While it would be premature to predict the legacy of Covid-19 regarding consumer behaviours (as psychologists tell us, it takes 66 days to create a new habit on average, and lockdown is still a concept being grappled with) key signals emerging from the eye of the storm reveal not just the smartest brand responses to the current situation, but those likely to have legs when regeneration proper begins:
1 . Purpose Gets Real: Care Culture & The Knowledge Premium
Echoing the backlash against ‘brand purpose’ as little more than marketing fodder have been a handful of reactions filling deep municipal holes with legitimate dynamism. “This will be the stake in the heart of brand purpose [as a marketing message]. It’s clearly about action now,” says British consumer psychologist Paul Marsden.
Those already walking the walk include Boots, which has stepped up into a surrogate national health service, issuing daily videos on its social platforms (presented by its chief medics) answering commonly-asked Covid-19 questions; and fellow British retailer M&S with its budget-stretching ‘Stuff You Can Freeze’ video, although not without criticism (some consumers have deemed it an incitement to stockpiling).
Such authoritative advice feeds another trait of ‘corona-culture’ pinpointed by Marsden as being pandemic transcendent: the value of survivalist smarts: “We’re going to look to peoples’ self-reliance, tenacity and intelligence. Knowing what to do will be at a premium after this.” As it is with individuals, so it is with brands; see the redirection of skills from megabrands including LVMH (scent & cosmetic factories making hand gel for hospitals) and Scottish beer giant Brewdog, whose distilleries are now making hand sanitiser.
Localism is flourishing here, too, as community support seems indelibly linked to personal survival. Supermarkets Coles, M&S and Waitrose have established empathy via special shopping hours for the elderly or extra-deserving, while Carrefour’s new phone-based subscription service delivers staples the same time every week.
A lasting aspect of this ‘care culture’, where performance conflates with purpose and generosity deemed a new brand metric, will be the pausing formerly inflexible commitments – from banking to beauty subscriptions.
2. Unpausing Identity Via the Passion Economy
As lives are put on pause, plugging into upskilling or the ‘passion economy’ (making a living from what you love doing) will swell in value, too – nourishing those unexpectedly saddled with extra leisure time not only with entertainment, but also sanity-saving purpose.
A trend with special relevance to the side-hustling ‘brand of me’ consumers that define Gen Z, Danish fashion brand Ganni’s new social campaign #GANNIWFH invites those at home to get creative on its platform. Asking ‘Are you at home these days?’ ‘Feeling the urge to express yourself? Fans are tasked with creating an original artwork based on the theme ‘home is where the heart is’, on a promise of hard cash and an appearance in Ganni’s pop-up exhibition in Copenhagen in August 2020 – a shrewd profile-lifting projection into the comfortingly near-term future.
Similarly plying a WFH angle, Anglo-Spanish shoe brand Miista’s Instagram Live partnership with British shoe designer, DJ and female drag queen Georgie Bee suggestively invites fans to ‘tune in’ and help at-home nudist Georgie dress for a WFH video call, with the capacity to potentially appear in the video themselves.
With digital dexterity likely to soar as consumers find time to dabble in ‘DIY digital’ within social media and gaming, what may have seemed like small-fry titbits of fan appreciation now have major implications for current and post-Covid-19 community building.
3. Digging Distance: Uncompromising Control
The value of reclaiming control (actual or perceived), is massive mid-pandemic and will continue to rocket on the other side. Allusions to freedom matched by safety – a critical sentiment that’ll be harder to shake the longer lockdowns persist – will be key.
While most physical stores are now temporarily closed, no-touch environments are worth holding onto as social distancing measures flex; Boots and British beauty brand SpaceNK both switched to zero-touching guidance, showing how super sanitised is trumping the appeal of hands-on (handmade is also taking a nosedive), while curb side deliveries are also gaining serious kudos.
American cannabis brand Curaleaf has introduced WaitListMe – an app used mostly for restaurant waitlist management, so customers can wait in cars rather than queue for service, while Chinese e-tail goliath JD.Com is using autonomous vehicles to deliver medical supplies and groceries in Wuhan.
As shown in tools such as luxury fashion boutique Brown’s East’s in-app feature that lets shoppers message staff while in-store themselves (to swerve spoken language barriers or an intimidating up-sell) distance is already a burgeoning indulgence, plugging into what Marsden says is a rising Me, Myself & I mentality: “A major likely outcome of this situation is that we’ll compromise less, having a shared space will be difficult for a lot of people, for example.”
4. Hyper Sensory Persuasion
With most of us ‘doing time’ indoors, sensory deprivation is a defining factor of the coronavirus brand experience, propelling pleasure stratospheric, now and in the aftermath; unsurprisingly the e-spending growth has been dominated by vices – alcohol, cannabis and sex, annexed only by food and fitness.
According to London-based consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale: “Some people are ‘need-to-touch’ only when buying, while others are ‘high autotelics’, exhibiting a much greater need to experience haptic sensations – things but also their surroundings, for whom now much of their pleasure is of course forbidden. For them, but all of us to a degree, sensorial experiences will become much more important post-Covid-19. Right now, even online experiences can be doing a far better job via the intimations of language.”
Clearly an ideal time to get busy with ASMR branding, there are some socially-oriented sensory concepts semi stumping up the required stimuli. JD.com’s livestreamed club experience – weekly three-hour ‘sets’ on its e-commerce streaming platform JD Live, partnering with Budweiser, Rémy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard to boost alcohol sales amid quarantining. Viewers are encouraged to buy drinks while watching, which they have been in droves; sales hikes of 40% on beer and 70% on one of the liquor brands compared to the same time period on the previous day, green-lighting its run post-quarantining.
German audio brand Sennheiser’s website is currently hosts music videos and live and ‘immersive recordings’ (bearing living-room-esque, low-fi sounds) from jazz clubs and electro sets to create an affinity with Covid-19’s stay-at-home audience.
5. Live, Direct & Ultra-Dynamic
As retail’s ultimate antidote to enforced isolation, live commerce has found its (gigantic) groove during the pandemic. From tele-health to beauty, it’s a plug-in and play world of instant thrills and virtual consultations offering equal parts distraction, community and connection.
Chanel has rebooted its Atelier Beauté store in NYC with virtual beauty chats with its ‘Master Artists’ and ‘Beauty Guides’ (from $18 to $20), while American ‘clean’ beauty retailer Credo has seen sales via its Credo Live feature soar. The software, which lets fans on its e-commerce site connect to sales associates in-store for 30-second chats (during which they can digitally chaperone customers onto specifically recommended product pages) saw a 34% increase in chats mid-March, spurring a 10% increase in conversion through the channel.
US medi-retail brands such as Ro and American Well are already offering e-assessments, stemming low-risk patients blocking more serious cases, while the opportunity for sports is rife: Under Armour and Lululemon have both rolled out expert-led livestreamed exercise classes via Instagram TV (neither monetised as yet), with the latter’s first 15-minute HIIT class already viewed 380,000+ times. A little more left-field, Outdoor Voices existing collaborator, under-the-radar American dance instructor Joeli Villa Cedeno is leading weekly ‘recess’ dance breaks from his kitchen.
Even sample sales are subject to the live treatment: London sample sale venue The Box has just transferred its physical sample sales onto Instagram Stories, needing nothing more than its DM’s to make money.
6. The Validation of Virtual Style
While sartorial-based spending may seem low-priority or even irrelevant in the leisurewear-dominated hole of lockdown, the need for self-expression (see no. 2) – style as a form of succour – is keeping fashion’s hopes alive. Particularly when connected to the generally booming discipline of digital design.
Based between London and Berlin, brand new streetwear company Rohbau has just released a digital hoodie conceived to service those seeking virtual escapism. Echoing Danish brand Carlings digital t-shirt last December (‘a project giving virtual fashion the accessible vibe brand land had been waiting for’) the digital-only, logo-emblazoned unisex hoodie can be superimposed over images of house-bound consumers in a bespoke service, for a cost of just €40 ($42.66).
The concept follows the announcement that WWD China and Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo are to launch the world’s first digital-only fashion weeks in April –globally live streamed events conceived to pioneer a new era of sustainable fashion summits; a Covid-19 spurred sea-change revealing the legacy of lockdown may yet be a suite of powerful, positive long-term changes.