The shared trauma of the COVID-19 global pandemic has given us all a common reference point, and it now seems the whole world is looking for value in a more profound way.

The pandemic has set the world on its head. But it’s not all bad. Some changes suggest a shift in values and expectations that could be of long-term benefit. And it means we marketers need to adapt our approach, our work, and our clients.

All of a sudden, products and things have become less important than ideas and insights. Creativity has become central to business processes. Sometimes the actual execution of a campaign can be a value proposition in itself.

“Think about it: the top-valued GAFA companies don’t make consumer goods; they make systems that let you do stuff,” says Colin Nagy, Partner & Head of Growth at FRED & FARID New York.

Buying Less, Doing More

Today’s customers are tending towards owning less and doing more, and more focused on buying high-quality than in being driven by price alone. Consequently, they expect something from campaigns beyond being persuaded to purchase something, and they are quicker than ever to check what’s on the label and in the fine print.

“The pandemic is putting a strain on customer loyalty to brands,” says Severine Autret, Partner & General Manager at FRED & FARID Paris.

As a consequence, we are seeing an epic change in what customers want and expect from brands.

“Our approach in developing campaigns should always start through the consumer lens. How do we solve their problems, both big and small, focusing on the brand’s role within their lives,” says Nathan Smith, Global Business Director at FRED & FARID Los Angeles.

A recent consumer sentiment survey by McKinsey showed that some 61% of those participating claim that how a brand responds during the crisis will have a large impact on whether they continue buying it when the crisis is over. And the surge in consumer activism that has arisen during the pandemic has made customers realize how much power they have in making large corporations accountable.

“There’s a feeling of solidarity, a feeling that no matter where we are in the world, we all face a similar problem,” says Jules Chaffiotte, New Business Director at FRED & FARID Los Angeles. “And that tends to bring people together.”

Indeed, that togetherness can strengthen the links between colleagues in far-flung locations, which can also lead to a more creative work environment.

“We had always worked closely with our offices in the US and Paris,” says Adrien Goris, Creative Director at FRED & FARID Shanghai. “But during the pandemic, we’ve had to rely on each other in more substantive ways to carry on business on behalf of our clients. And this has brought us a great deal of emotional and creative satisfaction.”

Customer Loyalty

Comments by Bain & Co in Brand Equity in April suggest that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, customers will be most loyal to companies that treat their customers and employees well. And the focus consumers most value is “digitally bridging the divide with the outside world, reducing anxiety and effort, promoting wellness and reducing risk, offering entertainment, providing hope, and doing good things for people and society.” That also means brands need to be careful about choosing projects to become involved with and to make clear commitments to causes they believe in.

“The brand that is seen to be taking advantage of the current situation, of taking on a project solely for the optics, will soon be called on the carpet by today’s empowered consumers,” says Chelsea Steiger, Creative Director at FRED & FARID Los Angeles.

Brands today must communicate a strong sense of purpose: what does it stand for? Where and how can the brand make a difference? And how do actions back up the stated beliefs? And how do we measure the impact of these good intentions?

“We can no longer deploy digital marketing without the right scientific approach and measurement capacities such as basic analytics, lead nurturing, conversion, and attribution,” says Paul Lin, Business Director at FRED & FARID Shanghai.

What do we know so far about changes in consumer behavior? For one thing, the pandemic has generated unprecedented challenges to consumers’ brand loyalty. According to McKinsey, roughly 20 percent of US consumers have switched to a store brand, and almost half of them say they intend to stick with their new choices. Thrift is a big reason: more evidence that today’s consumers — concerned foremost with health and the economy — are putting value before glitzy luxury on their shopping lists. Another key factor: 55 percent of consumers reported turning to brands they trust during lockdown.

Shifting Shopping

“These findings point to the consumer’s being in a different state of mind,” says Laurent Leccia, Partner & Executive Creative Director at FRED & FARID New York. “He or she is doing more shopping from home, they’re not in a hurry; they are probably shopping outside what we used to consider ‘normal hours’.”

It’s pretty clear the consumer is much more comfortable today using online services. For marketers, this could be an opportunity to partner up with like-minded services: foods with health platforms, for example.

“Tying various related services together into a seamless experience is a creative way of serving today’s cautious, homebound consumer,” continues Laurent Leccia. “The challenge for marketers right now is to focus on boosting long-term value, elevating the customer experience, and delivering a purpose-driven brand.”

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CREATIVE / CULTURE AGENCY. Purpose driven company based in Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Shanghai.

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CREATIVE / CULTURE AGENCY. Purpose driven company based in Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Shanghai.