Date:Friday, April 24, 2020
Author:Charlie Gilbert

There were warnings that an infectious virus posed a bigger threat to global stability than war. But when it arrived, the scale of the disruption blindsided everyone.

The ways in which consumers and brands are responding to the coronavirus crisis, however, aren’t entirely unexpected.

From empathetic engagement strategies to the revolution of our working practices, many of them corroborate a selection of consumer shifts we identified in the years and months prior to the pandemic.

Before we revisit seven of them in the context of Covid-19, we’d encourage you to ponder the following words from Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari, writing in the Financial Times about a post-coronavirus world.

“Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life,” he said. “That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes.”

May 2016: The Business of Wellbeing

What we said: Brand value, our Business of Wellbeing Macro Trend stated, would soon depend on supporting consumers’ health and wellbeing goals. In it we highlighted the Wellbeing Warriors – an emerging tribe that strive for physical and mental wellbeing in every environment. We encouraged brands to reach these warriors by focusing on ‘everywhere wellness’ – a concept that’s exploded as consumers no longer have the freedom to visit the locations they want.

What’s happened since Covid-19: Brands are capitalising on this support-focused shift across the physical and virtual realms. In the former is everything from the smartwatch mobilising people to safely share their health data – for the good of the general public – to the development of an antiviral textile treatment. In the latter, brands are creating resources to help people deal with pandemic anxiety. In Inventive E-Commerce Reactions, published on March 30, we exposed the potential of the indoor-fitness boom, and how brands are allying themselves to it via live-streamed classes.

June 2017: Empathetic Brand Engagement

What we said: In 2017, we uncovered how smart brands were implementing empathetic engagement strategies, and how these were helping them connect with huge numbers of consumers with more nuanced needs.

What’s happened since Covid-19: In an age of pandemic-induced empathy, we’re now seeing more strategies like these – and they’re becoming ever-more inventive. Brand-backed safe spaces in particular – both physical and virtual – are really coming to the fore. Sainsbury’s, for example, responded to soaring levels of stockpiling with on-shelf messaging designed to present a more united, compassionate front. Influencers got empathetic too, by offering participatory routes to joy and wellness. In Rapid Retail Responses to Covid-19, published March 25, we profiled two video campaigns achieving tangible results: Boots’ YouTube series answering Covid-19-related questions (which is brilliantly cultivating long-term brand trust), and Marks & Spencer’s ‘Can I freeze it?’ series, which is reducing food waste and elasticising struggling shoppers’ budgets.

September 2017: Reflexive Retail: Live, Emotional & On-Demand

What we said: Brands had to take their digital offerings to the next level. Why? To engage with consumers demanding real-time, reflexive concepts that acknowledge them and their needs. We urged brands to start using live-streaming technology “to channel consumer desire for both the human touch and experience-led retail – giving access to product tours, expert advice or exclusive auctions that leverage FOMO (fear of missing out)”.

What’s happened since Covid-19: We’ve watched Covid-19 propel the power of live commerce, with selling via live streaming really taking off. Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com launched a live-streamed club experience, Giorgio Armani live-streamed a show, and Diane von Furstenberg staged a live-streamed charity event from its flagship store. Back in February (which frankly seems a lifetime ago) we profiled the concerts in China going online, and Art Basel virtually presenting the works that would have been displayed at its Hong Kong art fair. In Rapid Retail Responses to Covid-19, we announced that live commerce has “come of age” during the pandemic.

October 2017: The Work/Life Revolution

What we said: Our autumn 2017 Macro Trend encouraged brands to support at-home working – in light of employees desiring greater flexibility, actively pursuing wellbeing, and striving for self-improvement. These consumer needs, now more acute than ever, would create whole new categories for employers to cater to.

What’s happened since Covid-19: The extent of these needs was highlighted by March’s Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, which revealed that 78% of respondents expect businesses to respond to the coronavirus by protecting employees and the local community. In terms of how they’re being met, the fashion industry is a particularly interesting case study. We uncovered its new-found ability to work from home – models are self-shooting in their living rooms, for example, while staff at Vogue China are using video conferencing to facilitate the creative direction of future issues.

November 2018: Design Directions A/W 20/21: Grounded

What we said: Our Grounded Design Direction predicted that homes would become self-sustaining ecosystems, while natural light and greenery – vital in supporting our emotional and physical wellbeing – would become the new pillars of design. Ventilation and resourcefulness would play key roles too, as more people opt to remain ‘grounded’ in home-based nature.

What’s happened since Covid-19: People are spending days and weeks on end at home, which our experts have described as “ultimate nesting”. Their need for self-sufficiency has never been greater – not just for their health, but also their productivity. Grounded, then, feels especially relevant as the majority of us forcibly shift to a markedly different, self-contained lifestyle – one that will have lasting implications for the environments we choose to spend time in.

September 2019: Aspirational Altruists

What we said: Consumers would increasingly expect brands to use their power to drive positive change – like making longstanding, practical and generous commitments to key issues. We identified the CEOs making their voices heard on such issues, and how they’re earning consumers’ respect by taking a stand – a trend that’s now intensifying almost with almost every passing week.

What’s happened since Covid-19: The StopTheSpread initiative in the US brought together more than 1,500 chief executives to work on practical solutions to curbing Covid-19 – with Americans seeing a partnership between business and government as the ideal path out of the crisis. Elsewhere, we’ve revealed how alcohol brands like Brewdog are producing hand sanitiser, hotels are opening their doors to the homeless, and luxury brands are supporting local medical facilities. Prada, for example, donated six intensive care units to three Milan hospitals.

November 2019: Food on Prescription

What we said: Part of our Healthcare Opportunity Spotlight Trend, Food on Prescription boldly stated that food is “our most potent tool for physical and mental wellbeing”. This, we said, presented a huge opportunity to healthcare providers, retailers and brands to effectively heal populations with a food-first approach.

What’s happened since Covid-19: Our Covid-19 + Food: What Are We Eating? report, published on April 2, profiled Tastewise, a food intelligence start-up that uses artificial intelligence to identify which foods and drinks consumers are seeking. Tastewise has already found that online mentions of stress-reducing rosemary are up 114% from last year, and calming camomile 81.5%. Fermented foods, which calm and balance the microbiome, are also rising in online mentions.

For the latest brand responses to Covid-19, check out our Coronavirus: Daily Updates & Brand Responses feed. And if you’re interested in finding out how we can help you navigate this trickiest of times, why not request a demo?