Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have now entered their second month and we’ve all been spending significantly more time at home and in our local communities. With less commuting and more time available — and more time spent locally — what does this mean for innovation?
The evolution of localism
There has always been a certain element of localisation in our behaviour, as we are the products of our surroundings. Our daily routines for purchasing groceries, seeking entertainment, etc. are shaped by our ability to access these from where we reside.
However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of all but essential shops, most entertainment experiences, services and purchases have gone online. For brands, herein lies the opportunity to leverage previously offline signals — creating a wealth of consumer data and insights.
Additionally, the current crisis has fostered a greater sense of community with residents coming together to help their vulnerable neighbours or simply to know each other better. Much of this has been driven by technology, with the formation of tribes using groups via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It is on these platforms where people can discuss local affairs and give a helping hand. We’ve also seen rises in social networks, like Nextdoor and Olio, that help connect people to others in close proximity. We predict hyperlocal behaviour will stick post-pandemic and again, it will be down to brands and tech platforms to capitalise on engaging people at a hyperlocal level.
The pandemic crisis has uncovered areas of society that have been overlooked, and we predict seeing big leaps in innovation to help those more vulnerable areas in the future, including advances in logistics (perhaps with local hubs or the infamous Amazon drone blimp) and an accelerated shift to fulfilment with staff-less stores. We already see this with Amazon Go and supermarket scan & go apps.
There’s also the possibility of VR to help humanise other people or allow friends and families to connect in a virtual space that’s beyond just a screen.
Brands and community responsibility
Brands need to appear to be more human rather than faceless corporations. How they act during the crisis will define how consumers interact with and perceive them going forward. Nothing is more tone-deaf than a brand appearing to make light of or look to be capitalising on the misfortune of others.
We’ve seen CSR become more ingrained in brands, particularly brands serving younger generations, and this will only increase going forward. Entire industries that have suffered pandemic-induced setbacks will need to reset their priorities before returning to carbon-heavy outputs as people can see the obvious benefit to the environment from slowed industrial activity.
Increasing localism — what can brands do?
Right now, economies are in flux. Many people have had to pull back during this time and are now rethinking how they part with their money. Current spending patterns (such as revenge spending) vary widely, and local economies will change as consumers settle into new sustainable habits.
Brands need to use this time to prove their value and remain front of mind as people reestablish their normal routines. Brands must show how they can bring value to consumers’ lives in exchange for their data and patronage.
The best way to do this will be for brands to get to know their customers and use that knowledge in a much more nuanced way than before, for example, in how they segment CRM. This is especially applicable for brands that do not have a brick-and-mortar location and where online messaging will have to be tailored to connect with people on a much more personal level.
Tailoring the message will be just as important as the targeting, as consumers will be more sensitive to messaging post-pandemic. Thus there needs to be a certain level of sensitivity to the message and not just a hard sell.
During the pandemic, many brands have been donating large sums of money to help at a macro level. However, people will continue to expect brands to do their part locally, even when the worst is over. It will be on brands to leverage their data and knowledge about consumers to create bespoke communications that answer local needs. A prime example of this could see a sports brand setting local challenges for people running a particular route to raise money, or a telco offering to fund local projects that get communities back on their feet.
Brands for good
We expect to see an upswing in innovation from all areas. Whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many problems and shown where people and business can quickly fall by the wayside, brands, small business, and individuals will all be using this time to better prepare for future hardships. We’ve seen some of this future-proofing already, for example, in the emergence of new social networks, and personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing through 3D printing. Other innovations that were already being researched have been rapidly pushed to market, i.e., robotic stock fulfilment and drone deliveries.
Even if a brand can’t appear to be local, they should champion locality and use the data they collect to inform future decisions. When globalisation took off, many saw it as a uniformity — a McDonald’s in every country — but now as new technologies help us reach greater depths