Anyone who has been through struggle knows you either shrink from it or you embrace it, making it part of who you are. It’s what drove games developer and academic Jane McGonigle to write about this process, whose psychological term is ‘post traumatic growth’ in her book Super Better. After she brought herself back from the brink of mental struggle during a serious illness, she devised a game to get herself out of the darkness and rebuild her mental resilience moving towards the light. We are all playing our own version of that game with ourselves now and there’s a role for brands to help us do that too.
“We will live with an increased sense of anxiety for several months and years,” says Tom Doctoroff, Global senior advisor at Prophet, a global marketing and brand consultancy, but that doesn’t mean brands tell a story of doom and gloom or play to our anxieties. Neither does it mean going too heavy on the levity. Instead Doctoroff urges brands to “provide optimism and brightness and use silver linings to convey a camaraderie and a bright depiction of tomorrow.”
It’s this sentiment which is coming through in people’s personal narratives too. Cate Murden, founder of Push, recently told the audience at Grey Consulting’s weekly #DistanceResistance panel show that, “Individuals can use a crisis to conduct a self-audit and reprioritize. Periods of crisis can be seen as a watershed—you decide how you want to come out of it.” And consumers will be looking for brands who support their shifted priorities. Investing in the latest pair of trainers so you have the newest of the new, won’t seem as urgent as investing in relationships and building the community. Likewise time-saving convenience products will feel less resonant for those who have found solace in the slower pace that lockdown allowed.
Brand survival will be a central theme at our Campaign Connect virtual event on June 2nd & 3rd. Decision-makers from companies like Unilever, AXA, Zalora, Grab, Twitter and Carousell will be sharing how they've dealt with the COVID-19's impact and what their survival strategies will be. The unique two-day global event will look at how the world of marketing communications gets back to business and what that will look like. Travelling the world from Asia, making its way to Europe then North America, Campaign Connect will bring you the latest insights and advice from global leaders in media, marketing, advertising, along with our own editorial teams.
Within organisations the dial has shifted too as the various parts of our lives have found themselves overlapping. We are zoomed into a co-worker’s bedroom or get a chance to meet the boss’s child. Many find themselves showing true emotions and finally, giving an honest response when asked, “how are you?”. The true impact of the crisis on organisational culture will take time to fully sink in. “We may only start processing after the event,” says Rebecca Newton, organisational psychologist, founder of CoachAdviser and author of Authentic Gravitas: Who Stands Out and Why. “It’s down to the team or organisation to decide the kind of story they want to tell about how they got through this.” This story will define the company culture going forward, it’s an opportunity to create a collective narrative which would otherwise take years to cement. Leaders who regularly check in one-to-one with their team and encourage support and empathy between colleagues are laying down the foundations for post-traumatic growth.
Some organisations will be able to tell themselves the story of an ingenious pivot. Examples include Virgin, Easy Jet, Norwegian and SAS, who took part in Project Wingman in London, where pilots and crew opened first-class lounges for NHS workers. Using their experience of pampering passengers to offer what the project describes as ‘tea and empathy’ to these frontline workers.
The Project Wingman scheme is in fact a metaphor for how the tone will change coming out of the pandemic as public sentiment shifts away from the celebrities and towards the real heroes that have risked their lives to keep our societies functional, and of course, alive. This sets a new tone for celebrity collaborations and influencer marketing, it’s one that was in motion before the pandemic but is now turbocharged as people demand personalities that tell a real story of struggle and offer hope. Not from the comfort of a mansion, super yacht or rose-petal filled bath, but from a regular home.
It’s the degree of intimacy that AKQA recently produced for Nike in the current Living Room Cup campaign where the audience is invited to compete against professional athletes all made equal by the lockdown restrictions. And it presents us with a more inspiring example of where brands might go next. “Gone is the memetastic me-too ‘we’re in this together’ edit,” says Leo Rayman, CEO of Grey Consulting, “instead it’s replaced by a low-cost production, light touch mobile experience that puts the brand right there with you on your living room floor; useful, rewarding, close.”
Getting reacquainted with your audience will be essential as organisations move tentatively forward over the coming months and years. Whatever your survival story the overriding piece of advice is to remember that it won’t be the same as the next person’s. It’s something which Ted speaker and serial author Margaret Heffernan has raised concerns about. “People have a tendency to think ‘my world equals the world’ but everyone’s pandemic is different,” she explains. In her recent book, Unchartered: How to Map the Future, she urges business leaders and lay people alike to challenge this thinking, even get themselves lost. “When business returns to something like normal, people will think they know what everyone has been through, but they won’t. And that is how poor decisions get made — on behalf of people we don’t really see or know.”
The research around post traumatic growth suggests there’s every opportunity to come out stronger on an individual and personal level. But brands will also need to reconnect with culture post-Covid, and plug into people’s alternative perspectives in order to come out wiser on a societal level too.
Miriam Rayman is a cultural strategist and executive coach.