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Is every brand now a Health Care brand? (with Craig Griffin)

In this second of a series of ten articles, looking at the long-term strategic implications and opportunities of Covid-19 for brands, we will consider how Covid-19 is changing people’s attitude towards health and wellbeing and speculate on the implications and opportunities for brands.

There are many examples around the world of companies who have re-purposed their production lines to produce medical devices and PPE (personal protective equipment) to join the global fight against Covid-19. But not every company is able or wants to pivot in such a way. However, if we take a more holistic view of health, there are clear opportunities for most brands to offer support.

Actions are louder than words. People are tired of the same old rhetoric of “we are here for you” and want brands to show they care in very tangible and authentic ways. Finding the right path for your brand starts with an understanding of how Covid-19 is causing people to re-imagine health.

The First Line of Defense

The pandemic has made us all focus on personal health and hygiene as a first priority. Thailand has perhaps found it easier to adapt than Western countries, with previous experience of a pandemic, a strong sense of social responsibility, and well-established habits of mask-wearing when ill (and to protect against pollution).

The retailers and food services that have been able to stay open have needed to allay fears of food contamination (sometimes by using additional packaging) and enforce social distancing wherever possible. There is widespread use of temperature checks, hand gels and social distancing measures to reassure customers that the retailer’s desire to continue trading is balanced equally with a commitment to customer and staff safety. The focus on short-term safety, and its reliance on billions of pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) and additional packaging is further highlighting the ‘disposable’ culture we live in.

As other businesses slowly re-open, there will be a clear need to reassure people that appropriate sanitary practices are in place – ranging from virus-killing protocols, providing protected environments and safe (contactless) payment and delivery methods. Here is an example of the measures Air Asia are implementing (including health screening and additional administration, leading to a request to arrive 3 hours before departure!) to ensure safety. It remains to be seen whether such measures reassure or alienate people.

The Last Line of Defense

With a vaccine unlikely to be in place until 2021, lockdown measures being eased in Thailand, and the importance of global tourism to the local economy, the public are starting to see that completely avoiding possible exposure to the virus is not practical.

There is increasing evidence that most Covid-19 deaths are linked to one or more underlying health conditions and to the importance of having a properly functioning immune system so the body can naturally fight the virus. It is this last line of defense, the immune system, that people will look to strengthen in the future, in the knowledge that it could make the difference between life and death. As this realisation sinks in, people will develop new strategies and ways to manage their fears.

We expect this to lead to increased demand for health products (and services) that can help shield and protect against the virus, by improving the functioning of the immune system. Indeed, as people look to take back control of their health, recent retail hypermarket data shows an increase in the purchase of fresh foods (fruit, veg and meat) and a decline in frozen foods. Products with minerals and vitamins that have proven benefits to the immune system are likely to be in high demand. As experts and scientists (seen fronting government responses to Covid-19) come back into fashion, consumers are likely to pay more attention to the science of food functionality. This may well lead to more scientific and expert oriented category codes emerging.

The Silent Pandemic

Locked up in our homes, with many of us isolated and facing economic hardship, the negative impact on mental health is increasingly clear. Steven Taylor, in his book The Psychology of Pandemics suggests that the psychological impact of any pandemic is usually larger than the medical impact, reinforcing the need toaddress mental health issues caused by the isolation, fear and anxiety of coping with a lockdown. Indeed, our own review of recent research in Indonesia suggests more concern about mental than physical confinement.

Avoiding the daily commute and being able to spend more time with family or in the garden is a welcome side-effect of being in lockdown for some. However, Covid-19 doesn’t impact all socio-economic groups equally. In Thailand, many people live with extended families (with little private space or outdoor area). With nowhere to escape to, this can lead to an increase in mental stress. For those city dwellers living alone, often in small studios, social isolation and boredom pose threats to mental health.

The increase in popularity of mindfulness and meditation apps and online meditation groups highlight the demand for products that center and calm people. Thailand has traditionally looked to Buddhism to address matters of the mind and spirit. If we consider the broader aspects of mental wellbeing, brands that can successfully tap into people’s need for hope, reassurance, escape, comfort and connection can strengthen their bond with people. And of course, sometimes something silly and fun, as demonstrated by this Bangkok Skytrain staff video, can lift the spirits and bring some light relief. Finding joy in the moment will be the subject of a future article. 

A Window of Opportunity?

As many of us are (forced to) develop new habits, ‘normal’ behaviours are disrupted and there is a clear window of opportunity for brands to shape the marketplace. For some brands there will be new opportunities to explicitly address healthcare needs – for example to improve immune system health. However, there are opportunities for all brands to demonstrate empathy – either through a review of their supply chain and customer touchpoints, to ensure customer safety and provide reassurance, or through branding and communication that understands and addresses the complex emotional states and needs people have.

If we accept a broader holistic view of health, then every brand is a healthcare brand. In next week’s article, we will explore the longer-term implications of Covid-19 on the environment and current ideas around sustainability.

About the Study

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.

[You can also find this article along with Craig’s contact details here.]

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