Head of Operations and Management
In a matter of months, our daily lives have been transformed in ways we could not have anticipated. As consumers, we’ve been hurtled into a place of discomfort brought about by societal changes that are occurring faster than anyone would like. In a collective effort to overcome this global pandemic of COVID-19, we’re staying home for extensive periods of time and spending more hours working, communicating, shopping or socialising from behind our screens than ever before. It’s propelled us into a digital-first age, whether we were prepared for it or not.
Unsurprisingly, the ideas that define the spectrum of social acceptability are rapidly changing. We are turning to digital platforms to meet needs that we never imagined could be digitally met. Habitual social occasions like religious worship, weddings, after-work drinks and even children’s play dates have become commonplace online.
These changes in what defines social acceptability are unearthing a new range of consumer needs that brands have to meet in innovative ways. The phrase “the future is digital” is no longer relevant: the present is now the most digitally reliant tense. Never has it been more important for brands to accelerate their digital innovation and maturity in order to remain relevant.
As a result of the current societal shift, brands are finding themselves at the crossroads of a new reality, a so-called new normal, and faced with adopting one of two mindsets.
The first of these is easier to adopt, a belief that the changes society is undergoing are temporary and serve as a mode of survival until the crisis subsides, and that life can return to what it was before COVID-19. I like to call this mindset the “let’s-just-wait-it-out” mindset, and the reason I classify it as the easier of the two is because it does not ask brands to step too far outside their comfort zones.
This mindset, if equated to the Kübler-Ross model on the five stages of grief, allows brands to remain in a state of denial (peppered with occasional bouts of anger and bargaining). This isn’t permanent, it’s unfair and not our fault, but if we just sit tight and adapt for the time being, we’ll be okay.
The biggest problem with this ostrich-like mentality is that it breeds blame and stagnation. It holds brands in a limbo between the past and the future, allowing them to blame being stuck on something they believe to be beyond their control. Right now, these are the brands that are lying low, keeping their marketing strategies and budgets on hold and waiting to see when they can pick up where they left off.
The second mindset is that of acceptance and adaptation. This is the harder of the two because it demands that brands embrace the unknown and seek out opportunity amidst the chaos. It is also premised on the belief that things will never return to how they were before the pandemic struck, and that the changes we are undergoing are not temporary but are indeed the new norm.
This mindset is the opposite of the blame-game: it strives to adapt in the best way possible and gives credit to the chaos for unearthing new opportunities. It’s the “let’s-make-lemonade” mindset, and if brands are not only to survive, but also to stand a chance at thriving, it is the only mindset they should be adopting, and fast.
The 2008 financial crisis marked a turning point in digital consumerism. It propelled the emergence of brands like Uber and AirBnB who identified and catered to digital and societal needs that arose as a direct result of the financial crisis. Uber was born out of a dual need: there were people who could no longer afford their own cars but needed an alternative to public transport, and people who needed to generate extra income as part-time drivers. AirBnB was created to service the exact same need for affordable accommodation.
Both of these brands placed the consumer-need, coupled with a digital-first approach, at the heart of their brand purpose and made – and in the case of Uber with their current home grocery delivery services, continue to make – bucket loads of lemonade. It will be all about how they adopt the adaptation mindset right now that will determine if they’ll be able to keep their brands relevant.
A local brand currently making lemonade is Bottles: the app that delivers alcohol to your door in under 60 minutes. Their entire business model has been pulled out from under them with the prohibition of alcohol sales over South Africa’s lockdown period. The brand innovated quickly, forming a partnership with Pick n Pay in delivering groceries. Their drivers have been able to retain their jobs as the brand continues generating revenue and, more importantly, remains relevant to its consumers. With a 37% increase in online shopping over the last two months, Bottles has positioned themselves perfectly to add value where it counts1. Hopefully, this will see them survive the economic downturn we are facing as a result of COVID-19.
The time for digital transformation has never been more prevalent. The marketing channel that has undoubtedly seen the biggest surge as a result of the COVID-19 crisis is digital marketing. And the brands that are focusing all their marketing efforts on improving their digital footprint stand the best chance of weathering the COVID-19 storm.
However, it is this digital transformation that an average of 60% of brands admit to being behind the curve on2 . Never before have brands needed to be more digitally-savvy because never before have they been caught as badly with their pants down. We’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.
To the brands that are “waiting-to-see”, my advice would be to wake up and smell the home-brewed coffee. The time to play the blame-game is over. To survive, you’re going to need to be brave, to venture into this new digital-first terrain – and give credit to the chaos as we all embrace this new normal.
The brands that are not afraid to be different, and who are fearless in pioneering this digital-first terrain, will be the ones consumers turn to and come to rely on. These will be the brands we will form loyalties to, for we will look back and remember them for being ballsy when it counted most.
1 Recent Nielson syndicated study
2 Statistic based on a recent online poll conducted by Galetti South Africa