1 Consumers are being pulled in two directions
As we look forward to a life post COVID-19, many of us will feel like different people. Lockdown has led people to reassess their priorities and lifestyles, and there’s a widespread sense now that “life’s too short” to sweat the small stuff. It’s time to focus on what really matters. But the flipside of this is that life’s also too short not to just splash out on that pair of shoes you’ve been longing for, because who knows what tomorrow might bring. There are opportunities for brands that can keep their finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment, and help people establish some kind of equilibrium between being daring and fearful; between “why not?” and “why would I?”. In this changed world, consumers will be looking to brands that they trust. To those brands that show they value their customers, their staff and their other stakeholders. Those brands that demonstrate that they have a purpose beyond making money, and those that are able to translate that purpose from intent into the experience they offer to consumers.
2 The value of agility has been laid bare
If any brand needed proof of the need to think fast and be quick on their feet, they have had it in 2020. The pandemic has turned upside-down accepted norms about the way people work, learn, exercise, socialize, shop, plan and generally live their lives. In the eye of the storm, agile brands were ready to redirect resources, make sacrifices and do whatever was necessary to help. Their efforts will be remembered, whether it was switching production to masks and hand gel, offering free coffees to healthcare workers or making it easier for vulnerable people to get household essentials. What’s important for brands to remember once this is over is that there will one day be another crisis. Brands need to be prepared – not with a prescriptive action plan, but with the flexibility to adapt to pressures that can seemingly come from nowhere.
3 Experiences need to live up to brand promises
Brands are competing not just for a share of people’s wallets, but a place in their hearts and minds, and that is the result of every experience a brand provides, across multiple touchpoints, from a webchat or in-store consultation to trial of a product or an attempt to make a return. Kantar has identified a causal link between the way consumers experience a brand and its financial performance, but too often there are big gaps between the expectations brands create through their marketing communications, and the real, lived experience of the consumer. By failing to meet or exceed people’s expectations, brands risk losing sales, loyalty and their reputation. This means that a focus on the consumer must begin at the very top of a business, and organisational structures put in place that ensure that brand promises and consumer experiences are in perfect alignment.
4 It’s time to get real
The virtual world has been a life-saver to many a business, friendship and relationship this year, but there’s a deep yearning for a time when it will be safe to once again socialize in person. The public response to the reopening of pubs and hairdressers, albeit with restrictions that have made the experience quite alien in many respects, shows just how much these ordinary outings and gatherings were missed. Kantar research into what people were most looking forward to as lockdown began to ease shows that going to clubs, pubs and having nights out with friends was top of most people’s wish lists. They’re also longing for live music again, the theatre, and other shared physical experiences. Brands can provide some of these much-craved experiences as and when social-distancing conditions allow, creating exclusive, invitation-only (small group) events that can be the stuff of lasting memories associated with a brand.
5 Brands can no longer look away
In a world of high-profile social activism, consumers increasingly expect the brands they make part of their lives to take a position on big issues. They want “their” brands to reflect, support and defend shared values, and that means brands can no longer sit on the fence, or keep quiet because they don’t feel it’s their area. But taking a public position on a potentially contentious issue is not without risk. Even if brands have good intentions, there’s the danger being accused of opportunism or of misreading the public mood. Sharp, timely consumer insights are an essential part of getting a brand response to social issues right, through a range of actions, big and small. Brands should step up and contribute to a greater good; inaction will bring about no good at all.