How the corona crisis will change brands

change becomes chance

Our world is changing. Principally this is nothing new or unusual. In a globalised and digitalised world we are used to the fact that things can change very quickly. But while change today usually serves the purpose of economic or social progress, the Corona crisis initially forces us to do the exact opposite – a far reaching shutdown. We were not prepared for such a scenario, the pandemic caught us off guard. Microsoft founder Bill Gates realized that this did not have to happen as early as 2015. In his Ted Talk “The next outbreak? We’re not ready.” he presents a rapidly spreading virus as the greatest threat to humanity. A simulation intended as a wake-up call has now become reality, with serious consequences for society and the economy.

After a shutdown lasting weeks, the first easing measures have now come into effect, and more and more voices are being raised calling for a return to normality. Even though it may be too early for that, we should nevertheless reflect and discuss the time after corona. What will this “normality” look like?

The world changes brands

The long-term effects of the crisis cannot be fully predicted at this stage. Nevertheless, the Zukunftsinstitut is already presenting four scenarios for the possible effects of the crisis on the economy and society: total isolation, a global system crash, so-called “neo-tribes” or adaptation and a stronger emergence from the crisis.

Four Future Szenarios from Zukunftsinstitut
Einordnung der vier Szenarien (Quelle: Zukunftsinstitut)

However daring such theses may be at the moment, the standstill will be over at some point, normality will be different than before and we as brand creators will have to react to this.

Brands and their strategies, their behaviour and their design are always a mirror of society. Where people’s behaviour changes, the need for action for brands will increase. How we as a society will emerge from the crisis will certainly have a strong impact on branding and design.

Earlier this year, Syndicate Chairman Daniel Graf spoke about the effects of social changes on design at Fachpack in his presentation “The world changes design” . Due to the now completely new situation we want to take up this approach again and present four theses for the impact of the corona crisis on brands.

1. Return to conservative values

As Neo Tribes, the Zukunftsinstitut describes the social development back to local structures. “More than ever, more emphasis is being placed on regional products. The potato from the farmer next door is the new avocado, nobody thinks of Poke Bowls in the trendy restaurant anymore.” This return to conservative values could be observed in the public debate on sustainability even before Corona. This trend could intensify significantly. Origin countries of products and local shops would play an even greater role for consumers. In addition, other traditional values such as family, security or trust could become more important for people.

In the course of such a change, many brands will have to ask themselves whether the values they embody still correspond to the value concepts of their target groups.

2. Progressive modernisation

Another possible effect is the progressive modernisation and optimisation of our society. “The world learns and emerges stronger from the crisis. We adapt better to circumstances and are more flexible in dealing with change,” writes the Zukunftsinstitut for the adaptation scenario. We are becoming aware that we are not unbeatable. Things that we take for granted will experience a completely new appreciation. We are already observing this change towards nurses, supermarket cashiers, teachers and other people and institutions that keep our society going in the crisis.

Responsibility, empathy and solidarity would move into the focus of society. Companies must recognise their social responsibility and act accordingly. Authenticity would play an increased role. After the crisis, brands will have to maintain and confirm the attitudes, messages and values they are now communicating in order not to appear implausible. Many companies would have to completely redefine themselves in the social context in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), participate more in current events and social debates and take a clear position on current and relevant issues.

Digitalization will continue to play an important role. In many companies, the crisis has revealed a considerable need to catch up in terms of remote working, communication, customer service or distribution. Flexibility and agility through digital products, services and processes will be one of the most important goals in most companies.

3. Focus on the essential

The two other scenarios of the Future Institute “Total Isolation” and “System Crash” are also quite conceivable and would of course have devastating consequences for brands all over the world. However, we don’t believe in them and therefore place them in the category “dystopia” for the time being.

What we can imagine is a new form of Spartanism. Modesty, renunciation and restriction to the absolutely necessary could be consequences of the crisis.

Such a development would mean for brands that they would have to clearly emphasize their rational benefits, or in many cases define them first in order to remain relevant. We would observe a strong reduction in design, brand communication would change fundamentally and many brands and products would completely disappear from the scene.

4. It gets loud, colorful and cheerful.

As a fourth scenario we see a new wave of hedonism. The current restrictions make us more aware of the importance of social contacts, going out, traveling or celebrating with friends and family. People would act more experience-oriented and so would brands. Emotional values such as friendship, community, fun or freedom would gain in importance. Creativity will be needed to inspire target groups and offer emotional added value.

Acting now instead of reacting later

All four scenarios are possible effects of the corona crisis, and as so often, the truth is probably somewhere in between. There will be different changes in different parts of society. For even though the world may continue to move closer together in certain areas, the individuality of people will remain. It is possible that all the scenarios described will occur simultaneously. This makes it all the more important for brands to adapt strategically to this now in order to recognize the changed value concepts of the individual social groups and to be able to react in a targeted manner.

After the crisis, brands will be forced to finally effectively implement long-known strategic measures such as customer centricity, brand purpose and CSR.