10 Jun 2020

Why there’s promise in uncertainty

Bluemarlin’s Business as Unusual series offers insight and direction on how brands can emerge stronger, more engaging and absolutely essential in the New Normal.

A few weeks ago, we promised we’d return to the important issue of trends and how they might evolve in a post-covid landscape. Those who know us well, will have heard us use the phrase ‘tsunami or surf’. There are the worrying tides of change that gather momentum until they crush the brand or business that doesn’t adapt. And there are the positive waves that present a wonderful swell of opportunity for brands that capture the zeitgeist.  We look to the horizon, trying to anticipate the size, shape and impact of these trends.

And whilst there’s lots to learn from numbers, we believe a quality anecdote can tell you just as much as any graph or statistic. There are phrases I’m hearing every day that fall into some clearly obvious themes and echo macro social and cultural trends we’ve been talking about in our agency to for a couple of years now…

“I’m enjoying life’s basic pleasures” = Thirst for Simplicity.  “We are enjoying baking, board games, the garden, walking, reading books” =The Analogue Revival.  “I’m doing my 10,000 steps a day religiously and have started meditating” = Total Wellbeing.  “I’m now embracing the slower pace that’s been forced on me”= Conscious Deceleration.   “I wish governments would be totally open and honest” = Trust in Transparency. “Some companies are genuinely helping the community, others are just paying lip service” = Belief Buying.

But the trillion dollar question is whether a post-Covid world will see a further acceleration in these trends and others. Some distinguished marketing columnists are shouting “nothing will ever be the same again”, whilst others are saying “old habits die hard”, suggesting that consumers will quickly revert to their old consumption patterns, behaviours and ways of thinking, all rooted in habit.

The subject of our last article deserves another quick mention. A new habit apparently takes only 66 days to be full embedded in the neural pathways of the brain. Some new habits (see above) might now be well cemented. So what will determine which of them will endure (and bolster a trend) and which will be dislodged by the old ones when we “snap back” to so called “normality”?

Habits are all about the physical or psychological “reward” offered by a “routine”. In a post-Covid world, the “reward” offered by the newly learned habit needs to be strong enough to prevent a “snap back” to the old habit with its own reward. There are many potential psychological tensions at play.  Will a post-lockdown decadent euphoria make a mockery of new found conscious consumption?  Will renewed physical freedom be tempered by the worry of personal health and safety? Will being starved of novelty and choice, create a demand for the adventurous over the familiar?

It’s this last tension that is most fascinating because it raises an incredible paradox, one which goes to fundamental human needs. I think it’s one that offers some future brand navigation, not to mention some happiness, truth and beauty.

In a terrifyingly uncertain world, where new levels of drama unfold daily, where the very fabric of society feels unstable, certainty (and its emotional sibling comfort) are of paramount value. The fundamental needs of food and shelter, financial income, love and belonging, connection, recognition, freedom and self-esteem will all remain uncertain in one shape or form for almost all of us. This continued and relative uncertainty is the only certainty!

Yet certainty isn’t all we crave. Our brains are hard wired to seek out the positive potential of uncertainty. Risk and reward is what got us out of the caves, inspired us to navigate the globe and discover new horizons in every sense of the word. Uncertainty is what “keeps us on our toes”, our brains way of telling us that we are still evolving, still learning, that we must think beyond the tried and tested, the safe and familiar.

As each lockdown day seems to blend into the next, the colour palette is seriously predictable. Despite the privilege of a world at our digital fingertips, there’s a spontaneity, undulation and multi-sensory texture that just can’t be replicated in the digital landscape or through home delivery. The garden’s planted, the books are all read, the personal goals have been reset, I’ve made every type of bread known to mankind. I’m living, but not loving, every single one of those macro trends. Life in all its multi-coloured, multi-cultural, multi-sensory wonder is partly missing. When this is over, it’s the uncertain variety of the world “out there” that we’ll rush to with open arms.

However, I’m not anticipating a mindless gluttony, credit-card madness or silly-season of novelty product launches. Thoughtful consumption is here to stay and for many of us, economic recession will restrain the excitement. But I strongly believe the opportunity for brands will lie in the marriage of opposites. The tension of uncertain variety and the certainty of comfort. The warm fuzz of the old, spiced up with the thrill of the new. It should be enough to reignite the child in us all.

Without being flippant or trivial, in a world where there are “life and death” issues far more important than “brand value”, I say this to brands: How can your brand thrill the senses, put a smile on our faces, release the inner child, enable spontaneity and self expression like never before? How will you give us a much awaited antidote to the regimented, monotonous, predictability of this lock-down life? But with certainty, assurance and warmth?

For now, I am not a “kid in candy store” but a kid waiting outside, nose pushed against the glass, not knowing whether it will ever open again. Hoping and praying that when it does, there’s something new and delicious on the shelves, brought to be me by the brand I loved and trusted long before I started bread baking.

Business As Unusual Series