"The world is temporarily closed"

COVID-19: Accelerating Change

16 April 2020Josie Klafkowska

We are living in unprecedented times. In this episode, The Experience Makers explores how consumers are responding and how can brands act to help? 

In this episode of The Experience Makers, Gemma Milne is joined by Wunderman Thompson’s Neil Godber and Marie Stafford, who have both been closely examining the rapidly changing events. The conversation explores how consumers and brands are responding to the COVID crisis and what the world might look like PC – Post Corona.

Without giving too much away, here’s a snapshot of the conversation but download the episode now for the full story:

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A sense of control

Almost four weeks into lockdown, it’s no surprise that people are trying to reassert some kind of sense of control. Social applications have experienced a surge, driven by the natural desire to connect, when all our regular human connections have been cut off.

We're basically living out all our social moments online, from the water cooler conversation in the office to the meeting with mates in the pub. And we’re connecting with family – more regularly than we probably would before.

All of this is driven by the anxiety caused by a global situation, the enormity of which we’ve never experienced before. So we’re trying to replicate normal behaviours via technology, to make us feel as though our lives are still going on. We’ve been going to the theatre online, taking part in pub quizzes online and holding virtual cocktail parties. All to normalise a situation that, quite frankly, is very far from normal.

Phases of change

Neil describes three key phases of change that a crisis of this nature will typically manifest. The first is the acute outbreak. It’s happening, it’s real and the result is an enormous amount of uncertainty and mounting anxiety. Society is gripped and urgently assessing what needs to happen.

The ensuing recovery phase occurs when the immediate fires are out. It’s when we stop to breath and assess how we can try to cope. This is followed by the new normal. This is, for us, still the great unknown. What does society look like? This is not a temporary stage but the new on-going status quo.

A cultural shift?

Should we look East to foresee what a new cultural norm might look like? China, and other Eastern nations have introduced apps that can prove that citizens on the move are not ill or contagious. Could Western societies adapt to this level of surveillance and scrutiny?

An immediate reaction would be negative. But facial recognition is already on the rise and something that is being looked at by Western governments and, in particular, on the London tube system. If it came to a scenario in which you’d keep your job if you were willing to accept some kind of compromise on privacy, we may find society shifting.

What are brands doing?

I love Marie’s fantastic observation that, to do nothing, is to “fiddle while Rome burns”. But how have brands responded? Check out the podcast in full to find out what various brands are actually doing, whether it’s proactively helping vulnerable customers, supporting the NHS or alleviating the boredom for housebound consumers.

Then there’s the burning question, should brands even be advertising now or should they go dark and sit it out. Historical data shows that brands that stop spending as we enter a recession, will lose out. Share of voice and share of market correlate, even in crisis. And if you stop spending, it’s much easier for your competitors to cut through. But, and there's a big but, brands need to ask whether they can afford it and whether they can fulfill ensuing orders.

There’s little evidence from research so far that consumers want brands to stop advertising. Those being harder hit financially want more help from brands, they don’t want the familiar to disappear. And those that are less hard hit want brands to stay in contact too.

Sensitive messaging is absolutely key. Aspirational brands are losing out (especially seen in China), whereas those that are warm, relevant, emotional and talking about community, seem to be cutting through and are well received.

Accelerating change

COVID-19 could just be the biggest accelerator of change that we have ever known. A colleague was quoted last year as saying that if we felt change was rapid now, it was about to go exponential. Perhaps he’d had a premonition. Overnight jobs and roles that could possibly shift to remote working have done. Those that swore they’d never do grocery shopping online are doing. And our homes have become mini empires. Command centres from which our thankfully well-connected worlds are controlled.

We’ve gone from E-commerce to E-everything. And brands are playing catch up with the logistics and ecosystems that exist around that. Deploying great non-digital hacks such as mini drive-throughs in car parks for grocery pick up. In Neil’s words, “the acceleration of brands to thinking about how they move towards E-everything will be pheomenal”.

So, what practical advice would Neil and Marie give brands right now? Download the podcast to find out now

Author: Josie Klafkowska
Published: 16 April 2020
change managementWPPcustomer insightdigital transformationfuture ready

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