Jeremey Gutsche from Trendhunter describes chaos as a state that presents new opportunities, but that only happens when we get out of a crisis disposition. By the time you read this, South Africa will be within the incremental lifting of a five-week lockdown. This might be different if you find yourself confined in other parts of the continent or the globe. Wherever you find yourself, you will have most likely recovered from the initial shock and, by now, have started a process of acceptance; you will have begun to come to terms with the fact that the world has changed. “The New Normal” is the phrase du jour, and even though we don’t exactly know what that means, you, most probably, now know that it means that we are and will be doing things differently, for the foreseeable future and, according to many, a forever change.
This change, however, does not mean that everything we know has gone out of the window. COVID-19 has not turned us into an entirely new species overnight. We still have birthdays and anniversaries to look forward to; we still want to look and feel our best (sweatpants got boring three weeks in), and we still have a fondness for sumptuous food and drink. What has changed is accessibility and resources. As marketers, our jobs are to connect with our consumer-communities, and connection has never been more critical. But how do we associate when some of our offerings don’t seem as relevant as they were two months ago, or if we simply can’t get our products to our community?
One of the most repeated messages I have heard over the last five weeks through webinars, Zoom sessions, articles and talks have been about the need for dependable leadership. For the most part, at the core of good leadership at the moment sits an empathetic and authentic connection to one’s team. This fundamental characteristic conveys precisely what marketers should be putting at the centre of decision-making.
Be human first, be a marketer second. Consider your consumer-communities’ realities, some of which you might relate to and some not, but try to walk a mile in their shoes and feel their current pain points. What are they concerned about? What do they care about? What information or education do they need? Who are they worried about and how have their lives changed? How will their lives continue to change?
It is a delicate balance at present; continuing to put business first, without a strong and inspired internal team and customers who trust you, employing an entirely business-first attitude, will not be sustainable. A co-creative combination of business needs and goals working parallel to customer needs and goals will be far more effective. Listening to your customer has never been as important. I heard the term forensic listening in the context of COVID-19 business response a while ago, and it stuck with me as it indicates a new level of listening skills we have to cultivate.
Working closely with your customer-community to understand their wants and needs is not the only partnership you should be thinking about at the moment. For several years now, we have seen a shift in how consumers engage with advertising and marketing. We know that always making your brand the hero has become stale. Brands have taken to collaboration and partnerships in a bid to engage the customer without seeming to “salesy”. That shift will be an increasingly valuable approach as the only thing currently that should be heralded as the hero is, above all, humanity. The survival, resourcefulness, togetherness, and tenacity of being human, together, is what consumers are concerned with at present. The number of free online resources is a testament to our human spirit that wants to help and see each other thrive when all is stripped away. Collectively, we have also realised the gravity of our inter-connectedness and the butterfly effect of when one human coughs in China, another loses their livelihood in Barcelona.
Act not advertise is another notion that has been circulating on the digital space, relating to how brands should and shouldn’t be responding to the effects of COVID-19. North American short-term rental heavyweight AirBnB has encouraged their hosts to make their rentals available to health workers through the use of a new platform developed by the company. They have, however, come under fire for not offering to assist with payments for cleaning rentals according to cleaning protocols, as well as for not offering hosts compensation after the company announced they would be refunding customers who cancelled bookings due to COVID-19. By now, we all know that no one silver bullet will help us fight this pandemic, so consumers are not expecting brands to be able to save all. However, consumers are expecting brands to act and to be authentic, truthful, and transparent about what they can and can’t do.
Louis Vuitton has recently launched an exercise equipment line and although luxury branded dumbells are not going to save the world, the solution speaks to their communities’ new needs. LMVH, the multinational that owns Louis Vuitton, was one of the first fashion houses to pivot to making masks and protective gear for health workers, balancing business as ‘unusual’ and acting to solve COVID-19-induced problems.
As a brand, your efforts to market new or existing products or services will be well received if it is done in a sensitive manner that shows a real understanding of your communities’ realities. We are all rooting for businesses to stay open, so be authentic and allow your brand to show their vulnerability. Always create solutions, no matter how small, and facilitate your consumer-community’s ability to make a difference, partner, collaborate and co-create. Let your employees shine and become brand ambassadors, and above all, be human.