Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
No one knows when or how the global crisis caused by the Covid 19 virus is going to end. We have even less idea of the changes it will bring to our lives, daily routines, and habits, and they are changing. The people at the leading global brands are just as worried as we are. It’s difficult in a situation like this to find the right moves to sustain a brand’s value on the market.
Value has, in itself, become very detached from the commercial approach we are used to – we need to stress the same virtues in brands as we normally seek in people. This quest for virtues was the theme of the second WeCann Live Panel, which discussed brands and their new roles in our lives during and after the pandemic:
- Harjot Singh, Chief Strategy Officer, Europe and UK, McCann Worldgroup
- Predrag Kurčubić, Director at Ipsos Strategic Marketing
- Katarina Pribićević, Strategic Director at McCann Beograd
- Richard Bonner-Davies, President, International Business, Services and New Market Development, I&F Grupa
- Lars Friberg, Executive Planning Director at McCann Stockholm
Inverting the Pyramid
The panel started from a simple enough thesis – along with the rest of the world, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been turned upside down. Our consumer society is now largely occupied with basic imperatives, including personal and familial safety needs and food. Richard Bonner-Davies believes brands will have to get used to this new reality, evolve, and find new purpose. Katarina Pribićević agrees with him:
“Basic needs and the regression we are currently going through are a logical train of events. We are currently focused on each other. Brands should be paying attention to our current self-awareness, how we are working on ourselves, changing our habits, adapting to change, and all the little things we more or less took for granted that have become crucial. We ask ourselves every day will we still want the things we wanted, or turned into habits, when we can finally go outside and start moving around again?”
People are impatient to get back to normal again, Pribićević concludes, and brands are going to have to look carefully at the intimate relations we’ve been limited to, because there is a transformation coming of the whole toolbox we use to communicate with consumers. The exact form will certainly differ by region and how the local public react to the “new normal”. According to Lars Friberg, “Swedes have enjoyed a drastically greater measure of freedom during the period of the pandemic, but the rest of the world looks on them as ‘rebels’ who think they’re smarter than the global virus.” It’s not useful to compare their lifestyle to the needs of the people of Serbia, who have just spent Easter in quarantine, but then flocked to the Ada Ciganlija last weekend:
“Ask people,” Predrag Kurčubić adds, “how they view their lives now, and they’ll tell you everything’s different, everybody’s wearing masks, nobody’s shaking hands or hugging, because were all aware of the virus and the risk for our families, but that it’s all within healthy limits of concern, not panic. People have adapted. I don’t think brands have.”
There are studies coming out every day that set out assumptions about what people expect of brands. Empathy and humanity dominate. Brands are expected to intervene, to be positive, to promote togetherness and neutralise stereotypes. Harjot Singh explains why this thinking is right:
“The context in which this thinking is being formed isn’t commercial. It’s essentially humanist. Whenever human beings feel they’re losing control or have no real idea of what’s going to happen, they go back to core values. While this lasts brands really can’t afford to return to ‘textbook’ patterns. They have to create a balance of accessibility and value. Be sensitive to people’s feelings and don’t try and distance yourselves from those feelings through your activities. You should be focusing exclusively on activities that render you accessible and positive.”
Panic has been a major factor and there have been obvious attempts at forced adaptation to the “new normal” in most countries. According to Katarina Pribićević, brands can act like “public services”, helping people deal with the pain. Even more will be expected of brands, however, including new rules to serve as guidelines in the “new” world.
“We’d be wise to slow down a little,” Harjot adds, “and take a good look at each brand’s value. What has, historically speaking, gone into building it up, and what about it makes people feel close to it? These really are powerful tools and they can restore a brand’s connection to basic human needs. When people start asking what really is fundamental or basic for them, it’s an ideal moment for brands to build on those views and transform their own narrative into something of value, closer, something people react to with a ‘they’re just like us’ response.”
In any case, people’s patience is running out. They’re not going to offer many second chances, and the stories that brands come up with have to show people they are looking at the world from the same perspective. Richard Bonner Davies boils down the future of brands to 3 virtues:
“The brand’s role is threefold. Humility, at the time of pandemic. Empathy and understanding for people. And the utility of the brand itself, which will be imperative in future.”
“We’ve all been under lockdown for about six weeks now,” Richard continues, “unless you’re in Stockholm (smile). We’ve all been forced to swerve into e-life, our children are e-learning, we are all e-socialising, and holding e-parties. For example, 33% of Swedes are doing their household shopping online for the first time in their lives. What’s that going to do retail and the brands that depend on it?”
It’s not just clients with existing e-distribution mechanisms. Some clients, Lars Friberg points out, are in mid-product development. They face a dilemma – should they limit their advertising and product placement to the Internet, wait, or just scrap the whole thing? “Online platforms are where it’s at today. You can buy anything on them,” Lars notes.
“It’s worth remembering that the answers are going to be common sense,” Harjot Singh says. “If we want people to do something a given way, we have to integrate it with their habits. Right now, people don’t really have much time for habits, which is why e-sales and social networks are key factors in maintaining the existence of brands at all.”
There is an ongoing Internet “explosion” of seeking other customers opinions, at least in e-purchasing. People are much less likely to start with Google. They are going increasingly to places like Amazon, where they can form some type of impression about what they’re looking for. As we get more comfortable with online life, brands will invest more in e-existence, especially now they find themselves under such enormous pressure.
“Even before the quarantine,” Harjot points out, “these questions were all raised in Prague. The answer was that instead of looking at square metres of shop floor we should be calculating ‘square metres of experience’, I mean the customer experience, how customers relate to each other, how accessible their experiences are, and so on.”
Katarina Pribićević offers a concrete example of the swift adaptation that can bring root and branch change to markets, from Serbia:
“The institution of the open market was shut down because of the situation, until just recently. Within 10 days of shutdown, a platform had already been created for online purchases of goods from the market, with home deliveries. The markets have since reopened, but there’s a real issue as to whether producers will prefer online sales to standard stalls. They’ve all started using multiple platforms, including social networks, and it’s totally changed how they look at things. A core habit is going to be transformed very suddenly.”
Predrag Kurčubić adds “I can confirm, from the experience of friends who are used to going to the market, how positively surprised they’ve been by deliveries and how expeditious they are. When you’ve no choice, you just ‘jump into the fire’ on the basis of raw instinct – now they’re all being pushed into that same fire, and not just advertising, but logistics, communication, and contact more generally are gaining in importance.”
There are also arguments against the idea that “old-fashioned” forms of shopping won’t be pensioned off for a while yet – not least, the social interaction they involve. Lars Friberg points out that people in Sweden enjoy going shopping, because “online shopping just isn’t as fun, more of a necessary chore.” Once the pandemic settles down, people will want to go out and buy things, maybe more than ever.
“Brands will have to be part of collective recovery for the public. The help they give on that path will, doubtless, be commercialised. Our first step is to situate ourselves on the ‘basic needs’ path with empathy, understanding, and general humanity. People will want brands that are closer to them, but not in terms of mere presence – it will be a layered relationship related to old habits changing and new ones arriving. We have to be there, without pomp or unnecessary fanfare. What we have to say to everyone is ‘we’re here, we’re with you’,” is Harjot Singh’s contribution to the panel’s conclusions.
Predrag Kurčubić adds that, on the other hand, people will still want contact with brands: “Their emotions will push them to look for answers and they will notice which brands are present, and which aren’t. That’s the new reality. There’s no going back to before. We will evolve and change, but we certainly won’t be going back to 2019.”
In the panel’s wrap-up, alongside a few humorous comments about Kim Kardashian and her “role” in the unfolding situation, participants turned their attention to the question of well-known individuals and their brands. “Celebrities” are under just as much pressure as brands, if not more. As individuals, they’re facing a serious test in the eyes of the public, and absolutely every influencing move they make sparks off condemnation or praise.
“Now, when we do see certain famous musicians, it’s basically as people, streaming songs from their living rooms, opening up to their fans, and this accessibility hasn’t made them more boring. Quite the opposite. Their (free) accessibility and the sense of closeness created with their audience will pay off for them several times over, while the ones who’ve decided to keep a distance may end up disappearing,” Lars Friberg and Harjot Singh conclude.
Richard Bonner Davies quite correctly emphasises the heroes in our new reality:
“The new heroes are the doctors and the nurses. My wife is a nurse and she will be listening as we applaud tonight. Science, knowledge, this is the new ‘cool’, and I hope brands will recognise this and build on this ‘new celebrity culture’.”
At the very end of the panel, the participants offered their advice to brands generally and how to build market trust during these tense times and those to follow the pandemic:
Predrag Kurčubić: “Don’t sit on your laurels. Engage continuously and learn about your customers – they’re not the same and they will not be the same tomorrow.”
Katarina Pribićević: “Don’t underestimate the power of the new things you can bring to the market, even if they are themselves evolving from week to week.”
Lars Friberg: “Be quick, but not too quick. No one has a crystal ball to tell them exactly what to do at any given moment.”
Harjot Singh: “People will get used to the new, and they will be more creative and ‘more comfortable’ with an ideology of doing things the easy way – don’t blind yourselves when it comes to such things, focus on what maintains your value within the new ‘ecosystem’. In the past, brands were expected to have solutions for all the problems in advance. The logical thing now is for us to look for them together. That’s the new dynamic.”
Richard Bonner Davies: “The coronavirus has taught me that we have a lot less control over our lives than we thought we did, but we have absolute control over what we buy and when. More than 80% of people think brands can make the world a better place. That’s why I believe that the empathy and understanding brands show can produce major results.”