Before anyone had even heard the words Covid-19, economists were pondering the possibility of a recession in 2020. Fortune magazine reported last year: “Two-thirds of business economists in the U.S. expect a recession to begin by the end of 2020.” Their predictions were that the next recession would be severe. Of course, no-one could have known what lay in store. When it came, it was sudden, but its impact will be felt for a long time. The European Commission is projecting that Ireland's GDP will contract by 8.5% in 2020.
The main question economists are now speculating about is what shape the recession will take. The best-case scenario is a V-shaped recession where the economy contracts and then expands again quickly. All previous epidemics have resulted in V-shaped recessions which is a positive indicator, but given the current backdrop of other major international events such as Brexit and an American Presidential election, what type of recession we will have is unpredictable at this point in time.
Whatever awaits us, however, there are lessons we can take from our previous experience.
When the recession hit in 2008, it followed a period of exceptional wealth in Irish society. The recession was initially met with a grudging acceptance that we had “all partied”. As a country, we entered the recession in a significantly different frame of mind than today. The beginning of the 2008 recession saw a wholehearted embrace of frugal living. The car parks in Lidl and Aldi were full of top-marque cars and both brands experienced a surge as shoppers became increasingly savvy and relished the bragging-rights of a bargain find. Those changes have been permanent. Today, more than 50% of what we buy is own- brand. Aldi and Lidl, both previously considered outliers in the Irish retail space, now take almost €1 out of every €4 we spend on groceries.
The uncertainty of our surroundings also heralded a return to home comforts. Sales of baking supplies and comfort foods like custard skyrocketed. The trends in those items were shorter-lived as people soon realised that they couldn’t really cook and regained some confidence in spending on small luxuries.
Meanwhile, as spending in 2008 decreased due to necessity and caution, people’s savings grew as a reflexive reaction to recession. While this made sense, given that savings give people peace of mind that they can weather job losses, it also cools the economy and means that retail and other markets take longer to recover.
This recession, however, may not follow the patterns we’re familiar with. According to U.S. economy expert Kimberly Amadeo, “Economic recessions are caused by a loss of business and consumer confidence… As confidence recedes, so does demand.” Consumer confidence is down, but confidence generally has also taken a major hit. People aren’t just afraid of spending their money in shops, they’re afraid of being in shops. As the new normal continues into autumn and we operate under the spectre of a second wave, confidence is likely to fall. The impact this will have can hopefully be offset by rallying calls to support local businesses and the release of pent-up demand, but as the months drag on, brands are going to have to take significant steps to tempt customers.
The types of businesses people support are also likely to change. Supporting local has been a growing movement, but nothing reinforced that message more to people than seeing shutters down while on their local walks. The importance of local towns will be underscored as people work from home and the locus of their world moves out from cities and towards their local communities. Where money is spent may be the biggest shift post-Covid as we see local businesses benefitting more than international chains. Christmas will be a difficult period for retailers as the throng of people in shops and pubs seems unthinkable now. This will provide the more creative people in the market with a chance to innovate and stand out.
The recession is unlikely to spur the trend of a return to comfort foods again, given that our collective early forays into banana-bread and sourdough (adopted as a consequence of needing wholesome activities during lockdown) have made baking passé already. Our Instagram feeds can only hope there won’t be a second wave of banana bread.
The savings trend is already repeating itself. By the end of this year, households will have up to €15bn extra in their bank accounts through lack of opportunity to spend and concern for what lies ahead. Unlike in 2008, when the 15% fall in consumption matched the fall in household disposable income, this time the drop in spending will go well beyond any reduction in income. Even those left unemployed by the pandemic had incomes cushioned by State payments softening the impact to the economy. How this extra money will be spent remains to be seen. It is likely to cause some inflation in the property market as pent-up demand, exacerbated by being locked down with flatmates or parents, can finally be released. It may also benefit the hospitality sector as people choose to fly the flag and 3 staycation instead of flying abroad. However, it is likely to be summer 2021 at the earliest before we see how this will play out.
Arguably the biggest change this time of pandemic and recession will hearld is a swell in support for Government and institutions. In 2008, many a planner, including this one, told you that faith in institutions had dropped to unprecedented lows. Abuse scandals, bailouts, and generalised anger at national decisions left people bereft of any authority figure they could cling to. Covid-19 has, in many ways, healed that wound. We may not trust the old institutions of the church and the banks but confidence in the Government, particularly in comparison to some international counterparts, renewed a sense of faith that we have a leadership which can be trusted. How this will continue is unknown but recent political opinion polls suggest a ground swell of support and confidence in the leadership that got Ireland through the worst of the pandemic. The faith in the people who staff our health system has also risen to give people new figures in society who can be respected and revered. The outpouring of goodwill for Dr Tony Holohan is a stark example that there are people in Irish society who reflect the best in us, and that we need to acknowledge them. Our pillars of community may have changed, but they are still there in Irish society, a fact that seemed unlikely in 2008.
What marketers learned from the 2008 recession still remains relevant and will hopefully guide us through the challenges of the next year, and while no two recession are exactly alike, there are some stalwarts that have reoccurred time and time again.
Things move fast in a recession. Consumer priorities change; the market is easily shaken. What seems upbeat today will be tone-deaf next week. Having a strategy that can track evolving consumption patterns and be fine-tuned is vital.
It doesn’t need to be at the same levels, but companies that continue to invest in brand and take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to their marketing budget emerge from recession stronger and with greater support than brands which abandon their base in difficult times.
An honest evaluation of your portfolio to assess which products or services will be fit for the new consumer mindset and which won’t is essential. The possibility to innovate to meet changing consumer needs has never been more relevant than in this recession. It won’t just be a change in spending patterns; how people live their lives has fundamentally changed. Companies need to ready themselves now to kill what’s not relevant and ideate to fill gaps in customers’ needs.
Anxious consumers, even those economically unaffected by the recession, will want brands that are a safe, comforting choice in difficult times. Demonstrating through brand that you have empathy - and backing those messages up with actions - will retain customer loyalty.
Although it is unclear how long the recession will last, it will at some point end. Brands that have maintained presence and relevance throughout it will be well positioned, but even those brands need to plan for a changed consumer. People’s confidence generally returns 1-2 years after a recession ends. Brands need to start planning today for how they can serve their customers in a post-Covid, post- recession world, because the only certainty is that the consumer that emerges from this remarkable time will not be the same.
For the full research deck, relevant quotes and learnings – click here.
They say sports without fans is nothing, and as players, clubs and organisations take tentative steps back into playing and broadcasting events, sports starved fans are turning to their screens instead of stadiums.
So as streaming sites and social media become the new playground, what does this mean for sponsorship? The ball is in the sponsors court and for those who want to play the long game, it’s a time to re-evaluate and reshape activities with an increased focus on online and virtual elements that deliver on what all good sponsorships should do, which is to create a meaningful connection with fans.
While this might seem like a reaction to the current climate, there were always reasons to make the move to a more digitally focused approach.
Viewing projections show that more time will be spent on digital platforms than on linear TV for the first time this year. Performance metrics can be measured and tracked showing clearer ROI. Creative optimisations can be delivered in real time, allowing for more personalised and impactful brand activations. New channels offer ways to reach and engage with new audiences, and maybe most importantly sponsors and fans can come together in support of their teams.
This level of insight, interactivity, and creativity means that despite the lack of action there is on the field, there is an exciting time ahead for sports sponsorship for those brave enough to push the boundaries.
The new pre-match build up seems to focus more on tests than teams, but for fans they are solely focused on the game as it happens. More than 80% of people dual screen while watching a match, turning to social media to express their opinion or get the live clips, goals or updates from other matches. This is clear because you see sporting events trending each week and topping annual trends, beating the likes of The Oscars or The Grammys.
It’s a testament to the power that sport has in capturing the attention of both fair weather and ultra-fans alike. But despite these hundreds of thousands of messages of support, they are falling on deaf ears at the ground, as the roar of the crowd has been replaced with the sound of silence.
There is an opportunity here to use social media to break the disconnect between fan and player, the extra man that so often drags teams to victory is missing, and needs to be shared. For example, interactive pitch side-boards allow brands to plug-in and share messages from social media in real-time, providing a place for fans to share their message of support in reaction to the actions on the pitch.
This innovation not only gives back to fans, it gives them a reason to engage with you pre, during, and post-game, turning passive consumption into active participation in the game.
Although, real-time updates are nothing new, with XBox showing how they decoded the beautiful game. It’s the combination of sponsors providing a platform for fans at the stadium wherever they are in the world that makes this a unique opportunity.
In addition to this, with the advancement in virtual advertising overlays there is the possibility to deliver regional, multi-lingual, dynamic advertising. This will enable sponsors to share multiple variations of personalised creative, helping fans feel like what goes on around the action is as much of a talking point as what is happening on the pitch.
Whether a ball being kicked or a race being run, sponsors should look to what resources are available to them to continue to be associated with the athletes and teams they are sponsoring. Players, athletes and personalities have never had this amount of time on their hands. The knock on effect being that fans have been so long without getting updates from who they follow.
At the beginning of lockdown we looked to the past, but now fans want something new. A glimpse behind the scenes, interviews with key players, an insight into new fitness regimes and a welcome into their homes have begun but fans want more. There’s a curiosity to seeing stars you usually see competing on tracks, in pools or on pitches in a more human way, and with the expectations in production values lowered, there’s permission to share what might not be as polished as usual, but is authentic and real to the times we’re in. Sometimes more is more, and while we’re waiting for coverage to start again, content is king and should fill your newsfeed.
That said, as we move out of restrictions and look ahead, how content is shared can become a whole new experience. Nike have shown the future of kit apparel with 'Nike Connect.' This technology enables fans to access early team news, exclusive content and unique events all through NFC built into jerseys. Sponsors need to look ahead and see how content can be delivered through other aspects of the physical world, creating memorable moments for fans through social and digital activations that provide exclusivity that will build a connection between your audience and your brand.
The rise of esports has been often mentioned as an opportunity to reach a new audience of fans who have the same passion as ‘traditional’ sports fans, and with gaming events now selling out stadiums, player profiles getting bigger, and rumours of esports being added as an Olympic event, there has been no better time to consider a sponsorship strategy for the sport of the future.
In fact with COVID-19 stopping live sports in its tracks, esports has escalated the scale of growth even further, with brands adjusting to continue in some kind of normality. MLB, NFL and the Premier League tapped into the popularity of esports by hosting gaming events, combining a mix of gamers and professional athletes and streaming them across multiple sites. With chat rooms and social media abuzz, the same excitement was brought on as if you were experiencing the real thing.
Others were lucky to have virtual aspects already built into their training regime and could show their schedule seamlessly. Formula One drivers for example took advantage of driving training simulators to bring races online and fans closer to the drivers. The popularity of which has led to the decision to stream live Grand Prix’s on gaming sites like Twitch, once the season resumes.
In adversity, new tactics have led to growth in sports, drawing in new fans to both the real and virtual worlds. Gamers are reaching the same level of following and admiration as the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s of the world, and as this continues sponsors should look to take advantage of the influence of their social status, the potential for in-game activations, new digital placements and the opportunity to get onside a tight-knit, loyal community who live their lives online but have a massive global reach.
Sport brings out the kind of raw emotion that is second to none, without this, there is a massive gap to be filled. And while it might be some time before we feel the kind of anticipation, euphoria or heartbreak that comes with any sport, there are ways in which sponsorship can continue to provide a connection between athlete, club and fan. The rules might have changed but it’s a level playing field and with a focus on leveraging social and digital communities, profiles and innovations, sponsorships can continue to strengthen and grow as a critical brand tool.
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’?
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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;
It’s not natural for humans to be comfortable with change. In fact, we take comfort from routine. There are many, mainly scientific and neurobiological reasons for this but much of it has to do with our basal ganglia - the part of the brain responsible for wiring habits. This cluster of nerve cell bodies is in charge of functions such as automatic or routine behaviours that we are familiar with and make us feel good. Any type of change to these habits can go against the neural pathways that have become automatic to us. This is why it is unfortunately natural for us to fall back on our automatic behaviours and resist change, e.g. give up a diet after a few days or take back up smoking.
But, due to a global pandemic, we’ve all been forced to change. One day we were using public transport and not washing our hands and the next day we weren’t. Changing behaviours like this can generally take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to become habit (not the 21 day myth you often hear about). And we did it overnight.
This was down to two powerful forces working together, social accountability and productive shame, because people generally want to behave in a way that’s accepted by their peers. Which goes to show, we can change if we really want to, or if we’re going to be shamed on Instagram when we don’t.
Luckily as an industry and a discipline focused on people and human behaviour we’re somewhat obsessed with change. Of course, a large part of what we do is around change: changing tastes, change in habits, being ready for change, predicting change and so on. It’s probably safe to say that if you’ve been at a conference, a networking event or even a Rothco strategy presentation in the last 12 months that there’s been some talk of the rate of change in the world. And while we have to a certain degree seen massive change in our industry over the past 10 years such as the digital transformation or the powerful influence of emerging generations, the latest change we have been experiencing is unprecedented. And we really mean it this time.
Healthcare professionals are comparing Covid-19 to the Spanish Influenza (H1N1 virus) of 1918 and a lot of industry professionals are calling this the biggest global event since World War Two. Unless you or someone on your team has experience in dealing with such crises, we are all entering this period of uncertainty a little bit blind. Nobody can say with any degree of confidence what our world will look like post Covid-19, however we can prepare ourselves for it.
One way of doing this is to let go of language such as 'when this is over' and 'back to normal'. We’re not going back. And at the risk of sounding grandiose, life has fundamentally changed.
Matthias Horx, a German futurologist, who specialises in re-gnosis (a method of predicting the future by looking back from the future) is pretty blunt about this. When asked when things will go back to normal, his answer: "Never". We’re not going back. We are experiencing what is known as a bifurcation - a historical moment when the future changes direction, or a deep crisis. There is nothing 'normal' about the world fundamentally shifting and the sooner we can let go of that, the better.
Also, the word normal is a bigger issue and requires a lot more discussion than we have time for here. It’s a subjective word and founded on relativity. It suggests that there is a collective sense of what normalcy is and any deviance from this is insupportable. One person’s normal is another person’s not normal. In very few instances is it acceptable to use the word normal, I’m ok with doctors using the term to describe blood tests for example, but it shouldn’t be used to describe people, values or how we choose to live our lives.
When we use the term 'the new normal' we’re actually avoiding any acknowledgment of the real change that exists within it. What it’s also doing is making this life, that we’re currently living, feel temporary or not real. As if we’re going to emerge from this moment in time and we will feel normal again. A light switch moment of sorts. This is a pretty natural thing to do, it’s human behaviour. We are naturally afraid of the future because it represents change, and for a whole host of reasons - primarily, anxiety of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success (yes it’s a real thing) and a more primitive fear, the fear of death - we do our best to avoid thinking about it.
Currently, when I think of the future or a post-Covid world I automatically begin to worry for the health of my family. I get frustrated at the thought of not being able to travel. I worry about job security and the shutters closing on a lot of main streets around the country.
However, if we use Horx’s method of re-gnosis, things might look a little different. Because of the fears mentioned above when we look into the future we can generally only see the danger and problems piling up, he calls them 'horror futures'. Horx believes that if we can forecast from the future we can include ourselves and our inner selves in the future, and therefore our perception of change becomes a lot more positive. At a neurological level, this version of forecasting replaces adrenaline with dopamine. We replace a fear or flight hormone with good endorphins that make us curious and even excited for the future.
For example, imagine the world in November 2020. Imagine sitting in your favourite coffee shop or your favourite pub (I personally will use McGettigans), and thinking back on this time right now. We’re going to reflect on how even though we were isolated we found a new appreciation for togetherness as families and communities and we’ll discuss at length how seamless (at times!) the shift to a digital work environment really was. We’ll be amazed at how technology assisted our lives in lockdown, but how it was parks, the sea, music, artists and bikes that got us through it. We might even be surprised that because of coronavirus, politicians are facing a period of reckoning, particularly the likes of Trump and Johnson. And that thankfully, science has regained the power and credibility it always deserved. We’ll be astonished at how resilient our economy is and proud about how 'supporting local' has moved from ideology to practice.
This version of the future isn’t too difficult to imagine is it? It’s not that worrying or something we should be frightened of. And it doesn’t feel like something our basal ganglia will reject. And I believe that is because we’ve already changed. The bifurcation has taken place and the projection of our future has fundamentally changed. And if we can stop waiting for things to 'go back to the way they were' or for life to feel 'normal' again we’ll realise that we can start moving forward, not to the 'new normal', but to a post-Covid world.
Trying to find comfort in change is difficult and it’s clear that there are a lot of internal and external forces that make it difficult for us to do this. But if we can start with these two things:
Letting go of language (such as 'the new normal') that is ambiguous and only disguises the change actually taking place.
Using planning tools such as re-gnosis that allow us to forecast more positively and avoid 'horror futures'.
Our transition through change, as people and organisations into a post-Covid world, will be just that little bit easier.
Humans were made to move. From the very beginning of time, organisms with the ability to explore their environment had the highest chance of survival. They could access resources others couldn’t and effectively move from place to place in times of danger and scarcity. Movement has always enabled people to learn more about themselves and the world around them.
Perhaps this is why a lot of people are so eager to move again. Once busy travellers are now flocking to social media, looking back on a time when they could move. Hashtags like #neverstopdreaming #armchairtravel and #whenwetravelagain fill our feeds. From our most recent research, global citizens in Ireland told us they are completely fed up and feeling increasingly claustrophobic. Mood trackers from YouGov tell us that the less people move, the more depressed they feel. Yet the travel & transport industries remain largely grounded and the future of movement is somewhat conspiratorial. Planes are still in storage, borders blocked, streetscapes sleepy, hotels closed and 5km restrictions in place. As the re-opening of the world commences, so too will people’s consideration for how they move - even questioning the very need to do so.
Before all this, airlines, travel agents and public transport enjoyed a lot more control. If people wanted to go somewhere, they had to settle for the only available way to get there. Yes, lower prices and convenient schedules might affect which brand of transport takes you there, but consumer choice was limited, services were standardised and increasingly inflexible. Changing flights was costly and air travel in the US was being compared to getting a bus! Cabins were crowded, queues were long, standing on your commute with zero personal space was just accepted.
Movement was fast becoming a service. A blended, multi modular way of getting from A to B. We were darting place to place, country to country with limited geographical constraints and low expectations of service. Looking back, moving didn’t feel like a customer centric experience – the means of doing so tied up in industries geared and optimised for speed, efficiency and, more recently, hyper connectivity. A far cry from the primal loco-motive explorations of our past!
Thankfully, we’re entering a more trepidatious phase of how people will move through this increasingly porous world. One where a cautious and conscious consumer is really in control. A consumer that doesn’t have to travel. A consumer that will choose to move around in a way that makes them feel safe, in-control and doesn’t steal precious time from the activities that really matter to them. These needs are showing up as the following questions travellers are asking before making their next travel decisions.
Until a vaccine is available, the threat of the virus will see people prioritising their health and safety first and foremost. Even in the US, where domestic travel is the norm, most consumers say they will get back in carefully (47%) or test the waters first (42%), with only a brave 11% claiming they will jump right back in.
A GlobalWebIndex survey found that the top option for inspiring confidence across all markets was by far “When I feel it’s safe to travel again” – scoring 58% globally and peaking at almost 70% in Ireland and the U.S. It scored almost twice as much as any other option, with countries re-opening their borders, travel advice being provided by the government and the removal of stay-at-home restrictions each polling around 30%.
You’d be forgiven if you felt the future of how we move was unfolding as an almost doomsday reality! One of clinical temperature checks at airports, government surveillance, friendly Aer Lingus staff in masks, isolated destinations, incubator restaurant experiences and the waft of hand sanitiser overpowering the sweet smell of sun-cream. However, there is comfort in the fact that cleanliness is the new amenity and consumers want it centre stage. A recent survey found that a healthy configuration is now the top consideration for customers looking to buy a new car in China. At 69%, it’s now considered more important than even vehicle safety (64%) and quality (63%) with germ filters and antibacterial filters of particular interest. Consumers have also said that they would feel more conformable with fellow passengers wearing masks and bringing cleaning efforts to the fore when they are on the move.
The cautious traveller is now demanding more flexibility than ever. They’ve had to cancel and postpone future travel, and have dealt with confusing refund policies and cancelled routes. They’ve also had to grieve the loss of visits to family and friends, and even once in a lifetime trips. Consumers want to feel empowered to choose a system of movement that now works for them, devoid of potential problems in the high likelihood changes might occur.
GWI finds 50% of US consumers and 38% of UK consumers report that they voluntarily cancelled, voluntarily delayed, or were forced to cancel vacation plans due to Coronavirus, while 35% of consumers in both markets reported not planning for any travel to begin with. When asked what would persuade them to book a vacation during the Coronavirus outbreak, flexibility was a key factor across all demographics.
Many cities around the world are preparing to facilitate new transport habits. In a recent IMB survey more than 20% of respondents who regularly used buses, subways or trains now said they no longer would, while another 28% said they will likely use public transportation less often. Cities across Europe are introducing new cycle lanes, giving the consumer more choice when it comes to modes of transport.
People who were “on the go” pre-Covid have admitted it was all too fast. They were feeling physically untethered - moving, transient entities asleep at the wheel. Life had become one long travellator.
A series of invisible moving walk-ways pulling weary travellers across to cities in Europe and back again. One big blur of commutes, trips, taxi rides, airports, planes, more taxis, more commutes. Invisibly, the world sped up.
The Atlantic recently covered a small but significant study that proves that the average pedestrian walking speed has increased by 10% in a 10 year period (1995-2005) and we imagine that figure would be much higher in recent years. It took a powerful force like Covid-19 to awaken the consumer from their movement slumber and instil this cautious yet empowering mindset.
People are increasingly aware that they were slaves to movement - to going, doing, progressing and are now beginning to really question how worthwhile all that travel was.
The top motivations for travel are shared experiences with people, de-stressing from everyday life and gaining new experiences. Only 28% of people cite exploring new cultures as their top motivation meaning that these top drivers can now be realised at home. Lockdown has made consumers realise what’s around them, and what they’ve been missing. Life is less busy, we have more time for what’s important. There’s a newfound appeal to the smaller world we’re living in - noticing the seasonal changes, a grateful feeling for our parks, beaches and natural spaces. Suddenly, overlooked areas close to home are worth stopping to take another look at.
If you’d like to learn more about the trepidatious traveller, the future of movement and how to enhance this new cautious customer journey please contact us and we’ll take you through a deeper dive and our key recommendations.
Huge thanks to Katie Cleary & Jess Sweetman for their invaluable contributions to this piece. #TravelTrio
How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades, not to mention vehicles and animals—had all one fine day gone under?
A week after her death, Eavan Boland’s poem ‘Atlantis’ seems particularly apt in articulating the incomprehensibility of the right now. Especially given the clandestine way in which it crept into the background of our lives only to suddenly and irrevocably change them. Like the city that sank, it was utterly unimaginable. Until the unimaginable happened. The word unprecedented has been used to a comical degree in describing this new situation and its long list of unintended consequences. Yet, now we must begin to plot a path out of a situation we had never anticipated in the first place. And perhaps here, we need to look somewhere more familiar so as to steel ourselves and prepare for a future we never imagined. That familiar space being the world of psychology.
In learning and developmental psychology, there is a concept called the Locus of Control. It speaks to the degree to which people believe they have control over events in their lives, as opposed to those events being dictated by external forces. While there are extreme cases, most recognise there are some elements we can control, and some we cannot. However, this divide feels more delineated as our homes become a melting pot of the controlled and the random. Whether we are engaging in personal and professional endeavours (Zoom fatigue, anyone?) or observing the seemingly arbitrary progression of the virus and the diminishment of local economies. Everything blends into ambiguousness. As humans, our risk aversion compels us to avoid ambiguity, so being constantly confronted with it is damaging. The global uncertainty index already stood at its highest point in December 2019. Since then, it has jumped 50 points. The consumer confidence index has reached a low only previously achieved when we crashed into recession. The feeling is ubiquitous: we are losing control. This is mirrored politically, from egregious bleach suggestions by Trump, to Bolsonaro’s claim that footballers are mostly immune to the virus. As a result, we are clinging to the things we feel we still can control: the ritualistic baking of banana bread, the fanaticism of step-counting and other such trivial pursuits.
So, how do we regain and retain control in more meaningful ways? Within forensics, there is a famous case: ‘Situation 21’. The organisers of the 1972 Munich Olympics were trying to prepare themselves for potential security breaches and called upon psychologist Georg Sieber to envision the potential worst-case scenarios. He created 26 possibilities. The 21st one imagined Palestinian terrorists invading the Israeli delegation, killing hostages and demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners. Prior to the event, these outcomes seemed highly unlikely and alarmist. Unfortunately, Situation 21 did happen. This tragedy holds an important and timely reminder: when a risk seems unlikely (and is highly uncomfortable), there is often an inclination to overlook it. Despite our poor preparation for a pandemic, there have been warning signs all along. Bill Gates has been evangelising this inevitability for years. But preparation for these forms of phenomena are not only needed from a logistical perspective but are also urgently needed from a psychological one too.
Psychological resilience speaks of the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis, or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Some people are born with this admirable trait, but for others it is a honed set of skills – it has even been posited that sufferers of anxiety, with their learnt resilience strategies, may be better able to cope with our current situation. As such, variations of these strategies are being rolled out in schools as a way to psychologically prepare children for the unknowable unknowns of the future. While this field has grown in attention in recent years, these benefits are only used by certain cohorts despite the benefits they can provide for society overall. The three C’s resilience model can serve to help consumers, brands and businesses to understand how they can begin to develop a more resilient mindset after a shared disaster:
Believing that we (and not external factors) have control over situations has been shown to create more positive changes in our collective states, both in terms of well-being and work performance. Creating situations that give consumers or businesses back any sense of this control will resonate right now.
While there is a need for the basics of information relating to Covid-19, research has also found that trauma can become easier to comprehend when it is construed with some degree of meaningfulness. This is seen in the numerous comms pieces showing our appreciation of frontline workers. While this in no way justifies the sacrifice, it may help us to comprehend it and breed resilience to it.
There is an overwhelming need for shared togetherness right now. Like those gathering apart to clap for the health services or Darkness into Light last weekend, resilience flourishes through acts of shared strength and brands should seek to provide them where appropriate.
If you’ve never had a Tunnocks Teacake, or sat in a Tesla, may the cockles of your heart be warmed that there is still so much out there for you to enjoy. Now, I wouldn’t recommend eating one of those delicious tea cakes in a Tesla. Trust me it won’t go down well.
This piece will outline the importance of brand voices with the impact of Covid-19. How will the content, tone, and language of brands and organisations change after the world was silenced by a pandemic none of us heard coming? To explore this topic we’ll be looking at the relationship between how legacy brands and innovation brands’ voices are affected by this nasty virus.
Brand voice? Is that a tone of voice document? Yes and no.
Brands and organisations are in a constant form of engagement with people. Be it demonstrations, language, product design, user experience, and even staff. It should be a consistent voice that runs through the brand and makes it identifiable from others. It’s how we all encounter brands and build memory structures around what they are (SHARP 2012).
We’re at a point of historical change. Covid-19 has a voice that’s spoken over everything. From our media to social circles, its drone is ever-present and insidious.
Yet we know from Mckinsey that brands that act well during a crisis come out with a far stronger voice in the aftermath. (Mckinsey 2019).
The knife-edge of history is pointing the way to a new world, and will it be the legacy brands of old or the fresh kids on the block that own tomorrow’s conversation?
Full disclosure I’m a big fan of legacy brands. I take comfort in things that have been around forever. Tunnocks Teacakes are the example I used to open this piece with but there are plenty of others. Brasso is a shining example, Golden Syrup is really sweet, and Pears Soap cleans up. I could do that all day.
We’ve all grown up with these brands and they own a space in our collective consumer vocabulary. They adhere to distinctive and consistent brand identities that ease consumer decision making though prioritising key brand assets (brand colours, logos, story, etc.) and safeguarding them (WARC 2019).
These brands’ long lives have also allowed barnacles of culture to cling to them as well. From appearing in popular culture; for example how Reece’s Pieces will forever lure an unexpected ET by Elliot. To brands becoming cultural symbols of change, look no further than Warhol’s Brillo series.
Covid-19 has stirred up cultural changes in nationalism, and it’s playing out in legacy brands. Politics and pandemics are expected bedfellows, we’ve seen this through the closure of borders and questions around PPT. Rachman (FT 2020) speculates the mass closure of borders will struggle to reopen to a globalised world.
But will nationalism play out in our shopping baskets as well? Will we reach for the products and services that have survived the previous crises? Time will tell on that one, but there is an interesting early signifier from the UK worth referencing. The UK delivers government-issued food parcels to vulnerable people. I have an intimate knowledge of this because I organised the service for my grandparents in the UK. The brands included in the weekly supply provide a view into what the country feels these people need. The branded products include Fray Bentos (that’s a pie in a tin – it’s got a real wartime vibe off it), Heinz, and Baxters.
To thousands of people, these brands now have new cultural barnacles that will affect the timbre of their brand voices. These already established brands have, in effect, had a mass-sampling DM campaign during a period of fear and anxiety. Even here at home the HSE, An Garda, and An Post, are legacy brands that have indexed most on being highly visible in helping the nation (Empathy Index 2020).
The big learning: Covid-19 can rise the rank of establishment on legacy brands, but with that can come associations around being the nation’s choice, altering a brand’s voice for good or bad.
Classifying an innovation brand/company can be a subjective topic, so for the sake of this piece I’ll be referencing the 2019 Fast Companies World Most Innovative Companies. Let’s not forgot this list was made in a world before Covid-19 and looking at it now you can’t help marvel at how well-placed some of them are.
Let’s take the top of the list company; Meituan Dianping, a company that makes transactional super apps. Here’s a little snippet of what they do:
Meituan, which views food as its core offering, is skilled at leveraging its data regarding users’ consumption habits, including price sensitivity, to recommend other things they’ll like. “Our strategy in integrating different businesses,” says Xia Huaxia, Meituan’s Chief Scientist, “is to attract a large volume of users with high-frequency services, and then push forward some low- and medium-frequency ones, like haircuts and marriage services.” “We’ve been bringing users to these businesses,” Tan says. “Now they can come to you.”
The current pandemic has seen Meituan spike by about 10% (Bloomberg), and you can see why. This is a company that was founded a decade ago, and is now the world’s fourth most valuable start-up (Bloomberg 2020).
Most of us reading this have most likely never heard of Meituan. It’s an Asian brand that we just don’t share any space to engage with. To the audience that does engage with it, the brand voice stretches across multiple services and offerings and has touchpoints throughout their lives. Where legacy brands may engage in one conversation with their audience, all of the innovation brands have the capacity to say so much more. Their adaptability has paid off during the pandemic. Here are just a few brands that when viewed through the lens of Covid-19 seem remarkedly well-placed:
Interestingly, innovation companies’ brand voice can take on a markedly political angle thanks to the crisis. Now get your tea cake ready, we’re about to talk Tesla.
Tesla has a very defined brand voice, from its product design, logo, and most importantly brand Messiah Elon Musk. The virus has had a huge impact on automotive sales across the world, and although Tesla has been sitting on a third consecutive quarter of profit, the business will be radically affected by the pandemic (BBC). Understandably poor Elon is a bit hot under the collar about the effects of lockdown. So much so that on April 30th he labelled the lockdown as fascist and sided with Trump to, “Free America”.
Like him or not, he’s an asset within the Tesla brand, and political siding affects the brand’s voice. I can’t tell you the result this will have going forward on the brand, but it’s clear politics is good at one thing, and that’s polarisation.
The big learning: Covid-19 has shown the fluidity of how future-focused brands can profit from a new future, but their voice can’t be underestimated for the impact it can have for better or worse.
Pitching innovation and legacy brands’ effect of Covid-19 on their brand voices allows us to recognise different impacts the virus is having on them. Interesting, but too binary, for the real world which doesn’t operate under “or” but “and”. Brands can be legacy and innovation-focused, and of course most are. What we build today is the history of tomorrow, just as only knowing our past allows us to know how to adapt.
Looking at them at their extremes does pose a big learning that is true to both.
A brand voice is only worthwhile when acted on. Silence in both action and articulation is just that, nothing. The pandemic has shown us that inaction and silence won’t lead us to whatever our new normal will be, and nobody will remember the quiet type.
This piece does present a few rules of thumb though.
1. Have something to say, based on what you’ve done.
People are looking for brands to help, be that that large or small. So if you’re helping, let people know about it (GWI 2020).
2. What are the assets in your brand voice that are most valuable?
Assets are wide-ranging when it comes to a brand, during Covid-19 some may have more value than others.
3. Think about the echo
The way brands act and behave now will leave an echo into the future.
Sharp: 2012. How Brands Grow
Warc: 2019. Koh Liane. How to create a consistent yet dynamic brand personality
Lidskey. David: 2019. The Fast Company: The 2 most innovative companies in the world today are changing how hundreds of millions of Asian consumers buy food, book hotels, and (a lot) more
Global Web Index: 2020. Covid data set. Global.
While it is safe to say that no-one wanted change to come this way, it is undeniable that the sudden cessation of huge swathes of economic activity across the world has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on our environment, largely due to the drastic reduction in carbon emissions.
However, somewhat counterintuitively, other aspects of the ‘sustainability agenda’, such as our relationship with single-use plastics, have suddenly been thrown into question, as our fear of contamination trumps that of plastic pollution, every day of the week.
While addressing the threat of coronavirus remains the immediate priority, the duality of these unintended consequences begs the question: Will this period of global reckoning help or hinder the fight against climate change?
The case of single-use plastic is an interesting place to start. Those ‘unnecessary’ layers of packaging that were well and truly on their way out of fashion a mere month ago, are sure looking pretty desirable when it comes to limiting the spread of a pathogen. Keep Cups were the first to go as coffee shops across the country realised their germ-spreading potential and reusable shopping bags may well be next, with states such as Illinois, Massachusetts and New Hampshire placing a temporary ban on their use in stores to help prevent the spread.
While I am not suggesting that these restrictions are here to stay, it is worth considering the impact they may have on how we perceive the essentiality of such items. I know I, for one, find myself eyeing up my beloved tote bag with a new found level of suspicion and questioning my Keep Cup’s motives as it calls out to me from the kitchen cupboard – but then again, that could just be the social deprivation talking.
In a way, what is happening in relation to single-use plastics is the perfect distillation of the age old climate change dilemma. It serves as a harsh reminder that there will always be something more pressing on the agenda, more urgent, that will relegate sustainability further down the list of priorities. I mean, ‘Who’s not in favour of cleaning up the oceans?’, but if plastic wrapping on my veg is going to protect me and my family from a deadly virus, the decision becomes a little more complex.
Understandably, for the vast majority of us climate change is not exactly top of mind as we face into this global health crisis with very real consequences. The economic ramifications of Covid-19 have the potential to exacerbate this effect and erode support for climate action as we shift our focus from long-term challenges, to short-term survival. Historically speaking there has been an inverse relationship between the public’s concern about the environment and that of the economy. Afterall, there is only so much existential worrying one can do.
That being said, history is not always doomed to repeat itself and, as we’ve heard endlessly as of late, ‘these are unprecedented times’. We are living through a period of profound change, the likes of which none of us have ever experienced, and there are a number of reasons that I remain optimistic about sustainability in the post-Covid era.
1. Change is possible
First and foremost it has proven, unquestionably, that global, systematic change is possible and that, once the reality of a threat is understood and a clear path to mitigation is outlined, it can happen a lot quicker than any of us could have imagined. As I said at the beginning, no-one would wish for this situation, and a global pandemic is not to be seen as an environmental opportunity, but there are some things that you just can’t unsee, and seeing that such drastic action can be taken in favour of the greater good is the slimmest of silver linings to the large coronavirus cloud.
What is even more remarkable in my opinion is the rate at which we have adjusted to this new normal. Coronavirus is producing a mass behavioural change experiment and, so far, the conclusions are relatively positive. By and large we are making significant lifestyle changes, the likes of which we would have previously deemed impossible, and are proving ourselves to be more adaptable than we thought. This bodes well for brands that are willing to lead the way in driving sustainable behaviour amongst their consumers. Once change is enforced, we normalise it quicker than you might think!
2. New habits are forming
We also know from behavioural science that interventions are more effective if they take place during moments of change. Essentially, it is much easier to form a new habit when your normal routine is broken.
What is promising, from a sustainability perspective, is the nature of the ‘new habits’ that the current situation is mandating, such as minimising travel as we work from home, reducing food waste as we shop more mindfully and generally recalibrating our consumption patterns. All of which also happen to be beneficial to the planet. These changes may have come about in an unexpected way, but they are likely to have a lasting impact on consumer behaviour ‘post lockdown’ as we try to hang on to some of the positive adjustments we have made in our own lives.
3. People are reconnecting with their natural environment
Last, but certainly not least, has been our forced reconnection with nature. When a daily outdoor excursion is the only event in your social calendar, you find yourself appreciating the fresh air with new found enthusiasm. Rare images being shared of rubbish-free rivers and smog-free cities stand in stark contrast to the usual and not only highlight the level of pollution that we have come to accept as the norm, but also provide a window into an alternative parallel universe of how things could be. You know what they say, you can’t be what you can’t see, so now that we’ve been reminded of what a less polluted world looks like, we may be more motivated to work towards it, and support brands that do the same.
As well as outdoor exercise we are also seeing a huge spike in gardening in response to the pandemic, but so-called ‘crisis gardening’ is not new. A report by the National Gardening Association found that households in the US growing their own food increased by 11% in the last recession, with the majority of newcomers citing economic conditions as a major factor in their decision. While it is unlikely that the majority of these people will become self-sufficient, the very act of producing food can completely reframe your relationship with it. In a recent interview I was lucky enough to conduct with Michael Kelly, founder of the G.I.Y (Grow it Yourself) Organisation, he explained to me that their entire movement is based on this very insight, that ‘the most effective and compelling way to get people to make more sustainable food choices is to grow even 1% of their own’.
So while our lockdown-induced nature love affair may be temporary, I have every reason to believe that this is more than just a spring-fling and may well change the course of our relationship for many years to come.
1. One of the most powerful tools in the response to Covid-19 has been positive reinforcement. Think of the endless memes calling us heroes for sitting on the couch and the infinite ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ GIFs plastered on our housebound pictures like a badge of honour. It feels good, like your daily contributions matter and are part of something bigger. How can your brand facilitate this feeling for people in relation to sustainability? Think about devices to socialise and reward good behaviour and fuel the collective experience. Any strategy that makes people feel good is usually a winner, particularly as we face into inevitably tough times ahead.
2. This forced period of reflection will cause many to question some of their previous lifestyle choices. Think about how your brand can acknowledge this shift in perspectives and frame your product, service or sustainability initiatives as a way to hold on to some of the positive changes people are making going forward.
3. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to sustainability is how far removed we have all become from where the items we consume come from. The Covid-19 crisis has brought this into sharper focus as we have a new found respect for our suppliers and supply chains. As a business if you are lucky enough to work with great sustainable suppliers there has never been a more important time to highlight their great work and show your support, alongside your customers.
We’ve witnessed our capacity to accept and adapt to new circumstances when it’s perceived to be for the common good, to listen to science, and use power primarily for the protection of the vulnerable. Most importantly, we see humans united and powerful in adversity, even when we’re forced apart. So, yeah, I’d say there is still plenty to be optimistic about!
Coronavirus may be changing the defining traits of millennials. While they may not be the generation most severely hit by the epidemiology of the virus, that does not mean they are not significantly unchanged by its presence. This time is having a butterfly effect on all facets of life: but the millennial lens is an interesting one to consider given their spending power in consumer culture. We often mention the toll that the recession took on them, but this takes on new relevance now. Sure, there are well-trodden areas like financial disadvantages, however there are also a lesser explored attitudinal hangover that is well worth a recap. The unstable economy in which millennials entered the workforce, as well as bitter lessons shared from older generations, left them with a deep seeded anxiety about how hard they would need to work in life. This has been coined ‘work martyrdom’. An example of it is seen as the average paid holiday days taken in the US, which has gradually fallen from 19.6 in 1978, to 16.1 in 2016. In a study conducted on the topic, this fall was attributed to millennials’ fear of taking leave, in case it made them seem replaceable or cost them a promotion. 20% even feared it may cost them a job.
Last year, a widely circulated Buzzfeed article by Dr. Anne Helen Petersen posited that many millennials have internalized an unhealthy belief they should be working all the time, leading them to become anecdotally known as ‘generation burnout’. This characteristic is further aggravated by the rise of smartphones, robbing them of the opportunity to truly switch off. However, beyond their professional lives, it has been widely suggested that even their designated leisure time has become contaminated by this productivity-frenzy. Pastimes become more stressful as they are increasingly expected to be commoditized or widely circulated on social media. For example, you shouldn’t just like knitting, you should be knitting to sell on Etsy or populate Instagram. Even the World Health Organisation recognised burnout in 2019 as a new cultural phenomenon. It is important to remember that prior to our current lockdown situation, this mental health crisis was the epidemic at the epicentre of their lives. And it hasn’t gone away.
So, what happens to this productivity in the face of coronavirus? It is not only being impacted by the government sanctioned hibernation, or the economic U-bend that is being forecast for life after it but equally the collective devastation of countries as many lives will be tragically lost in the ongoing fight against the virus. The world as we knew it will be very different post-Covid19, both operationally and emotionally. While this impacts everyone, it holds interesting implications for the generation who struggle to stand still – despite being told thay they have to.
Last week, The New York Times published an article, ‘Stop trying to be productive’, aiming to help in this transition period as they decelerate back down to survival mode. However, this productivity is written into their biology and will not depart easily, but arguably it may begin to pivot and instead focus on the need for radical self care. Behind the world’s closed doors, this is manifesting in a myriad of ways. The amount of time people are spending sleeping is soaring. Famed for having less sex than their parents, millennials are now rediscovering and redefining intimacy as sex toys sales surge in affected areas. PornHub has even provided free access to premium services across affected areas.
Mindfulness is being collectively prioritised as downloads of apps like ‘Headspace’ are soaring, especially as they are providing free subscriptions in affected areas. Mindfulness also is appearing in different forms as #coronavirusbaking trends on Twitter. Pre-Covid, 68% of Americans said they are looking for more opportunities to have more playful pastimes to soothe their burnout. This need seems more prevalent now more than ever. Their burning quest for productive outputs may not be gone, but it may be focused instead on more basic, self-preserving inputs. This looks to be the case for the foreseeable future of isolation and into the new, and uncertain, world beyond it.
1. As radical self care changes what is utilitarian to the millennial mindset, content or services that previously might have been perceived as indulgent or frivolous may have a new found importance. Brands should ask themselves, how can they provide restorative or calming content in order to stay relevant with millennials at this time?
2. Calming and restorative should be principles not only applied to brand messages, but also their media. According to GWI, podcasts (20%) and live streams (30%) are most popular with millennials during the crisis as interest in longer formats rises. Social isolation has presented unconstrained millennials with a new and novel context to content consumption: empty time. Brands will benefit leveraging these mediums to help audiences fill these new pockets of time.