As the entire planet faces one of the most dramatic events in modern times, the Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we work, do business, and pretty much live. The once taken for granted rituals such as the daily commute to work, stopover to grab a coffee on the way, summer travel plans, dinner with friends, happy hour, even a handshake, are alas a thing of the past. Consumers the world over, myself included, are being humbled by this crisis. Be it from the looming threat of job cuts or the first-time experience of working from home, add to that homeschooling kids – also for the very first time, using near-basic online platforms – and top it all off with the potential of contracting a deadly disease if they so much as leave the house without following the imposed measures.
This is perhaps the first time in history that both humans and businesses have been affected by the same crisis, in more than 170 countries, with actual repercussions that are yet to be felt to their full magnitude. The reality is that every single sector and industry has been affected. Whilst some have seen a boost in their business, others have been knocked unconscious, in some cases indefinitely. Though it may seem as if demand will never return normal, we believe just the opposite; demand will not only return, but will also give birth to a savage consumer, the revenge consumer, out to make up for lost time.
Think this is a crazy idea? Well, let us take you back to a mere few weeks ago when Hermes in China recorded sales of $2.7m, in one day, and in one single store. The fact is, revenge spending will be desired by all, but mostly conducted by consumers whose finances have not been as affected by this insane pandemic. Surely, we are yet to find out to what degree consumer behaviour stands to change, in a permanent state; however, if behavioural scientists have taught us anything, it is that human curiosity and behaviour cannot be contained.
So, where does that leave us? Well, until that pent-up demand comes into play and the world returns to normal, there is a fundamental task at hand.
Brands are scrambling to stay in business, let alone connect with their once thriving consumer targets. Whilst the impact on business and revenues is prevalent; the truth is that for years, brands have generated tremendous revenues from their consumers… And it is fine time to dip into that reserve and show them some love. What may not seem like an ideal time to ‘advertise’, per se, is the ideal time to actually connect with consumers. By connect, we mean truly and genuinely connect.
Brands that manage to maintain a connection with their consumers stand to become part of the evolving 2.0 habits that surface post-Covid-19, once life returns to normal, if they are able to bond with their consumers when they need it the most. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow believes brands that recognise the human aspect of this crisis are likely to establish longer-term loyalty with their targets. Not to sell them anything. But, just to say we know how you feel and we are going to get through this together. Any tone-deaf attempts will simply not cut it.
What brands do today will resonate much further than what they say. How they treat their employees. How they reevaluate their business models and use this time to reinvent themselves. Every bit counts.
The UAE in particular showed us a fine example of that type of connection when their top-down approach towards handling the crisis and respective communications initiatives were packed with warmth, empathy, support, and confidence. The efforts they extended to reassure residents that they were doing their best to safeguard their safety, and that medical and food supplies were abundantly available, set a really positive tone. The impact can be visible in the high level of optimism expressed by consumers in the UAE about the future and the potential for economic recovery – one of the highest in the world. That must say something.
Yes, consumer confidence is at a low, but what brands are facing is a mere detour, a dip in their annual performance charts, for this too shall pass.
If… brands seek a deep understanding of the true impact of these emotional circumstances on their consumers and use that data to inform how they communicate with them during as well as after the pandemic, they may come out of this truly stronger by demonstrating that loyalty is a two-way street.