There is nothing quite like a global pandemic to put consumerism and brand culture into perspective. The battle ahead of us combined with the restrictions preventing the spread of COVID-19 will bring a reassessment of how we prioritise brands. That being said, it will be very interesting to see who we will trust and support and which brands will fall by the wayside.
Certainly at the luxury end of the spectrum, there must be a lot of worried CEO’s. So much of this sector is about external perception and individuals projecting how they want the rest of the world to perceive them through the brands that they align themselves with. The question is: If our entire culture is internalising through self isolation who are we trying to impress?
The longer this crisis continues, the more our cultural priorities will focus on practicality rather than pea-cocking; and in that will there be a shift in what our perception of luxury really is? Our focus will naturally move from the fashionable to the functional and it will be intriguing to see if the luxury market responds to this or if they simply try and wait the whole thing out. Will the luxury market shift its focus to homeware perhaps as we focus more and more on what is permanently in front of us as we are stuck in our own four walls?
Certainly the process of purchasing luxury goods will shift, and in there lies another problem - online purchasing. Most of us might be quite happy to buy a new salt and pepper grinder on Amazon, however, luxury consumers are highly unlikely to buy their next Rolex online. A large part of the luxury experience lies in the retail process, and with that stripped away so is the majority of the appeal of the item. Could this bring a more tailored online and delivery process that goes some way to bringing a similar cache?
So how do brands at all levels respond to this unprecedented crisis? Authenticity, Communication and Compassion.
1: THE SHOW MUST GO ON:
This WILL pass, so burying our heads in the sand is not a viable option here. At a time of isolation, it is vital that companies find a way to continue to communicate with their consumers. Luckily in today’s society, there are several channels through which to do this. Companies must continue to use digital channels and social media to inform clients of offerings and continuation of service. This will provide consumers with confidence to remain in the marketplace. Keep moving forward, never stand still. Social media ensures that self isolation need not resemble true isolation. At a time when traditional media is trying to tell us it’s the end of the world, social media can be a powerful tool to spread hope and positivity.
The trouble is that when advertising budgets decline in order to cut spending, spending declines as companies fall out of the public's consciousness. Customers feel abandoned. They associate silent brands with a lack of staying power, allowing their cunning competitors to forge ahead as before to take the lead.
Interestingly, many big players have risen as startups from the ashes of steep declines. In the U.S., GE was formed from a merger shortly after the panic of 1873; Disney was founded during the recession of 1923-24; HP began out of a garage in the Great Depression; and Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft during the recession of 1975.
2: ADDRESS THE NOW BUT REMEMBER THE FUTURE:
Yes, in the short-term, companies will have to make all sorts of adjustments to their offerings and the consumer needs to be informed of these adjustments. But it is important to remember that aspiring for a better future is also part of this. We are constantly bombarded with worst case scenarios but never be afraid to look to a brighter future as long as its tempered by a realistic present. If you say nothing, you are invisible and if you are invisible, you will cease to exist in the consumers mind. Allowing consumers to forget you would be a bad place to find yourself in when we come out of this crisis.
3: GIVE BACK TO THE CONSUMER:
How can your business help the public at a time of crisis? Create a plan to do so, work towards achieving it and inform your consumer base through social media. All companies should have a solid CSR policy so adapt yours to suit the current crisis and tell the world about it. Show that you are supporting the public and your compassion will come back to you in the long run.
4: CUT THROUGH THE NOISE:
At the moment, we are all bombarded with contrary and confusing information so as a business you need to make sure that your brand voice is clear, consistent and comes from a place of authenticity. Define your message, deliver it creatively and with care.
Sure Balenciaga, Bvlgari and Burberry might sell a few less baubles over the coming months, but hopefully even they can focus on supporting the consumer in the short-term while sending out messages of positivity that the future is brighter. The fundamental truth that isolation brings us is that as industry and economies falter the only thing that will move us forwards is communication.