When I visited the Duomo in Milan last year, it was packed. Tourists squeezed by the occasional local, taking pictures, piling into cafes, trying to get into the church. If you wanted to eat nearby, you had to dodge bomber pigeons and hordes of people hungry for overpriced pizza or Prada. Granted, it was near peak tourist season, what with the furniture show around the corner, but even the heavily armed anti-terrorism presence didn’t deter the public’s quest for the perfect Instagram photo. It’s strange to look at photographs of Italy right now, in the middle of an unprecedented country-wide COVID19 lockdown (for a Western democracy). An empty Venice, a silent Duomo square. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Venice was considering a cap on visitors to its adult Disneyland of a city. Chinese restaurants are shuttering everywhere. In Australia, the crisis has fed into an existing retail reckoning — the highly popular stationery brand kikki.k, they of the inoffensive pastel Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic, has gone into receivership. Businesses are suffering, and who knows when the government’s going to offer anything more concrete than an “Ask not what the economy can do for you…” sort of message. While the government has promised funds to help Australians through this crisis, whether those funds are enough to even slightly help disadvantaged people and the millions of small businesses rapidly going broke is will yet to be seen.
The darkest timeline is going to get darker yet in Australia. During a press conference, the Victorian Premiere said that the window for containment has passed, and that the pandemic phase of COVID19 is inevitable. Toilet paper has been flying off the shelves, fought over in a sort of Mad Max lavatory Thunderdome scenario. I’m starting to side-eye anyone hacking their lungs out on the germ factories that pass as public transport in Australia. Soon, Australia might institute lockdowns as severe as Italy and other countries in the hopes of flattening the curve. Vaccines aren’t due for a year, at least, and the peak is yet to come.
We’re not here to peddle conspiracy theories though, or to give medical advice. Check out official sources for those, and for Gods’ sake, stop spreading rumours about this being a bioweapon or whatever’s the piping hot Facebook conspiracy theory of the week. Put down your phone for a moment. Breathe. Now wipe down your phone with an alcohol wipe.
All done? We calm? Good. This is Starship’s Brand Survival Guide.
Pandemic Survival 101 — Brand Edition
If you don’t have eCommerce capacity yet, get it. Are you in the FMCG business? If you don’t already have an online shop, you’re far behind the times. Into the provision of services? Explore whether live video is possible. Need to set up either of those in a pinch? Give us a call. Online shopping is currently booming in China due to the outbreak. Via Inside Retail:
The boom has caused significant operational and logistical challenges for retailers trying to keep up with the surge in demand, including delivery delays and out of stocks.
“While China is already at the forefront of e-commerce and retail innovation, the current situation would further accelerate digital commerce adoption among consumers and will have a long-term impact on the consumer purchase behaviour,” said GfK China and India MD Vishal Bali.
“Chinese consumers are likely to adopt more options to consume content and purchase products and services online, including e-learning, online healthcare consulting or buying products through social commerce and third-party apps. Therefore, brands need to also explore newer commerce platforms, payment methods, delivery options and loyalty programmes to connect with consumers across all city tiers and create a seamless shopping experience for them,” he said.
The research relating to online shopping in China showed many consumers intend to delay the purchase of big-ticket items such as consumer electronics until after the outbreak passes, preferring instead to buy products to protect their health and wellbeing.
The same situation will likely apply in Australia if matters worsen. People will be prioritising products that they believe will help protect them or keep them well, entertained, and occupied. Is your business built on items that people are likely to delay buying in times of crisis? You’d have to adapt. As to delivery delays, you’d have to think of that too. Your brand will need to figure out how to navigate the arrival of your product or service into the hands of someone who might be self-isolating, in a safe and respectful way. Via the Drum:
One of the biggest changes that has affected business in China is the closure of warehouses, physical stores and supply chains. To mitigate interruption, organizations should be increasing the weight of budget allocation towards diversifying their trade and e-commerce channels, including the establishment of a self-run e-commerce eco-system with payment and tracking/tagging functions. This greatly reduces risk, and for international brands that adopt this recommendation early, the impact of ongoing trade operations during the outbreak may be minimized.
If you currently have any brand campaigns in place, you might want to rethink them if your business is going to be affected by the situation. With people increasingly deciding to self-isolate or stay home from events, interactive brand content that increases online engagement may also work well for your brand. Information should be succinct, catchy, and real: don’t spread disinformation. People are already functioning at a state of heightened anxiety.
A good example of a brand that was recently affected by the pandemic: the Who Gives a Crap toilet paper brand. As people went on their Paper Apocalypse shops, WGC sold out. They’ve been extremely active on social media since, with stock updates and with additional brand content built to alleviate customer anxiety and build positive engagement:
Don’t be a vulture
There’s a difference between preparing for the pandemic and taking advantage of it. People have long memories. Estimates indicate that the pandemic will peak maybe in May or so and be over hopefully by Christmas. Short term gains — like driving up the price of essential goods, or driving up delivery costs to make a quick buck — will cost you in the long run. Don’t be a vulture. And for Gods’ sake, don’t start reselling face masks and hand sanitiser at high prices. Do you know who needs things like that? Medical practitioners. Do you know what happens when they don’t get it? They get ill, then their patients get ill, and it’s a vicious cycle. If your brand does its part to help out in some way or other, it won’t just be good PR, you’d never know: it might help the situation in the long run somehow.
Things you could do to help your customers: exploring different payment options, helpful products, not driving up prices, instituting social distancing in your business to keep everyone safe, keeping your premises clean, and so on. For Australia to pass through this phase of the virus, we have to flatten the curve, and brands can do it too. Be positive. People are desperate for positivity right now.
Make sure you have a work from home system in place for staff
Does your business have a plan if Australia has to institute Italy’s current measures: where only pharmacies and food markets are open? If not, you’d have to be prepared. Does your business have an isolation strategy in place? Is it possible for your staff to work from home? Are there ways you’ve already put in place to protect your customers? If you have events planned where there’d be large congregations of people, are you able to postpone them? Consider all that now while you still have the time.
It’s tempting to freak out. We’re very plugged into social media, and you should’ve seen the meltdown when Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had contracted the virus, followed by the NBA cancelling its season within the same half an hour. It looks like the world’s ending, but it’s not — and brands can do their part, survive, and come out on the other end in shipshape all at once. Want to know more? Give us a call.
Feature image by Stefano Mazzola, for Getty, from the Atlantic. See its photo series here.