Don’t care less, but do go further

As the world considers a return to normality, Alessandra Mariani, Senior Strategist at FITCH writes that brands should shift from a focus on sentimentality to meaningful engagement.

Alessandra Mariani

Senior Strategist FITCH


It is entirely right that brands should want to show how much they care during this pandemic. But the blend of sentiment needs to give way to meaningful engagement, as the world considers a return to normality.

While reassurance and comfort were the priority for the initial reactive stage, as time has gone by it seems global brand response has become stagnant and standardised. Just watch a dozen of COVID-19 ads from the world’s biggest brands blend into one another.

Understand how consumers really feel

The video suggests brands are treating all customers the same. Response strategies are based on the assumption consumers are still reacting and feeling the same as they did before, instead of flexing to focus on the concrete and unique actions necessary for this stage.

How can brands evolve response strategies to connect in a meaningful way that’s right for this stage, and seal relevance for the future?

Drive action around your brand purpose

Pause, review and refresh. Answer questions such as, 'What does my brand now do for these people?’ and ‘What is the life impact they are looking for?’

Brand purpose should be rooted in what your brand actually does, and it’s this type of authenticity consumers long for, especially in times of turmoil.

A brand turning words into action is the takeout giant Just Eat. The platform announced a 30-days cut on its take, to fund an emergency support package for restaurants on its platform. This works because it is releasing real solutions to tackle the very real disruption inflicted on the hospitality industry by COVID-19 and supporting the partners which make its very service function. This kind of move is not only gratefully received by partners and affiliates, it reverberates across the wider industry and, most importantly, the Just Eat customer base as a very positive move, one which will definitely be remembered.

Brands should restructure their physical and digital retail platforms beyond functioning for ‘Locating’ products and services, and into fun and time-worthy activities.

Alessandra Mariani

React to ‘reserved desire’ in the short-term

Consumers will experience what FITCH has termed ‘reserved desire’; a sense of desire that comes with a degree of caution, particularly in the retail sectors where physical elements and human contact will be under extra scrutiny.

Everyone will rebound in some ways, overspending as they flood to enjoy ‘real life’ again, with the levels of reserved desire varying from person to person. But attitudes will be different, so in order for retailers to succeed in this new environment, brands will have to think of short-term changes. This will largely revolve around hygiene and cleanliness, but also safer sampling, rise in voice controls, no-touch delivery options, cashless payments and bigger spacing between fixtures, to name a few.

Beyond the obvious category of supermarkets, brands that are heavy on the physical front should take note. London Skincare clinic Pfeffer Sal is moving quickly to adapt. It recently launched ‘at-home facial kits’ that allow consumers to recreate professional-level skincare themselves. Thinking to the further future, Pfeffer Sal could maybe react appropriately to reserved desire in-store by developing mini-facial kits into one-off samples for immediate disposal in-store, and so on.

Lead on ‘Dreaming’ missions in the long term

Brands will need to meet consumers’ longing for escapism. Yes, consumers have been lacking normality but as the ‘reserved desire’ stage peters out, they’ll be back looking for thrills too.

At FITCH, we have developed the ‘DEL’ framework to understand customer needs when they’re shopping, whoever and wherever they may be. We’ve found shopper missions to fall into one of three categories: Dreaming, Exploring and Locating.

As we look to the future, consumers will be more open to engaging in ‘Dreaming’ retail and digital experiences. They will actively seek them out and enjoy a variety of unexplored areas and brands with an open and captive lens. Brands should restructure their physical and digital retail platforms beyond functioning for ‘Locating’ products and services, and into fun and time-worthy activities that tap into the power of the ‘Dreaming’ mission. One category especially ripe for this is beauty but the limitless and innovative nature of ‘Dreaming’ means it can be explored across all categories in a number of delightful ways.

A brand that has already started doing this is Dyson, which has revamped its website to provide learning through play to children during lockdown with the launch of its Challenge Cards. This works because it helps to position the brand beyond an e-retailer in consumers’ minds, meaning that they’ll be trusting it to deliver memorable experiences even after the pandemic is over, and be more likely to stick around to find out how.

Guest Author

Alessandra Mariani

Senior Strategist FITCH


Alessandra develops experience strategy for some of the world’s biggest brands including LEGO and Circle K. She specialises in brand, omnichannel and consumer behavior, focusing on the intersection between functional and experiential in modern retail. Graduating from University of East Anglia with Masters in Brand Leadership, Alessandra has a passion for education, supporting masterclasses on branding and retail at UEA, and co-creating an MSc course with Ravensbourne University. She also developed FITCH’s Global Strategy Internship which she leads presently. Alessandra was awarded Transform’s Young Contender of the Year 2018 for Strategy and is a confident speaker and regular spokesperson for areas of interest in the media.

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