Will we look back at Coronavirus as an isolated period of upheaval, or a moment of cultural transformation?
According to a swathe of commentators, our post-corona society will be reborn as far less materialistic, more altruistic and increasingly socially aware.
A large part of me is hopeful that this is true.
However, I have noted several high profile speakers in the creative marketing industry being far less optimistic. As Mark Ritson wrote last month: “Predictions of fundamental change after Covid-19 are driven by the biased perspectives of those making them – in reality, most things will go back to how they were.”
I have to disagree.
The shifts we’ve seen towards social awareness and sustainability were happening long before lockdown.
This has simply accelerated those trends.
As creatives, we now have the opportunity to help positively move the dial even further - by being even bolder in how we transpose lockdown learnings into our post-corona creative economy.
Build back better
With a glimmer of the end in sight, we have the opportunity to 'build back better' and bring to life the vision of the economy we want - sustainable, fair and meaningful.
This is about the aspects of lockdown culture that we should strive to hold on to; from the acknowledgement of the vital role key workers play in our society to appreciating the power of human connection and shared experience.
We know that despite government support, many businesses will shut their doors, thousands of shops will never reopen and many will be left jobless after Covid-19.
I fear that predictions of a post-corona ‘revenge spending’ boom that will provide a much-needed boost to the economy, are misplaced. In China, where this revenge spending was set to lift the country out of the mire, it’s already proving to be a myth.
In the UK, many will simply not have the disposable income to engage in consumer splurging, and it will be seen as reckless and distasteful to buy expensive handbags or suchlike.
Rather than shopping being a much-anticipated relief, we will be seeking ways to celebrate our freedom in more meaningful ways.
As a creative brand strategist I’ve been looking at my role in this, knowing that I don’t want to return to empty consumerism and spending for the sake of more ‘stuff’. And I know I’m not alone.
What’s clear is that it’s not ‘stuff’ we are missing - it is social interaction, human company and shared experiences.
Online and offline
Lockdown has propelled us into the true experience economy, where the role for brands is to help consumers towards a better self, using experiences to help them become healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.
Let’s not pretend, though, that there will be no appetite to spend.
It’s just on what - and as original exponent of the experience economy model Joe Pine says, "experiential is the most profitable type of attraction in terms of spend per minute."
However, when we talk about brand ‘experiences’ and experiential marketing we tend to think of the physical - from pop-ups to branded dining or music experiences. Not particularly revolutionary but, with lockdown, the idea of an ‘experience’ has been turned somewhat on its head.
How can a brand with a physical product create an online experience at a distance that is relevant, meaningful and creates a true moment to engage with their brand and product?
Some refer to this strategy of blending the offline with online as ‘Phygital’ - for the sake of brevity, I’m adopting it!
During lockdown we have seen innovative brands getting creative with their digital strategies. For instance Air Experiences (from Airbnb) have online courses that include meditation with Buddhist monks in Japan, cooking with a Moroccan family, salsa-making classes in Mexico and going on a virtual tour of Chernobyl through the perspective of dogs. But imagine how these could have been enhanced if you had a package delivered to your door that included Japanese incense and a meditation bowl, or the ingredients for the salsa with a margarita kit - maybe not a radioactive dog though!
The opportunity here is to marry online content with offline products to create complete experiences.
Meeting the challenge
One of a brand’s hardest challenges is how do you get into people’s homes and hearts and now has never been a better time to add that value and really connect people.
As Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT recently wrote:
“Perhaps we can use our time with our devices to rethink the kinds of community we can create through [our devices]. This is a different life on the screen from disappearing into a video game or polishing one’s avatar. This is breaking open a medium with human generosity and empathy. This is looking within and asking: “What can I authentically offer? I have a life, a history. What do people need?” If, moving forward, we apply our most human instincts to our devices, that will have been a powerful COVID-19 legacy.”
This is the challenge for brands post-corona.
What can they authentically offer in response to what people really need; human connection, meaning and emotive experiences?
Last month the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) noted that ‘today, more than ever, the importance of culture and creativity for society is clear.'
While it highlighted the importance of creative industries on our mental health during lockdown, it also acknowledged that there will now be new opportunities for brand and marketing creatives to positively impact society in the long term.
This is the call we need to harness our newly discovered online communities with offline connection to create blended experiences that deliver on the new society we want to flourish.
I’m ready for the challenge!