Daniel Bluzer-Fry (pictured below) is an Account Director at Pollinate, a research-driven strategic consultancy, In this guest post, he tries to make sense of the mayhem we’re all now confronted by and the threats (and opportunities) agency land now faces…
Then next few months aren’t going to be fun. Beyond the impact of a public health crisis in which swathes of the global population will get sick, our hospitals will find themselves overwhelmed, and people will prematurely die, the systemic knock-on effects are also going to provide their fair share of headaches.
Most immediately and tangibly, we’re entering a significant and sudden recession.
It’s hard to think about too many industries that won’t be adversely impacted by the current state of play… and this will impact the livelihoods of many. But what about the knock-on effects? If people are unable to generate income and are being forced to lockdown in their own homes for prolonged periods of time, the stress and friction this will cause will be unprecedented.
The horror that is domestic violence traditionally surges over the Christmas and holiday period so it’d be a safe bet to say nationwide at home incarceration, with stress beyond Christmas levels is making 2020 is look like an outright nightmare.
And what about mental health in general? We’re already beginning to witness stress-inducing panic buying and racism at one end of the spectrum, whilst at the other end, community activities such as sports and live music, which promote connection, a sense of belonging and wellbeing, are being suspended or cancelled outright. This is especially acute for the one in four people who live on their own and many older people, already feeling isolated in society and most at risk from this disease live on their own (15 per cent of Australians who live alone are over 80).
So what does this mean for brands?
We can draw some insight from literature studying the impacts of maintaining marketing activities through a recession. Whilst many brands will cut back on a variety of marketing activities through this period, for those that are steadfast and committed to weathering the storm, at the most basic level, it’s been shown that reducing ad spend can result in a loss of share of mind.
For those that maintain or even increase their spend, they stand to gain an increased share of voice, and in turn an increased share of market, which typically delivers increased profits. Furthermore, the cost of advertising typically goes down in this period, giving those who stick the course even more bang for their buck in a buyers market.
But this is only one marketing activity. And with the backdrop of a pandemic, maintaining or potentially increasing ad spend may not make sense for all sectors or even be feasible. So what may be the other slivers of opportunity for brands?
Extreme times, extreme consumers and the opportunity to drive innovation
Extreme consumers can provide incredible insights to inform innovation. Imagine you’re a detergent company looking to identify what your pipeline could look like over the next 5 years or a sports brand looking to find whitespace to create new products to increase your bottom line. In both of these cases, talking to your average consumer may not provide the necessary inspiration to really break the mould, and help unearth unconventional opportunities that can provide a strong return on investment.
Extreme consumers exhibit unconventional behaviours, but more importantly, have needs that may typically be latent – hidden beneath the surface – to your average consumer, and talking to them may provide a golden nugget of insight that can create transformational change.
In the case of the detergent company, looking outside the box may involve talking to people with OCD and amplified hygiene issues. This may reveal frictions and needs that lead to product ideas that may appeal to a broader market through addressing a latent need.
In the case of a sports brand, well, imagine talking to a bunch of consumers who don’t use sneakers when they go running, stumbling across a subsegment who run barefoot, and then, going on to develop barefoot runners and opening up new revenue opportunities. Yes, these things have happened … and proved highly worthwhile exercises.
And here’s the point: right now, a whole heap of us are going to become extreme consumers by default if say … we’re to go into lockdown. How will our habits at home change? What needs may bubble to the surface that haven’t really occurred to the majority of us as of yet. One thing is also for certain … when we come out of this, there will be behaviours that may have permanently shifted, and understanding these and tapping in will provide a wealth of opportunity for the brands that know what’s going on. If nothing else, we’ll all be washing our hands properly from now on.
Play a meaningful role – build a meaningful connection
In coming months, there may be opportunities to play a more meaningful role in people’s lives through addressing the tensions people are feeling in their day-to-day from the needs they can no longer fulfil as they used to (or never had the time to fulfil in the past).
If local sports clubs are suspending activity, what will people do not simply to stay fit and healthy? The more significant question is, what will people do to find the sense of community and connection that these institutions provide in daily life?
And what about enabling and encouraging people to embrace their creative sides? Playing a role that encourages and enables people to invest their energy into outlets they previously may have neglected may create a world of benefits not just for certain individuals, but for society as a whole.
For instance, what if somebody who has been laid off work and is in a pressured domestic context directs their energy into learning and creating music, and develops an outlet for self-expression. Perhaps this could be the release that reduces arguments they have with a partner and helps bring a greater sense of calm and harmony in an already tense environment. Identifying how a brand, product or service can deliver to these newly evoked needs can unlock potential growth, both now and in the future.
Certain human needs will be amplified in very unique ways over the coming months, and the opportunities for brands to build connection may be as broad as encouraging free product trials through to deploying technological solutions to help fulfil human needs. If brands step up to the plate, this is a time where meaningful connection can be formed that delivers return on investment long into the future. People are going to be literally sitting at home looking for new things to try!
So on the whole, amidst a backdrop of fear and panic, there’s may have never been as great a need for marketers to think creatively and out of the box. There are no doubt opportunities out there, which if tapped into through some careful deliberation, may not simply ensure brands survive, but help them thrive in the future.
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