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We’re human and so is our response to Covid-19

Over the last month we’ve interviewed over 10,000 people across the UK, Germany and France to understand life during coronavirus.

We’ve discovered that, to a large extent, we’re responding in all the ways you’d predict humans would, with the virus acting as an accelerant for things already afoot in our lives.

Winning over the next 6-9 months will inevitably be easier for brands either lucky enough to find their business model aligned with these corona times, or who can quickly flex to suit them.

How should your brand respond? Read on!

1. We’ll take care of you

Even on a good day, we’re all drawn to a feeling of Control – it gives us a sense of equilibrium and, on a practical level, allows us to do the boring stuff in life almost on autopilot.

In contrast, we fear disorder – and coronavirus is disorder on steroids. The invisibility of the transmission phase and the exponential growth in the death toll is terrifying.

We’re so scared we’ve accepted lockdown and retreated into our homes. We’ve also become beyond grateful to frontline workers who either fight the illness or get essential supplies to our homes. These are people who, three months ago, we probably barely thought about.

Our disproportionate need for Control right now makes us drawn to brands and people who keep things simple, provide clarity of message, adopt an authoritative tone and take concrete actions.

Some early winners are Bill Gates (who predicted a pandemic and has now pledged billions to find a vaccination), Tesco (who have nailed social distancing), Guinness (with their powerful stay-at-home adverts), and Angela Merkel (whose early intervention/testing approach has led to fewer deaths).

The recently announced COVID-19 team up between Apple and Google is interesting. Through tracking our movements, it will allow anyone who encounters a ‘virus carrier’ during their asymptomatic phase to be retrospectively notified. In the short-term, both brands will benefit from being seen to ‘keep us safe’. In the longer run, both could gain from being seen to use our private data for the greater good rather than to merely ‘make a buck’.

The epidemic has seen an onslaught of letters and videos from CEOs. The joint comms from the supermarkets nailed it with the ‘we’re working together, we’ve got your back’ message. More recently, however, the deluge of comms is felt more ‘bandwagon’ or ‘self-congratulatory’ than genuinely helpful – people want concrete actions not platitudes.

2. We’ll bring it to you

We’re scared – particularly in the UK and France, where death rates are much higher than in Germany. The upshot is that we now much prefer stuff to come to us rather than go out shopping.

We all need food, so the demand for online grocery slots is sky high, and there’s been an increase in the use of restaurant delivery services and subscription food boxes. All were on the rise before lockdown, but the virus has clearly accelerated growth.

Online pharmacies have also boomed – Google searches for these being 4 times higher at the end than beginning of March.

Beyond this, despite all the talk of ‘the pandemic making us appreciate a simpler life’, we still want non-essentials – and, with the inevitable economic impact of the virus yet to fully sink in at a personal level, the desire for ‘stuff’ is increasing all the time.

Naturally, the ‘stuff’ we want centres on things the crisis has made doubly attractive. These include digital distractions (Netflix, Disney+, TikTok and the recently launched Quibi), family fun (games, puzzles, crafts), treats (booze, home baking, confectionery), home/garden (paint, bulbs, cushions), comfy clothes, gifts etc.

So, now is the time for brands (who have quite rightly shut up shop to protect their employees) to work out how to bring things into our ‘bubble’ homes safely. If they don’t, Amazon will and coronavirus will be another vehicle for the transfer of wealth to Mr Bezos (whose company has historically paid low taxes and thus contributed little to our desperately needed healthcare services).

3. We’ll help you feel connected

Humans are social animals. We don’t survive well in solitary confinement and so we’re all busy reaching out to people we rarely see in regular times! Zoom has seen users grow from 10 million to 200 million in just 3 months. Houseparty, the video chat app, became the number one app in the Apple store in week one of lockdown. Moonpig, the personalised card company, has seen orders flood in.

A significant upside of seeing people we know/love is that it makes us feel grounded – and so helps us put back another brick in the foundations of our sense of Control. We quite literally feel ‘stronger from being together’.

We’re looking beyond our friends and family for a sense of connection. The weekly applause for the NHS, the supportive messages in our windows and the helloes from strangers across the road are all facets of this.

The Boris ‘I’m alive’ speech encapsulated this feeling of connection with the line ‘Our NHS is the beating heart of our country. It is the best of this country. It is unconquerable. It is powered by love’.

This need for connection and community is also evident in our support for local businesses – whose existence we fear for and want to protect. Deliveroo and UberEats offer a lifeline for small restaurants via home delivery. Watch out for new community-based businesses springing up once the epidemic has passed.

Over the coming months we’ll also see big brands playing to Belonging. Here are a few early good ones worth a watch: ‘What’s for tea?’ from Bird’s Eye, a St Patrick’s Day from Guinness, and Barilla, which pays tribute to ‘resilient Italy’.

Our very close personal relationships are also accelerating during lockdown too. Proposals (and babies!) will arrive quicker due to months of ‘normal dating time’ being compressed into a few weeks. However, cracks in existing relationship will widen and divorce rates will rise. Change always leads to brand opportunities – in this case for ‘help me to cherish togetherness’ or ‘ensure I’m not alone’.

4. We’ll help you find balance

Another important aspect of Control is balance – including the guidelines we set ourselves to keep damaging behaviours in check.

Before the virus appeared, we all had the stories we told ourselves. These could be about exercise twice a week, 10k steps, limited screen time, alcohol-free days, walk (don’t drive) to work, 5-a-day, or bed by 10pm.

For all but the iron-willed, it’s likely these stories will have been hard to live up to over the last few weeks – because we’re seeking comfort, we’re bored or simply feel we deserve a treat.

Work also usually provides balance, but working from home is a new thing for many of us and, for those furloughed (last week this stood at 23% of the working population), this has been taken away from them.

Brands who can help provide structure, routine and balance will find themselves in high demand.

An obvious beneficiary here is online education and wellbeing. In the last month, podcasts have blossomed, Joe Wicks has added one millions users and Google searches for Strava (the running app) have increased four-fold.

Beyond this there’s significant potential for food brands/supermarkets (balanced eating/drinking) and tech (balanced digital habits), hair/beauty brands (feeling unkempt makes us feel out of control) – and, even if most consumers are ignoring it at the moment, for financial institutions to help us maintain financial balance.

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