The Brand Move Roundup – May 29, 2020

We’re tracking the notable brand moves & highlighting the companies who are tackling this challenge successfully.

We started this series of brand updates on March 12, but the reaction has been so positive, and the crisis so fast-moving, that we’re going to move to a continuously updated rolling news format from now until it’s all over (hopefully soon). Keep checking back here for the latest updates on how brands are dealing with coronavirus.

Adobe is experimenting with new ways for shoppers or models to virtually try on clothes. The software company outlined a new potential feature this week that uses artificial intelligence to transform a piece of clothing to fit the shape and pose of a person in an image while preserving the visual details of the garment, according to a research paper Adobe compiled with Stanford University and IIT Hyderabad. The researchers claim their method can outperform other similar tech, which often suffers from unsightly distortions. The system is trained on around 19,000 images of female models and product listings. “While we don’t expect physical photo shoots to go away, there will be instances where the time and cost savings can be compelling – especially when the right technology is available,” Adobe senior data and analytics evangelist Eric Matisoff said. As image recognition and generation AI has improved in recent years, a number of similar tools based on similar technology have already hit the market, including startups like Vue.ai and Zeekit and L’Oréal’s virtual makeup counter ModiFace. Adobe imagines the feature eventually being adaptable to the needs of a specific client brand, whether they are looking to power a virtual fitting room feature or interchange models for product listings. The company is also promoting it as a possible way to increase the diversity of models featured on ecommerce sites.

Restaurant booking apps like Resy, OpenTable and Tock have begun to extend their appointment-making services to retailers as they prepare to reopen. With dine-in options still mostly restricted in hard hit regions, many restaurants are still relying on pickup or delivery for revenue. Therefore, booking platforms have been encouraging retailers, such as markets and grocery stores, to sign to help ease traffic and encourage customer visits.

While reservations don’t quite lend themselves to all businesses, some retailers are finding them useful as as a way to mitigate overcrowding. OpenTable, has extended its “Open Door” program pricing – which waived fees and discounted pricing – to shops. The company said that over 100 new retail locations are now using its reservation platform across several metro areas, including Washington D.C., San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, among others. Meanwhile FreshFarm, which operates a number of D.C. area’s farmers markets, has seen booking help ease congestion at its busy outdoor location, according to director of communications and outreach Molly Scalise. The organization’s markets have remained open throughout the pandemic, with staff implementing safety measures early on – including hand washing stations and curbside pickup. With warmer weather on the horizon and increasingly long lines, the company became concerned about overcrowding. “The lines were wrapping around five city blocks,” said Scalise, and while the staff was able to manually limit the number of visitors, “we knew it was not sustainable, especially once the peak summer season arrives.” By May, FreshFarm partnered with OpenTable’s reservation tools to help monitor traffic. Since then, slots have been consistently filling up at about half capacity, said Scalise, as a result of organic promotion through FreshFarm’s social channels.

Flour miller King Arthur saw sales spike by 600% beginning in March; the company’s direct-to-consumer business doubled in the last three months and website traffic spiked at around 600% but has since plateaued at a 300% increase of what it was before coronavirus hit. The company’s digital strategy has previously focused on selling wherever the customer finds its products — its 2019 revenue was more than $150 million. While its website offers over 1,000 SKUs (compared to the 50 it sells to stores nationally), e-commerce makes up only about 20% of the sales. According to Bill Tine, King Arthur’s VP of Marketing, its digital strategy has focused on creating content that speaks to its customers. The flour brand has upped its content production a great deal – with videos surpassing 10 million views. One new hour-long show just launched in March already averages more than 100,000 views per episode. Tine described this as a “content to commerce” approach. “Our content site in the last twelve months has reached over 45 million unique visitors,” he said. “It makes us feel a lot bigger than we are. Our direct to consumer business is not that big, but we think it’ll grow with that scale we built in. We’ve increased our digital engagement team three-fold because of the influx of people calling our bakers hotline and commenting on social media. What’s really amazing about a site like ours – that gets hundreds of millions of page views a year and our social media presence gets millions of people engaged every month – is that if you comment or ask us a question we’ll respond to you really quickly. Our team is built on makers. I joke internally, no customer wants to hear from a marketer on social media. So it’s staffed with professional bakers that are also amazing at engaging with people directly. One of the big parts of our strategy is that we have a direct connection to customers. That builds a ton of resiliency into our business model. As consumers change channels, we can change with them. As people move away from email and are predominantly on social media, we can move with them. If they move from Facebook to Instagram, we can move with them. It’s harder to do if you don’t have that relationship.”

British ATM and payment providers PayPoint said that card payment transactions were up by more than three quarters in the first 17 days of April, while transactions at cash machines dropped 40% compared with a year earlier. It accelerates an already established trend towards plastic payments. In the 12 months leading up to 31 March, which only covers a small part of the crisis, card payments rose 21%, with ATM transactions down 4.1%. “It is likely consumers’ cash usage habits will fundamentally change, however the need for cash access, as a contingency and for vulnerable consumers, will continue to be important,” PayPoint said. The data released by PayPoint revealed that the fall in cash machine transactions has slowed somewhat, from 40% in the first 17 days of April to 33% in the month to May 17.

Bloomberg Live hosted five events in April and May and has another seven scheduled, with more in development ­– virtual iterations of its franchises like Bloomberg Invest, Bloomberg Equality, tech series Sooner Than You Think, Bloomberg Breakaway series and newly-created Bloomberg Reports. The company has tapped into engines like Bloomberg Intelligence and Bloomberg Global Data to help power its virtual events. So far, attendees for its virtual events regularly reach the thousands, according to the company. The first Bloomberg Invest series drew over 3,000 viewers asking over 350 questions for an average of 54 minutes, (despite the show lasting only 46-minutes long). The show aired across multiple platforms: Bloomberg TV, Bloomberg.com, social media and on the Bloomberg Terminal. 32% of publishers have said branded content programs and “virtual events” are taking up more resources and attention; in May, publishers revealed events revenue was down by 60%. In-person events cost more to put on but also drive more revenue than virtual events. In general, sponsorship rates for virtual events are about half the rate as an in-person event, said VP of Marketing at digital events platform ON24, Tessa Barron. “It’s no longer about signage or cocktail napkins, but content creation, audience engagement and measurable results,” said Barron. “Thinking about virtual events as a tent pole for a big digital umbrella will ultimately help drive more revenue.”

Retirement community chain Bridge Senior Living has found a way to keep isolated seniors connected and engaged – an online radio station run by the residents, Radio Recliner. Would-be DJs from across the country sign up for a one-day shift, pick the music, take requests and dedications, and run the three-hour show like any other radio program. “The idea came from thinking about how seniors struggle with feelings of isolation in the best of times,” said Mitch Bennett, CCO of partner agency Luckie. “Then Covid-19 hit, and residents of senior living centers like Bridge could no longer get together with friends, share meals, participate in activities, or even have visits from family. With residents spending more time than ever alone in their rooms, we wanted to find a way to help them stay connected. Radio Recliner has been a way to turn radio into a kind of social media.” The response has gone outside Bridge’s 24 senior living centers, with families around the country sending dedications and seniors signing up to be DJs. “We’ve also had dozens of offers from fans of the station to create everything from new station jingles to video profiles of the DJs,” Bennett said. “We’ve even had companies write in wanting to advertise, which we politely declined.” Luckie is assessing ideas for how to expand the program’s scope and scale. Recently, an Alexa skill was added to access the programming.

UK supermarkets saw their sales jump at the fastest rate on record during the lockdown as restaurants shut their doors and shoppers stocked up, new figures show. Sales at UK grocery chains jumped 14.3% t in the 12 weeks to 17 May, according to market research company Kantar – the fastest since it began compiling figures in 1994. Sales shot up particularly sharply in the four weeks to mid-May, rising 17%. Ice cream and alcohol sales surged 40% and 50% respectively on the Thursday before Britain enjoyed a long weekend to celebrate VE Day from 8 May. With the sun shining on large parts of the country for much of the last four weeks, shoppers have bought more chilled dips, crisps and fizzy drinks, Kantar said. Separate data from Nielsen showed that online grocery sales more than doubled in the four weeks to 16 May compared to last year. Takeaway restaurants have also been able to capitalize on changing habits as diners are forced to stay indoors, with Kantar registering a big percent spike in sales. “It’s not just groceries experiencing a boom – people missing their favourite restaurants and wanting to treat themselves have pushed takeaway deliveries up by 250% year on year,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar. Consumers now visit grocers 3.5 times a week on average, resulting in 100 million fewer trips, but spend has jumped almost 50% to £27.41. Families with adult children have seen the sharpest rise in spending, with an average monthly shopping bill of £618 compared to £545 last May. McKevitt said: “People have been working their way through their store cupboards over the past couple of months and some will now be spending a bit more on each visit to the supermarket to replenish supplies.” He added: “While these are bumper figures, it remains true that the overall picture for some grocers will be less positive, as supermarkets continue to feel the impact of a considerable reduction in on-the-go spend on meals, drinks and snacks. Those categories usually add up to £1bn over the course of 12 weeks and they aren’t included in these numbers.”

With masks becoming mandatory in India’s public spaces, one digital printer has come up with a novel solution to protect people while letting them keep their physical appearance. Binesh G Paul from Etumanoor in the southern state of Kerala is now digitally printing a photograph of people’s face onto a mask so they can still look like themselves. “People are losing their identity because of the masks. I am giving them a chance to stay safe and also get easily recognized,” he said. Mr Paul, who has been running a digital photo studio for 10 years, came up with the idea on a visit to buy groceries when the owner didn’t recognize him behind his mask. “I am a regular customer at this particular grocery store, but the shopkeeper failed to recognize me. I thought of printing my face on the mask as a solution,” he said. His face printed mask became a huge hit among friends who suggested he sell them. Soon, orders for customized masks started pouring in. Mr Paul has sold 4,000 masks across the country and is receiving bulk orders every day. He sells two varieties of mask for $0.79 (Dh 2.64) and $1.32 (Dh 4.85).

Nuro, the autonomous robotics startup, has said it will test prescription delivery in Houston through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy. The pilot, which will use a fleet of the startup’s autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and transition to using its custom-built R2 delivery bots, is slated to begin in June. The partnership marks Nuro’s expansion beyond groceries and into healthcare. Last month, the startup dipped its autonomous toe in the healthcare field through a program to deliver food and medical supplies at temporary field hospitals in California set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot program centers on one CVS Pharmacy in Bellaire, Texas and will serve customers across three ZIP codes. Customers who place prescription orders via CVS’ website or pharmacy app will be given the option to choose an autonomous delivery option. These pharmacy customers will also be able add other non-prescription items to their order. Nuro is already operating in the Houston area. Walmart announced in December a pilot program to test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market using Nuro’s autonomous vehicles. Under the pilot, Nuro’s vehicles deliver Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston. The autonomous delivery service involves R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only, with no on-board drivers or passengers, as well as an autonomous Toyota Prius model that deliver groceries. Nuro also partnered with Kroger (Fry’s) in 2018 to test autonomous Prius vehicles and its first-generation custom-built robot known as R1. The R1 autonomous vehicle was operating as a driver-less service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. In March 2019, Nuro moved the service with Kroger to Houston, beginning with autonomous Priuses.

In a move that could be highly significant for autonomous vehicles and emergency services, particularly in the developing world, Google has made it easier for anyone with an Android device to share their location using Plus Codes in Google Maps. A Plus Code is a simple alphanumeric code which can be combined with a locality (for example: FWM8+V9, Ibadan, Nigeria). They look like a regular address, but with a short code where a street name or number would be. Beyond using the blue dot, you can also find the Plus Code for a location by tapping and holding the map to drop a pin at a location you want a Plus Code for. Plus Codes are searchable on Google Maps and even Google Search, meaning everywhere on the planet can now be uniquely identified. More than 2 billion people on the planet – about 25% or more  – either don’t have an address or have an address that isn’t easy to locate. Digital locations through Plus Codes means that everywhere now has an easily identifiable location, saving time and getting resources there when it really matters. Not having an address should no longer be a barrier to easily sharing your location with service providers.