption. Below are seven principles we can glean from the retail kingpin:

  1. Be the shark, not the minnow. During a crisis, businesses have a tendency to pull back and reserve liquid assets. It’s the reason there is an inverse relationship in inventory pricing and consumer consumption. There are deals to be gained, and market share to be obtained with sound media buying strategies, particularly among the spikes in broadcast and cable news, streaming services and social spikes.   

  1. When you have your giving chase, don’t stop running. The market share war didn’t stop just because COVID came to the door. Brands can win the hearts, heads and wallets of consumers right now by solving for NecessityIsolation and Uncertainty. 70% of consumers are expecting only near-term financial impact, and their motivation to buy will be triggered by your ability to solve for these immediate needs.

  1. Buy low, sell high. The economics of DTC are winning right now. Remember when we called brands like Netflix and Amazon disruptor brands? Low overhead and direct access to consumers with no middle-people… how will your brand compete in the "in-home" era? Your ability to put your goods/services into the hands of consumers with the lowest friction will win. 

  1. You never run a "special" on your goodsI can’t recall an instance where Tony Montana "sold" his product. Either he had the goods or he didn’t. Before you give in to the urge to cut prices, consider your value to the end-user. 75% of consumers are worried about local businesses and what they can do to help. Engage your base and lower the bar to access – loyal customers are easiest to convert to new purchases. 

  1. Generally, they come to youTwo-day shipping novelty has given way to overnight dependency. Consider how you can leverage internal and external delivery services to create frictionless commerce allowing consumers to get your goods/services faster and easier. Hyper-localization during COVID-19 will thrive as consumers are forced to look for solutions closer to home.

  1. The better your product, the greater the demand. This is all about creating brand value to drive premiums. Brands can win consumers by promoting goodwill and optimism. Specifically, brands can appeal to the Millennial and Gen X mindset by providing an escape, perpetuating optimism and empathy, while simultaneously alleviating stress and worry through a rational and pragmatic appeal for Boomers and X’ers. 

  1. Someone always picks up after. Looking ahead, we know that consumers’ top three financial priorities are 1) saving money, 2) paying bills, and 3) buying essentials. When discretionary income comes back, consumers will gravitate to brands that have behaved authentically during the crisis and have done goodwill. Now is the time to put a human face on your brand and embrace the needs of consumers. Consider servicing the needs of the health crisis or offering financial forgiveness incentives to gain brand advocacy. 

So, maybe that’s not exactly how the movie goes… but there are a handful of analogous parallels, backed by data, to be braver, bolder and better during this time.  

We’re all in this together and brands have a rightful role in consumers’ lives. As corporate citizens, anchors of our economy and members of our communities. The question to ask is, how will your brand be judged during and after the crisis? 

With diligence, perseverance and application, we will all win. And with any luck, we won’t have to do it with one of those grenade launcher machine guns either.

Brad Higdon is the CMO of Zimmerman Advertising.

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