After twelve months locked away in the dark, finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Across the world, vaccines are being administrated at unprecedented levels, and together with the warmer weather, it seems that Covid-19 may finally be on the backfoot.
With this in mind, we have been asking brands of all shapes and sizes what key changes will remain and which challenges will emerge on The Other Side of the pandemic. In our first session, it was clear that brands should be galvanising around their renewed sense of purpose post-pandemic, and that, in general, 2020 accelerated existing trends in terms of digitisation and wellbeing.
That said, after our second session, several other ideas came to the fore. Here are five key takeaways.
Our last session revealed that, in many ways, Covid fuelled several consumer and business trends brands were already grappling with ahead of the pandemic. As several of our panellists noted this time around too, the pandemic has propelled their businesses processes and practices by years, even decades. The old Leninism that ‘there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen’ was certainly true of 2020.
This time around, greater emphasis was placed on how brands have had to up their online offerings aesthetically as well as transactionally or bureaucratically.
This is due to the fact that, with the world locked away indoors, consumers still wish to exercise their spending power in some ways. In such an environment, a low-quality png image of your product might not cut the mustard. Instead, brands are using the online space more creatively, with some opting for new formats – such as social commerce – altogether.
More broadly, however, the struggle for brands now will be to hold on to the bigger commitments and changes, as both businesses and consumers alike are unlikely to stand for any backpedalling once the dust has settled.
During the pandemic, sustainability went from a buzzword to part of the general lexicon. As one of the panellists put it, this is because ultimately both brands and consumers see the opportunities lockdown has brought for trying something different.
From shopping locally due to disrupted supply chains, to cargo carriers switching to biofuels, the pandemic has provided brands with the ability to experiment with how to operate more sustainably. This is of course confounded by increasing consumer emphasis on choosing brands that are looking out for the future, with even sustainable pensions now top of mind for many.
Once again, backtracking on these gains will most likely not go uncontested.
In lieu of face-to-face contact, brands have begun to interact with consumers on a more human level. This doesn’t mean wishy-washy piano-laden ad campaigns, but a more intuitive dialogue that harks back to the brand’s purpose, rather than something simply product-led.
Put simply, this is because bereft of the razzmatazz of interacting with consumers in-person on a company’s own turf, brands are having to connect on an emotional level more so than ever before. This is even more important because the pandemic has given consumers the time and space to focus on what is important.
In some sectors, these shifts are expected to stay. In banking for example, as the world is pegged to oversee one of the biggest wealth transfers in history, the idea of legacy — leaving the world behind better than when you arrived — is now common parlance, whereas before it was a much more money-centric transaction.
In this sense, the ‘what’ is being superseded by the ‘why’, as consumers continue to choose brands that minimise externalities and maximise that personal, more holistic touch.
Perhaps conversely to the idea of consumers choosing the ‘why’ over the ‘what’, one of our panellists was struck by how their brand had capitalised on the fact it was well-known before the pandemic. This is because, when going to the supermarket is seen as a health risk, consumers are opting for the brands they know already rather than browsing for new ones.
This is a pattern we have seen before in times of general uncertainty. During the 2008 financial crisis, many consumers opted for brands they were already comfortable with, lending opportunity to those brands which had managed to build brand loyalty outside of the crash.
What this shows is that as much as it is important for brands to be looking forward, what comes before cannot (and does not) go ignored. The lesson here is to continue to serve your consumers as steadfastly outside of hard times as you would during them, so when the rain does decide to pour again, it will be your brand’s umbrella consumers will be looking out for.
Shift in focus
At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed to many that brands had transformed into John Lennon/Yoko Ono cover bands, forcing consumers to sit through a lot of tonal guff about how everyone was ‘in it together’. The year was an emotional rollercoaster for all, and so it is forgivable and understandable that brands wouldn’t always get it right.
So how should brands respond tonally to life after the pandemic? In the alcohol market, the emphasis on socialising was dropped from much of the sector’s marketing during the bleaker months of 2020. Now, with light at the end of the tunnel, this is expected to return.
With such shifts in mind, it makes sense that brands across all sectors will begin celebrating their consumers’ returned freedoms — choosing the roaring over the boring twenties so to speak. That said, the challenge for brands will be to not overdo the celebratory tone, keeping in mind the fact that at the end of the day, the pandemic was a world-wide tragedy.
Read more about our initial findings from our The Other Side series here.