Opinion

Finding balance during the COVID crisis

As we settle into this new pandemic era, brands are reassessing their own purpose and helping consumers to adjust to new ways of living and working.

Jess Jones
By Jess Jones
Posted 06. 10. 2020
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The past six months have turned life as we knew it on its head. We’ve been tracking brands as they adapt and pivot to help customers, colleagues and communities navigate the challenging new landscape. From innovative queuing solutions, through to designing for vulnerable groups and developing local format strategies, we’ve been exploring ways for brands to turn barriers into opportunities and prove that in times of uncertainty, creativity wins.

As we settle into this new pandemic era, a key emerging theme is the idea of rebalance - whether that’s brands reassessing their own purpose, or helping consumers to adjust to new ways of living and working. In modern psychology, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs reveals how we have a tiered approach to satisfying our needs, starting with the most basic and working our way up to grow, evolve and achieve our full potential. But the current climate has totally disrupted this, throwing the hierarchy out of kilter and re-ordering consumer priorities (The School of Life's simple desk-top tool can help visualise this).

We take a look at how brands have been embracing this recalibration of values and behaviour and why it will stand them in good stead for the post-pandemic future.

Realigning values and actions

For brands, this has been a time for reassessment. Agile brands will have used this time as an opportunity - forced or not - to reflect on their own core purpose and inspire behavioural changes and a fundamental attitude reset. Those with thin stories and vague direction will fail to survive - there has never been a better reason for brands to revitalise their offers and reassess what their role is in a world where we have all been forced to look at how we live and what’s truly important.

It’s been well-documented that the younger generation is a key driver of the power of purpose. But it’s not just Gen-Z who are behind this push. In China, 81% of millionaires now demand that brands act in a more ethically responsible manner if they wish to court their custom (Agility Research & Strategy, 2020). 44% of luxury buyers have also admitted their purchasing decisions are now influenced by a company’s ethical and sustainability credentials (Altiant, 2020). So with this wider cross-section of society agreeing that values mean more than ever before, brands should take note and rebalance their behaviour.

Gucci has been one such brand, launching their new online platform Gucci Equilibrium as a commitment to sustainability & transparency. Their refocussed missions to support diversity, female empowerment and the planet help to counteract past negative stereotypes of the fashion industry. Selfridges’ Project Earth initiative is also timely - a strong and multi-faceted campaign to promote sustainability through a range of new services including Rent, Repair, Resell and Refill, in order the way we shop for the better. Actions like these are bound to be popular with eco-friendly audiences and help position these brands as purpose-led change-makers.

Priding themselves on their progressive beliefs, US streetwear brand KITH has acted with purpose by closing their flagship stores - not only in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement after the shooting of Jacob Blake, but so they can be repurposed as voter registration hubs in the midst of a vital political moment for America.

Shifting demand from fast to slow fashion has also slanted brand behaviour and led to sustainability holding greater weight. American Eagle launched its new Unsubscribed concept in the Hamptons in summer, with the product range made up of small labels from around the world with a sustainable focus.

Brands need to reevaluate what and who they are for before they can truly be fit for this new, post-pandemic era - realigning core brand views and values will help them find a new equilibrium.

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Readjusting to new consumer priorities and behaviour

The pandemic has put a strain on wellbeing in all respects - physical, mental and financial. With the growing prioritisation of health and fitness, consumers have been changing their behaviours and engaging with experiences that allow them to reset their minds and bodies.

Brands such as Headspace have been helping customers do this, offering free membership to those who have lost their jobs and introducing specialised meditations to help users adapt to sudden change. US swimwear brand SUMMERSALT has taken action to connect with its audience on a more personal level, launching a free text line to inspire hope and reach out at a time where mental health is a top priority. Members of the brand’s Customer Happiness team provide joy on-demand, responding to incoming texts with meditation videos, self-care ideas and uplifting GIFs to help customers readjust to the new world we live in.

And a broad range of brands are also helping to support consumers in their new-found health and fitness journeys. Sainsbury’s has launched a gamified experience on their app this month, awarding extra Nectar points to customers when they make healthy product choices. Apple has just unveiled plans for its new Fitness+ subscription service, streaming workouts straight to devices to respond to a growing demand for at-home exercise. There are plenty of opportunities here for brands to reposition as long-term health and fitness partners to support their customers in new-found pursuits.

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Readdressing the work/life balance

As businesses across the globe adopted WFH policies, the line between work and home life began to blur - and that brings its own challenges and adjustments.

Buffer’s State of Remote report finds that nearly a fifth of remote workers struggle with switching off at the end of the working day, the biggest challenge being the merging of work activities with their domestic lives and leisure time. We’ve seen a couple of great ‘home-office-away-from-home’ solutions from hotel brands reacting to this issue over the past couple of months. Zoku hotel in Amsterdam is offering rentable WorkLofts providing all the usual WFH comforts - food, coffee, WiFi & a spacious desk - but with a change of scenery to help even out the work/life balance. And London’s Hoxton hotel group has evolved its ‘Working From’ initiative - a new coworking space where home comforts meets hotel living - to offer a variety of spots to suit different working styles, including a duvet day option for those preferring to work from bed.

For some, the novelty of WFH wore off fast, for others it has been a taste of newfound flexibility. As offices begin to reopen, it will be more vital than ever for brands to provide a stimulating environment that galvanises teams, as well as offers the necessary facilities and support, particularly when re-motivating staff after long home-working stints. We’re likely to see a new hybrid office format growing in popularity - one that strikes the right balance and considers workers’ desires to remain connected, but on their own terms. Our recent workplace concepts for Virgin Media and Nationwide both take this into account, with open-plan communal areas encouraging collaborative and agile working in the next-generation workspace (we have more thoughts on this new workplace revolution - contact d.wright@dalziel-pow.com to read the full report).

With WFH being one of the defining trends of 2020, brands should ensure they are doing all they can to respond to their workers’ shifting needs and strike the right balance in the home and office working experience.

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Trends that we saw coming over the next few years have been accelerated into the last six months thanks to the pandemic, and brands and consumers have been forced to readjust quicker than they would have liked, throwing their needs and priorities out of kilter. But by adapting and embracing this COVID-era recalibration, brands will be able to remain stable and fit for this new era and prove that in times of uncertainty, creativity wins.

For more information on how we can help you recalibrate, please get in touch at creativitywins@dalziel-pow.com.

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