Consumers Bring a New Reality to Their Brand Interactions

by Scott Harkey, President and CEO of OH Partners

Scott Harkey

With more than half of Americans fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the economy is in much better shape than a year ago. And while this is good news for businesses, we’re entering a new phase where the recovery is expected to continue at a slower pace.

It’s easy to understand why so many businesses are rushing to launch new marketing campaigns after such a dismal year. But the way consumers interact with brands has changed dramatically. And brands that take the time to understand their customers’ buying preferences, media consumption and other habits will be the brands that break through.

Our OH team has a process that we share with our clients to help them better understand their customers. We first do a deep dive to discover key insights about customer behavior and habits. We then analyze the competition and identify what threats they pose. After that, we take a good hard look at the brand to determine if messaging has been authentic. It’s a lot like peeling an onion, but when we’re done, we’re better prepared to launch a marketing campaign.

Our work with Virgin Hotels Las Vegas is a great example. Virgin took over the iconic Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas property in February 2020, with plans to open their newly renovated integrated resort in November. The pandemic disrupted those plans, pushing the grand opening to March 2021.

Our Las Vegas and Phoenix teams, including our sister agency, Matter Films, had already been working on a creative way to introduce the Virgin brand to Las Vegas. Through our market research, we learned that 78% of visitors to Las Vegas are returning visitors with the attitude of “been there, done that.”

We also knew that Virgin’s target audiences are Experience Seekers — people who are insatiably curious. Each aspect of the property was designed to attract a unique audience, all with an inclusive, youthful exuberance that’s not focused on age. Audience relevance is attributed to life stages, primarily adults 35–49.

For Las Vegas, it was time to do the “red rope” differently with a sense of approachability and inclusiveness and with choices that allow guests to truly be themselves — aspirational yet accessible. There was an overwhelming opportunity to deliver new exceptional experiences and to take advantage of location by leveraging an off-strip experience with an off-the-beaten-path approach. There is a soulless approach to Vegas, and we needed to bring the soul of Virgin to life to be a difference maker in our market.

The result was our award-winning “Us. Unstoppable” ( campaign, which features two eclectic, fun, high-energy spots that resonate with Virgin’s customers. Our strategically targeted media buy helped create excitement about Virgin’s grand opening, which was the first major resort to open in Las Vegas since the onset of the pandemic.

A few other tips for businesses that are building back after COVID-19: 

  • Get everyone on the team aligned regarding what the business will own as a brand. This is crucial, because too often, brands try to own too much. A losing sports team can’t own “winning,” but they can own “family fun.”
  • Enlist insights from cross functional teams to gain a deeper understanding of consumer needs and desires.
  • Track consumer sentiment, aligning with behavior and confidence, and adjust messaging accordingly.
  • Finally, we’re living in a digital world, and it’s important to stay on top of social media and digital trends.

Businesses can ramp up for a much more robust year ahead. But those that will have the most success will focus on consumer-centric strategic planning and authentic brand messaging.

OH Partners is an Inc. 500/5000 company that is recognized as one of the fastest growing advertising and digital marketing agencies in the country. OH Partners works with many notable national brands in diverse categories, such as gaming, tourism and hospitality, entertainment, healthcare and consumer packaged goods. 

This is one segment of the August 2021 cover story “Coming Back: How Marketing Will Build (Back) Business after COVID-19.”

Click here to check out the other 10 businesses and the cover designs they submitted for the Cover Story Cover Contest (winner was featured as the actual magazine cover).

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