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Finding certainty in an uncertain world

07 May, 2020 Share socially

While it’s almost impossible not to feel the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, many previous norms, good and bad, are likely to return.

French luxury brand, Hermès, achieved $2.7 million in sales on the day it reopened in its flagship store in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The Financial Times reported that existing UK trends around homeworking, baking and scratch cooking had been “turbo-charged” in the last month. And the Economist noted that, based on previous crises, the current drop in global emissions due to COVID-19 would likely only be temporary***.

There is also another certainty looming. It now looks increasingly likely that COVID-19 will bring about a global economic downturn, even recession, and with it, a new set of pressures. This will change the supply-side arithmetic yet again as physically producing more, new and different products and services becomes something that not every business can reasonably afford.

For those who can, opportunities exist for their brands to show that they understand how and where they can meet human vulnerabilities as well as more traditional dreams and desires. One example is the utility or hospitality company that understands which parts of their customer journey to automate and which to leave well alone. Another is the technology or telco firm that’s big enough to ensure that every child has sufficient tech and internet speeds to learn remotely. And even more immediately than these are the global retailer, stadium owner and office-based employer who can make the return to their respective environments a supported, locally-adapted and personal experience for an understandably nervous public.

For those who cannot afford such physical, scaled design and innovation, growth opportunities still exist if they understand how their brands can more comprehensively meet psychological needs that feel real but cost less to produce and buy.

Volkswagen’s in-car sound actuators are a great example of this. These simulate engine noise to make drivers feel that they are going faster than they are, thus creating a raft of production, pollution and, presumably, accident rate savings alongside associated enhanced user experience, brand loyalty and advocacy.

At FutureBrand, we call these psychological needs end-user ‘preoccupations’ and have organised them into four broad groupings:

The FutureBrand Foresight Model

‘Money’ needs are those that people associate with their status, security, investment and consumption. ‘Health’ needs relate predominantly to physical, mental and emotional well-being. ‘Community’ needs concern how we feel about family, friends and our professional, social and societal connections. And ‘Environment’ needs focus on our workplace, neighborhood, resource requirement and planetary impact.

Good brands attend to one of these psychological preoccupations. Great brands play to a number of them at the same time, elevating how customers feel about the brand. It’s hard not to conclude, for example, that Tesla’s dramatic growth isn’t in large part due to its ability to play to both deep-seated personal status and investment needs (through its design and experience) and environment-related ones (through its resource use and planetary impact story). Similarly, brands like Peloton and Zwift drive a sense of community connection while also taking care of their users’ physical fitness and mental well-being.

Brands, large and small, that meaningfully and consistently address these lifelong preoccupations can expect to grow business even in uncertain times and in so doing, become truly future proof. Right now, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. A major role for smart, creative brand and marketing services agencies is to reverse this.

At CMG, we are excited about the future because we have a true diversity of talented thinkers and doers who value the power of collaborative ingenuity for mutual benefit (for ourselves and our clients). We believe that good things really do happen when different people come together.

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