7 Ways Covid-19 Will Shape the Future of Brands by Neil Gains & Craig Griffin

What are the long-term strategic implications and opportunities of Covid-19 for brands? This is the first in a series of weekly articles looking beyond immediate tactical responses to think about the issues that will shape longer-term strategies for brands. We will be discussing the key challenges that brands will face, with a focus on Thailand, and potential future scenarios, but we will not be making predictions!

Covid-19 has forced us to break many old habits and create new ones. With many people having more time on their hands, we are increasingly reflecting on what is really important to us and how we should live our lives. There are many implications for brands, both obvious and much more subtle, which impact all aspects of marketing, from product and service innovation to communication and promotion.\

The findings are the result of a collaboration between insights consultancies across 17 countries. The effort was led by Beyond Research, based in Milan, and covered North and South America, Europe, Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Desk research covered multiple data sources including local country case studies, Google search trends, newspaper articles, and social media along with country-level cultural analysis. In this introduction to the work, we focus on some of the key themes that were identified.

Is every brand now a health care brand?

As it becomes clear that the virus will be around for many years to come and with the majority of deaths linked to pre-existing health conditions, people will increasingly look to improve their general health in case they come into contact with the virus. And as many of us face social isolation and economic hardship, the negative impact on mental health is increasingly clear. Will consumers adopt a new holistic view of health, and will they view health as the new wealth?

The pandemic has made us all focus on personal health as a first priority, massively changing everyday habits and business protocols. Health related claims are a must for many brands, as is the importance of sanitary environments and processes, but will these have implications for sustainability and the environment (see below)?

What will be the impact of behaviour changes on the environment?

Until recently, our attention was focused on the impact of the climate crisis to our environment and on reducing the amount of plastic we use. Our ‘disposable’ culture has been further highlighted by the billions of pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) being used and a rush to ‘hygienic’ packaging. What are the longer-term implications of Covid-19 on the way we balance safety with environmental impact?

Will the pandemic be a wake-up call for the conscience of businesses or force them to prioritise short-term safety over long-term sustainability? Will a long spell of confinement inspire us all to a greater appreciation of nature and the value of simplicity and authenticity? And might it even make city-living less attractive?

Does digitalisation mean that social distancing is only physical?

It is clear that the current crisis is accelerating the shift towards digital lifestyles and e-commerce. What are the positive and negative impacts of this? Will we all become used to social interaction without physical intimacy? Will shifts to e-commerce and remote learning become permanent? Will we become more comfortable living an isolated life in a virtual world, or will we crave the human touch even more when we are finally let out of confinement?

Will local communities remain closer than before?

What is local, close and familiar has become more valuable and provided a greater sense of control and purpose over our lives. We are all living within a “smaller world” with increased awareness of the local neighbourhood and the community businesses that we now rely on and feel obliged to support, but does this have implications for global supply chains?

The ordinary and everyday has become more valuable than the exotic and distant, and we find comfort in simplicity. Proximity is comforting and distance is threatening. Will that mindset revert as soon as normality returns?

Will we focus more on living in the moment?

With our restricted lives, we are all focusing more on the joy of life and the small and simple pleasures that make us smile (yes, we can still smile). Will this have a long-term impact on the way we live and the activities and relationships we prioritise? Maybe life will suddenly “spring back” to normal, or will we become nostalgic for a simpler, more grounded lifestyle based much more in our local community? And how can brands bring a smile to our faces?

Do businesses need to rethink brand purpose?

Much has been written about brand purpose, both positively in helping businesses focus on a core mission, and negatively as a communication strategy rather than a meaningful tactic. The current crisis has left many brands exposed for the shallowness of their purpose, while others have demonstrated their underlying values through their actions to support their community and stakeholders. To what extent will brands increasingly embrace truthfulness and transparency and move away from their short-term focus?

What are the trade-offs between data privacy and surveillance?

Many countries have increased the level of surveillance of people in order to manage the spread of Covid-19 and protect their citizens. Sensors track our health and algorithms predict our movements. What are the implications for brands and how can they keep the trust of their customers?

As some brands trade more personalised experiences for access to our data, is this a trade-off that we can all accept in the long-term?  How much privacy are you prepared to sacrifice to feel safe? The tension between privacy and surveillance is easy to accept when you feel threatened, but what are the longer term implications for brands?

With more to come

Each of these topics will be addressed in a series of articles over the coming weeks. Along with these seven themes, we will also share data from a study in Indonesia on how consumers are reacting to Covid-19 and how it is shaping their current and future behaviours, and also address the need for businesses to understand their customers and how they may need to think differently about the ways to do this. Look out for a new article every week, and please share your own stories and examples.

About the authors

Neil Gains is Managing Partner of TapestryWorks, Adjunct Lecturer at Thammasat University School of Global Studies & author of Brand esSense.

Craig Griffin is Chief Insight Officer at FUEL Research & Consulting, Adjunct Lecturer at Thammasat University School of Global Studies & ESOMAR Representative for Thailand.

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