A Fresh Perspective

Date: 28 April, 2020

A tale of two crises

Tara Finnegan

By Tara Finnegan

Strategy Director

When you work in the communications business long enough, you start to see the world through the lens of stories. When we finally close the book on Covid-19, it will be the most epic story told in living memory. Before Covid, the global financial crisis was the narrative that had shaped us most as consumers. Now, even as our Covid-19 experience continues, you couldn’t imagine such different tales.


A global financial crisis

The recession was a story full of villains and injustice, of authorities letting us down and everyday people losing the run of themselves in trying to become property tycoons. In Ireland we felt it very strongly, the whole nation suffered and toiled for the sins of others and to appease Troika. Global recovery was slow and hard won, and while having endured austerity measures showed resilience it didn’t bolster pride. The recession changed us in some ways. We learnt to shop around and ‘seeking value’ rose up the cultural ranks from being a miserly quality to something approved of and respected. We took stock on when brand names mattered and when they were disposable. We learnt to trust less in authorities and to turn more inwards for direction, and we knew forevermore that financial security is a fragile thing.


A global health crisis

Covid-19 is a story of heroes and helpers, of authorities taking command and reassuring us and of everyday people across the globe finding ways to support each other more while being forced apart. We are united in our experience like never before both as individual nations and as a global community. Never before has our day-to-day realities been so universal and uniting. Regardless of our many differences we are all now aboard the same rollercoaster of emotions hurtling through fear, anxiety, optimism, boredom, frustration and back again. Recovery will be slow and painful, but when we do recover, it will be a badge of pride that connects us more to our families, our communities, our nation and the rest of the world.  This is a crisis of both health and wealth. It’s a dual attack on our fragility and we will emerge changed in many ways – I would argue much more permanently than the ways the global economic crisis changed us. We now know forevermore that not only is financial security fragile but so is our physical wellbeing, as a virus has brought the world to a standstill.


An unprecedented crisis changes us as people

Many consumer behaviours will be altered by this Covid experience and conversely many habits and behaviours will just slip back to the way they were before. As marketers we are thinking about the shift in the media landscape, the rapid acceleration of digital transformation, the impact of the coming recession on our categories and how consumers will respond with their purchasing power. These are all vital questions and the pressure is on as a recent Ebiquity survey of top global companies showed that 56% expected sales decline this year due to Covid. But to get the best marketing solutions for difficult times, we need to think about consumers in a wider sense as people and how this experience has changed us all as humans. We have had a taste of a different pace of life and have had to actively think of things we previously took for granted and that changes you. A few of these stand out to me.

1. We have learn to appreciate the importance of our food supply chains.

2. We have had a taste of living in a world where instant satisfaction is not possible, and we have learnt to wait our turn with patience.

3. We’ve had a chance to take time out from the world revolving around our egos and become more empathetic and appreciative of others whose contribution we will never take for granted again – from the lorry drivers to the shelf stacker, from postal workers to teachers and every single health care worker in between.

4. Our home and work lives have completely collided and business has become more human.

5. We’ve opened up our minds to doing things differently in all aspects of life – shopping, learning, working, socialising. Necessity started it but it will have its own momentum.

6. We’ve had time to reflect on what matters most with a life stripped back. Our glimpse of  a life lived with less hugs, less adventures and less freedom has shown us how much these things matter and at least in the short-term we will appreciate them all the more.


So what can my brand take away from this?

1. Take stock of what needs your brand meet in a post Covid world

Self-determination theory is a theory that boils down human motivation to 3 innate needs: competence (the ability to be effective and to experience mastery), relatedness (the ability to connect to others) and autonomy (the ability to have agency in your own fate). Covid has been an attack on autonomy and relatedness and many have turned to competence and learning new skills to compensate (yes bread makers). Examine how your brand can best play a role in meeting these innate human needs.

2. Learning from the past – make value much more than price

The Lipstick Effect has its roots back as far as the Great Depression. The theory holds that in time of squeezed budgets consumers look for the little lifts, swapping the bigger extravagances for the permissible treat. US cosmetics brand Ulta saw a +63% increase in sales for the end of March hinting that this phenomenon will be repeated for Covid. Reduced disposable income in post Brexit Britain coincided with an increase in spend at local high-end coffee roasteries and spend on baking utensils. It’s far cheaper to buy a store tray bake than buy the all gear to bake from scratch and coffee can be made at home so these examples show that this need is not just about money, it’s about how your brand can be part of an enriching and uplifting experience that makes it worth loosening the purse strings.

3. Tell your brand stories in a way that align with post Covid values

The fragility of all we hold dear has been exposed and in that context consumers will connect better with stories that reassure, stories that offer hope, stories that recall the things that matter and stories that celebrate a lust for life and togetherness. Having lived through such a seismic cultural moment, it becomes even more important that we find compelling ways to connect with our audiences rather than tell, to empathise or entertain rather than just sell.