A Fresh Perspective

Date: 23 June, 2020

Is there any going back? Why our priorities are shifting and how to respond.

Tamara Conyngham

By Tamara Conyngham

Senior Strategist
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Like many of my generation, I have been perceiving much of the pandemic through the medium of memes. My favourite thus far was one that stated ‘It feels like the whole world has been sent to their room to think about what they’ve done’, and I can’t stop thinking about it. From the brilliant ongoing analysis Lucy and Janine have been doing on the mood of the nation, we have seen this sentiment popping up time and time again—people have been given a rare opportunity to pause and find themselves asking ‘what was that all about’?

Do we ever want to go back?

For many, the idea of returning to ‘the way things were’ is daunting, anxiety inducing even. Predictably, many people have enjoyed working from home and the idea of going back to endless hours lost in transit and spent at a desk simply because you have to feels somewhat futile.

"FOMO is not a thing when everyone’s sitting on their couch, and as a result of this global grounding many of us have been forced to reckon with how much of our time previously was spent trying to please others, be it bosses or Instagram followers, and how much was truly spent doing what we wanted to do."

For others, in a society where social media creates a very real pressure to display an exciting social life at all times, the imposed lockdown provided a form of freedom, where that kind of performative socialising was off the table. FOMO is not a thing when everyone’s sitting on their couch, and as a result of this global grounding many of us have been forced to reckon with how much of our time previously was spent trying to please others, be it bosses or Instagram followers, and how much was truly spent doing what we wanted to do.

Tell me how you really feel

I have been listening to a new podcast by Harvard psychologist Dr Susan David, that explores how people are coping emotionally with the pandemic. She describes it as breaking from an autopilot mode of living, from our habits and routines. Dr David feels we are often impacted more than we realise by social contagion—someone else gets a promotion so we want one, they get a particular car so we want it, and so on. She explains that "with this whole experience of ‘living up to the Joneses’ and doing all the things that we’ve got to do, we just don’t have the opportunity to actually be with ourselves, be with our difficult emotions, and to use those emotions to alert us to a need for change in our lives.”

It’s time to re-evaluate

As we have collectively been forced into this moment of mass introspection, we have no choice but to sit with our feelings for a little bit longer and ask ourselves: What do we actually want? When we are removed from so much of the social context that subconsciously shape our decisions, what’s left? More importantly in this period of re-evaluation, which priority changes made during the crisis are here to stay?

The brands that take the time to understand and acknowledge this shift in priorities, and find an authentic role to play amidst this new perspective, will win out. So let’s take a look at some of the key shifts in priorities that we’re seeing:

1Mindful consumption

Many people have learned to live with less over the last few months and realised that for the most part, what they need is much less than what they thought; but this shouldn’t be seen as terrible news for brands, or even new news. Many industry analysts have been heralding the end of ‘consumer culture’ for years amid rising concerns over the impact it is having on the quality of our lives and our environment. Mindless consumption should not be the goal for the health of our planet or our brands. We want people to buy products and services because they play a meaningful role in their lives, in the words of Marie Kondo because ‘they spark joy’.

Key Takeout: This is a pivotal moment for marketeers as they can no longer rely on simply making people want what they sell, but need to shift their focus to selling what people want. As brands will inevitably have to fight harder to get their share of reduced consumer spend, they need to continually ask themselves how they can add genuine value to peoples’ lives.

2Keep it local

According to recent research by BrandWatch, 33% of people think it is more important that the things they buy are locally sourced now, than pre-pandemic. We’ve seen it on our own social channels with #shoplocal trending locally and globally as people express a strong desire to support local businesses. Perhaps this is partially as a result of people spending more time in their locale than ever before. Those who used to commute to work every day, spent much less time in their community, and as a result had less of an affinity to it. This new connection is likely to remain and new research, including a survey conducted by Accenture in April, suggests that this crisis will serve to build communities in the long run, rather than separate them, with 80% of respondents claiming they are as, or more, connected to their community as a result, and 88% expecting this to stay.

Key Takeout: Brands should look for ways to connect locally and build a sense of community—be it through highlighting local provenance, partnering with local communities, or recognising and customising for local needs. Supporting their community has become a priority for people, and they want brands that do the same.

3Online was always easier, but now it’s safer

Unsurprisingly there has been a huge increase in online shopping. One survey found that 20% of respondents purchased either clothes, groceries, toiletries or beauty products online for the first time, and of these over 50% said that they will continue to do so following a positive experience. As we face into a prolonged period of social distancing, it is unclear exactly how the physical retail landscape will unfold, however, online channels will undoubtedly become increasingly important as people prioritise their health and safety over the physical shopping experience.

We have seen some household names, such as Heinz, pivot to direct-to-consumer with the launch of their first ever e-commerce platform ‘Heinz To Home’, and others, such as eyewear brand, Warby Parker, introduce a new augmented reality feature to ‘try on’ glasses from the safety of home, all in response to shifting shopper behaviour.

Key Takeout: Brands need to re-consider the role of online, if not by creating new routes to market through DTC, perhaps by re-imagining the purchasing journey with new virtual experiences, or how to enhance the enjoyment of products or service at home.

4The death of celebrity

A more unexpected outcome of the coronavirus has been its attack on the cult of celebrity. Despite Madonna helpfully informing us all from her bathtub full of rose petals that this virus is in fact ‘the great equalizer’, the difference between ‘our world’ and theirs has never been more stark. Celebrity culture glorifies these figures, not just for their performances or personas but for their wealth itself. As Amanda Hess writes in this brilliant article for the New York Times, their excessive displays of wealth have functioned as ‘a bizarre appeasement for inequality, but that rests on their ability to be aspirational and approachable at once.’

Now that the vast majority of people are stuck in the reality of their own lives, this illusion shatters and watching their extreme wealth starts to make their lifestyle feel less, rather than more attainable. Simply spend half an hour scrolling through the comments section of Gal Gadot’s tone deaf (literally and figuratively) star-studded rendition of ‘Imagine’ or Kim Kardashian’s post asking for ‘tips to keep the kids entertained during lockdown’ from her super mansion, to see how short these fickle attempts to relate to the masses have fallen, and how fed-up people are of worshipping a celebrity culture that displays such flagrant inequality at a time when so many are suffering.

Key Takeout: Brands need to think carefully about how to sell ‘aspirations’ at a time when, for many, getting from one day to the next is a struggle. They need to be self-aware to the context in which their communications are appearing, particularly on social media.

So to recap here are the four behaviours brands need to adopt to resonate with changing priorities;

1Add genuine value to their lives

2Connect locally

3Make sure a significant part of the purchase experience is online

4Re-evaluate how they’re presenting aspiration to their audience

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