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Don’t play the COVID victim: adapt your brand now

During CV-19 brands will either be victims, opportunists or, like most, somewhere in the middle. And it’s these middle brands that need to adapt and now…

For the past two months, our world has been unlike anything we’ve seen before, and for Australian businesses, there have been a number of clear winners and losers.

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At one end of the spectrum, you have the victims, the businesses that could not survive without fundamental changes to the way they operate. Tourism, travel, entertainment, hospitality – brands in these industries have been given a simple choice – pivot or perish. Easier for some than others; while Merivale can deliver cocktails to your door, and gyms can turn to online programs and outdoor bootcamps, it is hard to imagine what Qantas or Virgin’s future might look like in a world that could face years without international travel, but they will have to find a solution if they want to have one.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the opportunists. Serendipitously, these brands offer products and services that are purpose built for a COVID-19 world. Hygiene brands have thrived in a world where hand washing is not just a matter of cleanliness but of public safety, while direct to consumer brands like Deliveroo, Who Gives a Crap and Marley Spoon delivered a touch of the outside world to a nation in lockdown. For these businesses, the directive is simple, make hay while the sun shines, but be wary to plan ahead; the halcyon days do not last forever.

But the vast majority of Australian brands sit in the middle – not boom or bust, but not business as usual either. For those operating in industries like FMCG, fashion, retail and alcohol, there may be a temptation to simply survive and plan for a ‘return to normality’. It is this mindset that makes the middle the most dangerous place for a brand to be.

For the first eight weeks of lockdown, Pollinate conducted BC/AC World, a weekly study of 1,000 Australian homes and their response to the COVID-19 crisis. When coronavirus first reared its head, we were stuck in the twilight zone, the world was changing in real time every day, we had no idea what our future might look like, and as a result many of us felt sad, scared and hopeless. But with time, we found our perspective shifting, as we rediscovered old passions and connected with the people closest to us, our hope and happiness steadily increased.

What has taken place over the last three months has been a fundamental review of our societal values and priorities. Given time and space to think, we noticed a lot of things we didn’t like about how our lives were before Covid: we neglected family and friends for work and obligation, we undervalued the ‘little things’ (even though they might actually be the big things), we chose convenience over nutrition in our food, and our wellbeing suffered as a result.

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Perhaps most importantly for brands, we recognised that we had become materialistic and wasteful; from fashion to groceries and everything in between. Oz Harvest knows that one in five shopping bags ends up in the bin, some $3,800 worth of groceries per household per year, Pollinate discovered that Australians actually know this about themselves, self-estimating the same figure of how much of their personal food shopping goes to waste.

COVID-19 has held up a mirror to the way we live, and many of us do not like what we see. At the beginning of this pandemic, we feared how it would force our society to change, but now we have begun to embrace it. BC:AC World brought to life how we want the future to be different – in a post-COVID world we want to see people live more meaningful lives, governments address big, global issues, and businesses put people first and product second. It is of little surprise that no industry is thought to be less relevant to life after coronavirus than Fast Fashion, hence why a brand like Gucci has become the first major fashion house to go seasonless.

This is exactly why the brands in the middle cannot afford to sit and muddle through, hoping for a return to normal: because that normal no longer exists. Our perspectives and values have shifted immovably, and it is naïve to think our habits and consumption won’t shift with them. Today, success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future. Now it is more important than ever for brands to cast their eyes forward, what does the new normal look like and what is their role in it? This is not a case of taking needless risks or change for the sake of change, but using data and insight to take calculated risks, to ensure relevancy well into the future.

Lenin once said ‘there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen’, to think that your brand can continue to operate unchanged in a post-COVID 19 world is akin to thinking it could operate the same way it did 30 years ago. All brands need to take on the same mindset as their consumers – moving past the fear of change, and finally embracing it.

By Howard Parry-Husbands, CEO of Sydney-based strategic research agency Pollinate
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