By Elias W Bassil, head of strategy at Geometry MENA
For the first time in a while, the world has a shared feeling. We hadn’t been in the same boat for years, yet today we can all relate to each other. No matter our background, religion, social class or race, we can truly relate. I find that beautiful, and also a rare moment where marketers can reach out to a wider audience and deliver on some universal unmet needs. A time where commerce is at a peak, and brands are being challenged to become inventive in their approach whilst catering for new shopping behaviors.
So, how do we all relate during this challenging time?
When Maslow explored the theory of human motivation, he introduced the world to the hierarchy of needs. Since then, brands have seen it as a reference to pinpoint their positioning and messaging across the pyramid. More recently, the more a brand answered a self-actualisation need, the more progressive we assumed it to be.
But now, think of how people’s dialogues have changed, and how certain topics have temporarily disappeared. I personally can barely remember what people were discussing before COVID-19 hit us. Why have we stopped the debate on genderless bathroom signs? Or put aside our views on celebrity behaviour? Or even forgotten the morale dilemma we were facing vis-à-vis Brexit and Trump’s famous wall?
I can’t help but assume that today, we’ve put our peak needs on hold, intentionally. And we don’t mind that, because what matters now is the core – the basics.
And so, in ascending order:
We relate in the sense that we care more about our health.
We’ve come to realise that being healthy is key in times of need.
We want to feel stronger, fitter and more capable.
In a global survey conducted by BCG, 23 per cent of people have already started to focus on applying healthier habits. We want to move more, and take the stairs instead of the lift, and walk to the grocery store instead of having things delivered.
We’re also trying to reduce our smoking, trying to sleep better, and create some more healthy habits in our day.
We relate in the sense that we are more mindful of what we consume.
Content is important, as long as it has meaning and enriches our lives.
We’re not looking for fake news and alternative facts.
We’re looking for real entertainment that can either make us smile, feel a bit smarter, or even squeeze out a few tears. And even with the things we literally consume, we think more about what we eat and what we drink, and we’re more cautious on spending money on consumption that is unnecessary and relatively vain.
We relate in the sense that we value heritage and legacy.
Familiarity is what keeps our fears at bay. And while the iconic Geert Hofstede once classified cultures on five pillars – one of them being ‘uncertainty avoidance’ and how different nations score differently on that spectrum – today we all feel that uncertainty.
As much as we were open to experimentation, today we want what’s been tried and tested. Not just by us, but by everyone. Very few people want to be the first at trying a new product, or to show off that they found this brand before the trend started. We’re becoming more comfortable in being un-unique.
We’re like everyone else, and it doesn’t feel too bad.
Those changes, and the reshuffling of our needs, are inevitably leading most of us to shop differently.
Previously, we’ve had options as to how and when we shop, but we are experiencing an uncontrollable change with the current reality of COVID-19. The pandemic is redefining when, how and where we shop, and drastically impacting how we will continue shopping in the future, leaving a mark in the history of commerce.
With commerce being challenged to evolve, more than ever, creativity and unique solutions surface, bringing to the present certain approaches that we could have only imagined executed and adopted by brands in the future: drone deliveries; contactless experiences; robotic carts; virtual sales assistants; online medical consultations; social media gym memberships.
Which begs the rise of more commerce trends after the COVID-19 period, such as: seamless, contactless purchases; screen-to-screen salesmen; social selling as a key shopping channel; spatial experiences in the online world; virtual malls; in-game pop-up stores.
And if creative commerce used to be an option, today it is those who already embraced its power who will be the first to win at the next-gen shopping game.
So, for the next few quarters, brands need to reassess their sales channels, focus their ideas more on conversion-led systems that adapt to the changing customer landscape and brace themselves for a race of re-imagining commerce.
The long-term implications of COVID-19 on people’s behaviour – in general – must not be overlooked. Because what we will witness is that after going through different stages of adaptation, we will all eventually reach what a recent study by Canvas8 refers to as “New Normal”. Creating an assimilation of new and old behaviours that make up our everyday instincts.
Psychoanalytical studies note that lasting habits take an average of 66 days to form. What that means for us is that we’ve been dealing with the pandemic since the end of 2019, so the imprint is likely to remain long after humanity wins this battle.