How the pandemic amplified the importance of brands

Some people think of a brand as a logo or a snappy tagline—but branding is so much more. A good brand connects people with a product or service on an emotional level. It builds trust. It sets expectations.

And while during the past year our greatest needs were in some ways quite simple (case in point: toilet paper) branding was as important as ever.

In fact, a mammoth 75 percent of American shoppers altered their brand preference during the pandemic according to research from McKinsey. And 62 percent of people who have changed their brand preference will make that a permanent change before the pandemic is over, notes a study from communications firm Ketchum.


When you look at the most relevant brands in 2020, those changes are quite obvious. Only four of the top 10 brand on Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index remained from the prior year with six new brands leaping into that top tier.

Those brands included healthcare brands Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins, home exercise brand Peloton (who jumped to number 2 from a ranking of 35) and entertainment brands Lego and Playstation. Costco also leaped from a previous ranking of 21 to six. These are brands that played an important role in our lives last year, and we loved them for bringing us trusted information, health and entertainment.

What’s even more fascinating is the brand perception of vaccines themselves. While most experts will tell you that one vaccine is not better than another, there has emerged what is being termed the “Pfizer elite,” referring to an actual brand superiority in, of all things, COVID-19 vaccines.

“Brand preference is very real, and it’s very prevalent,” said Lindsey Leininger, a public health scientist at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, as reported in the Fast Company article How Pfizer Became the Status Vax.

And yet, the best brands, those that are future proofed for an ever-evolving world, remain with us no matter what. Interestingly, the number one spot in the Brand Relevance Index was Apple, who also held the number one spot in years past. With the launch of Apple TV just prior to the pandemic, the brand was well positioned to remain highly relevant even in the midst of a (hopefully) once-in-a-century pandemic.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of brands by showing us first that branding plays a key role in an organization’s success no matter what the product. And second, that a good, solid brand will remain relevant even when the rest of the world is in chaos.

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