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Knowing the Covid Context & Customer

Why authentic and targeted empathy from brands is more important than ever before...


Brands have never operated in a separate world from people and society. They are in the mix of it all – pulled and pushed by the tides of the society that consumers are living in. And the best ones are the brands that take the reality and authentically reflect it back to the consumers they serve, with messaging and product that distracts them through laughter, resonates with them through words, helps them in genuine ways, and shows they truly understand who they are and what they need.


But what happens when society goes through one of the biggest, multi-layered upheavals of modern times? How do brands respond and interact with their customers then?


As a nation, we have become uncomfortable and close acquaintances with numbers and stats during the pandemic. We have been, and remain, frequently hit with numerical milestones and painful statistics, which span across all areas of life impacted by Covid, showing just how multi-faceted the pandemic has been.


From 100,000 deaths marked at the end of January, to 4.1 million people furloughed and 2.6 million (7.5% of the UK population) predicted to be unemployed by 2021, Covid has caused big numbers in every direction. The fact that calls to suicide helplines rose by almost 1/3 at the start of the second lockdown, mortgage approvals soared 66%, and parents of adult children who moved back to the family home had to fork out £2,700 extra on energy and food bills, are numerical testaments to the sprawling nature of Covid consequences.


Covid may not have been a great equaliser, in that the most side-lined in our society were affected the most negatively. But Covid was universal, touching everyone in some way, shape, or form. And when the contexts of Covid are so different across different people, knowing who customers are and what they need becomes ever more crucial and ever more difficult.


Are your customers parents, struggling to home school children, carry out their own work, and look after the house? Maybe they’re furloughed 20-somethings who have left their rented houseshare to move back home with parents and are struggling with the implications on their mental health. The plethora of contexts for individuals and audience segments is endless and shows how necessary it is for brands to get to grips with the shifting state of their audiences if they are to effectively communicate to them.


Recent examples of brands seemingly doing the opposite of this highlight the dangers of operating outside of the realities of society. Dettol provoked negative reaction with its out of touch London Tube copy, presenting an idealised version of an office that many were anxious about returning to. BT also saw a backlash with their TV ad targeting the employees with bad WiFi connection – the “Pixelated Paula’s” of the working from home world who were “destined for corporate glory” before the pandemic switched us all to virtual working but have now risked it all by picking the wrong broadband. It goes without saying that this scenario is a real possibility and fear in a world where jobs are being lost and careers are stalling. And finally, Wickes, who damaged their brand with their promise to cure our “housebarassment” – that is, the outdated kitchen or run-down home that might feature in the background of our work calls. The ad, intentionally or otherwise, encourages us to feel shame towards the homes we’re stuck in, and pay cash (which is in short supply for many) to get a whole new kitchen refurb.


These examples share similar faults - they lack either empathy or authenticity, two essential elements to any successful brand output. But while some brands have missed the mark, others have shown just how effective empathy is, whether it’s through genuine helpfulness, offering an escape from the negative realities through humour or fantasy, or somehow contributing to the societies that they rely on for existence.


Santander’s recent transformation of Ant and Dec into 80’s game characters combines both humour, entertaining escapism, and real helpfulness in the ‘My Money Manager’ feature on its mobile banking app. ITV’s ‘Britain Get Talking: A Resolution worth Keeping’ campaign also exemplifies the power of empathy and authenticity by providing a much-needed service and platform, with a nod to the realities of our communication habits and the improvements to stress and loneliness we feel when we chat to loved ones.


While it’s crucial to be authentic in your empathy, it’s even better when you can be targeted with it too. At Human Theory, our unique, multi-layered approach to segmentation combines available customer data, demographic data (from our custom-built database), and emotional and cultural data (using our qualitative insight at quantitative scale methodology) to not only equip brands with the most up to date, fully rounded, fully human segments, but also executable markers for targeting that can be applied across CRM and media. We call it our Actionable Mindset Segmentation and we’re strong believers that going beyond demographics is key to producing truly customer-centric strategies.


In a time when society is continuously moving and shifting, and people are having to face and adjust to new challenges, contexts, and statistics, it’s never been so vital for brands to truly understand and authentically empathise with their audiences.



Written by Casey Wright

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