April 2, 2020 KahnMedia


Why bread, knitting, car parts and brands matter more than ever right now.

By Dan Kahn

There have been some interesting, insightful stories coming out of the pandemic about brands and markets that are managing to survive and in some cases even thrive. A recent in-depth Wall Street Journal article noted that sales are booming for groceries (duh), guns and ammo, marijuana and alcohol. Not surprising, when people get scared they eat, protect themselves and suppress the fear.

More interesting to me, however, is the massive spike in online sales for things like knitting supplies (up 1500% in some reports) and baking ingredients like yeast (completely sold out in most national supermarket chains). Why? Because Americans aren’t very good at sitting around waiting for things to pass. We’re a nation of doers — we work, we innovate and we get stuff done. People trapped at home with a penchant for Pinterest have turned to baking and knitting. But car enthusiasts? Car enthusiasts are heading out to the garage … and that’s good news for the automotive industry.

After spending nearly 16 hours a day over the past week speaking with clients, industry colleagues and contacts throughout the aftermarket, a pattern has emerged. Big-ticket items and complex products that are more DIFM (do it for me) than DIY have slowed, but people are still buying parts and wrenching on their cars at home. Deferred maintenance is no longer being deferred. Those little restoration projects or bolt-on modifications that keep getting put off? They’re getting done. Car enthusiasts consider garage time their version of therapy, and the aftermarket — particularly the companies that had a strong digital sales funnel and e-commerce platform supported by a robust social and Media 3.0 presence — are rising to the occasion. As a result, their (digital) doors are open for business and traffic is steady. That’s a great thing. 

The key to making this all work as the quarantine stretches on is a matter of striking the right tone and keeping your audience entertained, engaged and educated without appearing glib. We’ve posted a best practices article on this site to offer some tips on how to do just that. If a brand can continue to innovate and keep audiences engaged, consumers will reward that effort with loyalty and in many cases with hard earned dollars. Millennials in particular are saying that, while they are scared by the current pandemic, they are looking to brands for help getting through it, far more so than their parents or grandparents ever would. 

A recent global survey found that consumers in general believe brands have done a better job responding to the pandemic and how it is affecting everyday people than governments have. In fact, 62% of respondents said they believe they couldn’t make it through the isolation of the quarantine without their favorite brands. And 55% said they believe brands are responding more quickly and effectively than governments to both the call to “stay home” and with on-point messaging. What does that mean for us? Simple … we now live in an age where consumers are looking to us, the makers and marketers, to help them get through a challenging time. If you can give someone comfort or solace by providing them with a hands-on project to work on at home, or even a fun piece of entertainment to watch on their phone, they will reward you with loyalty. 

While the OEMs have slowed or paused production, and many dealerships have converted to service-only during the quarantine, there is even a ray of sunshine in the otherwise dismal new vehicle sales numbers released for March. For the first time in years, domestic new vehicles outsold all the foreign makes combined. This is likely due to a combination of aggressive 0% financing, long finance term packages and a sudden urge on the part of many Americans to own a pickup truck, but hey, we’ll take what we can get. 

Let’s be honest, the news is pretty grim right now. That said, there are some silver linings — and some lessons — buried in all the doom and gloom, and that’s good news for business owners. Two weeks into the quarantine, we are finding new ways to innovate and work together. The business community is preparing for the rollout of the CARES bailout plan and its Payroll Protection Program that’s poised to rescue thousands of small businesses from dying of cash-flow starvation. That program starts accepting applications today (April 3), and you can find more info about it here. Companies are also stepping up to help, from Facebook offering grant programs to brands in the auto aftermarket pivoting to make protective equipment. 

We’re all in this together. If you need assistance building or activating a social media program, creating streaming or produced video content to drive traffic, or building a digital sales funnel, our team is running at full speed and ready to help.