Please watch your brands

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Planner Georgia Bridgwood gives us some direction for the future of brands navigating these strange times, and beyond.

The fundamental human truth is that adversity brings out the very best and the very worst in us. Comparisons are being made between our experience today and that of the Second World War, in an attempt to give ourselves (ahem, Millennials) perspective. Back then, those on the Home Front made do. But there was also a thriving black market.

Fast forward to the present and supermarkets have been forced to ration essentials. Food banks are in crisis. Panic-buying got so desperate that a video has gone viral of a nurse crying when she couldn’t get supplies after a long shift. A kilo of basmati rice is usually £1.60 – some suppliers on Amazon are currently charging £25.

On the flipside, examples of selflessness and kindness abound. People are reaching out to their neighbours for the first time, with offers to help out. Blocks of flats are hosting balcony-based concerts. Companies are offering free food and drink to people off sick, and key workers. And according to YouGov, more than one in three Brits (36%) claim that they are speaking to their nearest-and-dearest more.

As marketeers, we spend our days talking about meeting audience needs, about being agile, about building brand consideration through what we do, not just what we say. And yet here we are, living through the biggest upset to the status quo for generations, faced with our best opportunity to step up and be true to our word… and the overriding impulse is inertia.

It’s a perfectly natural response.

But – without wanting to go all Winston Churchill on you – now is the time to stand up and act.

How can we do that when every aspect of our lives is being turned upside down? How can we possibly make plans with the landscape changing every day, in live time, before our eyes?

Well, just as the best-and-worst phenomenon proves; there are deep-seated human instincts (that we’re seeing in the extreme at the moment). We can anticipate and respond to these instincts thanks to decades of behavioural science; the type we use in our insights and creative strategies all the time.

Some shifts are manifesting already. Digital communication is in a new paradigm; both for working and keeping in touch. Even before the pandemic hit, the outlook for 2020 was of consumers seeking fewer, more meaningful interactions. More than ever, the brands who will thrive are the ones who can facilitate human connection – or the feeling of it – online.

Impulse and pleasure purchases are set to wind down: 43% of Brits say they intend to reduce their disposable income spending in the coming months. The majority of us live with blurred lines on ‘want’ and ‘need’. Now we’re getting a wake-up call about how spoilt we’ve become by relentless convenience in commerce – both the choice, and the speed at which we can get our hands on our every whim. Minimalistic and discerning shopping was forecast to be a market trend this year before any of us had even heard the word ‘coronavirus’.

Now we’ve all had a sharp reset on what is essential, and what is a luxury in life. In that climate, some retailers are bound to struggle to sustain sales – unless they get proactive.

There’s no avoiding that, with NHS resources redeployed and increased levels of lockdown, our physical and mental health is going to suffer. Wellness, self-care and healthy living will become paramount consumer concerns as we settle into the ‘norming’ phase of this pandemic.

Products positioned as having a role in safety, comfort and home-learning and entertainment are best prepared to weather the storm. Shopping for homewares can be expected to increase as we all hunker down and invest in making our living spaces cosier with the money we would have spent out-and-about.

What does all this mean for your brand?

Of course the immediate priority is to communicate with your audience about the urgent response, to show empathy and to reassure. That’s just step 0.

It’s clear that the epicentre of social impact is going to last for weeks or months. The long-term fallout is going to rumble until Christmas, if not beyond. We came into it with such optimism, but now 2020 is the year of sink or swim.

Our call to you is not to be tempted by inertia as the Covid-19 crisis evolves day-by-day.

This is your chance to turbo-charge your brand’s personality. To step up to the plate and show your customers and supporters what you’re really made of. To truly be agile and – most of all – to give your brand warmth and humanity through action.

Even if you’re the one who’s made a mistake, handling adversity with humility in one clever advert can boost public perception of a brand more than a year’s worth of carefully planned and researched communications. Look at KFC. They ran out of chicken – about as embarrassing as it could get – and yet when they jumped on the case and handled it with humour it was one of the best-received ads of 2018. They instantly became more empathetic and appealing by reacting quickly and taking the right tone.

In these times, all bets are off, and the usual concerns about role and relevance go out the window. The main thing is to do something positive. BrewDog have swapped out distilling gin for producing hand sanitiser. Once known as the peak of puerile, LadBible have used this as an opportunity to show how much they’ve grown up, both in the tone of their content and the calibre of experts they’ve engaged with. So much so, that their coverage has been praised by a head honcho at WHO. Vanity Fair have partnered with Women’s Aid to include a hidden message for women who may be self-isolating in an abusive home.

Working with our Worldwide Partners network, we’ve been able to forecast the three key stages in consumer behaviour surrounding this crisis. We’re already on the cusp of stage two: repurpose. Whether that is your offer, your positioning, your people or your communications platforms…

To find out more about what the future holds for brands in our new reality, or if you’d like us to help you map out what to say or to do next, get in touch –

Trust us – the biggest risk of all is doing nothing.