COVID Contemplation and Consumption

Higher Order

John Roberts John RobertsApr 23, 2020

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We’re all wondering about the world post-COVID, but I feel we’re asking the wrong question.

The real question is not “What will it be like?” But “What will WE be like?”

We’re in COVID constraint — the world over worrying rightly about our health and the impact on the economy which is already slated to be the worst global depression in nearly 100 years. That means that pretty much none of us have ever been here before. But what I do know is that this “black-swan” event will change us as people, not just as consumers. Disaster changes us permanently and leads to a massive re-evaluation of our behaviors and beliefs.

We need that.

Think about it: The immediate impact on our consumerism is obvious. One in 3 adults in the U.S. (GlobalWebIndex) claim that they are still planning to buy items they have delayed when this is all over. That means that 2/3 are not. And we know, by the way, that they’re unlikely to be planning to buy the brand they were thinking of a month ago. Typical consumer-brand switching runs at only about 8%, but leaps to 21% after a change-of-life event (Richard Shotton/The Choice Factory), so ambitious marketers appreciate that you have to become more present in the future, not absent.

Disaster changes us permanently and leads to a massive re-evaluation of our behaviors and beliefs.

But what matters much more is the broader aspect of our likely psychological and social behavioral changes when we re-evaluate what really matters. Right now, only 1 in 5 of us (Statista) are ready to go back to “normal” immediately. And 1 in 10 believe that they will limit contact indefinitely. Indefinitely! Think about that — Suddenly, we are forced learning new habits that will completely change our world moving forwards.

Good. The benefit, if I can call it that, to this terrible state we’re in globally is that we’re being forced to think.

“I actually don’t like thinking. I think people think I like to think a lot. And I don’t. I do not like to think at all.” — Kanye West

Kanye’s not alone. Humans avoid thinking as much as possible, and, certainly, that’s been proven true over the past years, with the rise of consumerism and the busiest lives we’ve ever had. Too much to do, too much to buy, not enough time to think.

“I actually don’t like thinking. I think people think I like to think a lot. And I don’t. I do not like to think at all.”
— Kanye West

Well, guess what? We’ve got the time and the need to think now, and our economic reset will likely mean less able to spend. And yes, thinking is hard because to really think means to choose to be deliberate in that outcome of thinking — our actions. Deliberate, meaning to think long and hard and to make a conscious commitment.

So what will we choose?

I believe that we have the opportunity today to come through this worse off as consumers — and better as people, by using this terrible event as our opportunity to deliberate the hard questions, the ones we have avoided by being too busy, and are now starting to ask. And so I hope that answering the real question of what we will be will lead us to become people who truly value, fight for and achieve three things:

Fairness

“They tell us coronavirus is a great leveler. It’s not. It’s much, much harder if you’re poor. How do we stop it making social inequality even greater?” — Emily Maitlis, presenter, BBC flagship political show Newsnight.

We all acknowledge that our world is showing more and more polarity — the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots. Well, guess what? Polarity only works if you’re at the good end of the scale.

Honesty

Politicians and people, business leaders and brands are being outed as we discover that truth and clarity really do matter. (Morning Consult) 62% of Americans trust small businesses to lead the U.S. through the pandemic, almost as strong a leadership call as local or state government (64%) and way higher than the federal government (46%) or CEOs of large companies (41%). Small businesses — we trust our butcher, baker and candlestick maker more than those in power!

It’s easy to dismiss a number or data point: as Rishad Tobaccowala says in his fantastic book “Restoring the Soul of Business”, “Too much math, too little meaning.” So what those numbers tell me is that people turn to trusted, honest, local resources for support and leadership because they’re fed up with the rank commercialization of a killer virus by “powers” who are using the occasion to either appear stronger or sadly prove their impotence.

And the third and, in some ways, the most powerful change for us all:

Optimism

Belief in a better outcome should never be misconstrued as Pollyannaism. Optimism is hard work, not a platitude. Hope is not a strategy, but I believe that without hope, you can’t have a strategy.

If these are true for us, as humans, to be better people, it surely must have an impact on brands to be measured, bought, liked or loathed, depending on how well brands deliver on those same values. We’re watching and judging brands already on how they treat their poorest customers, not just their MVPs in spending power; on clarity and authenticity from brands and their leaders in their messaging; and, of course, in optimism. Can we rebuild together and not return to the slavish imbalance of being a commercial relationship that’s bought and sold?

Hope is not a strategy, but I believe that without hope, you can’t have a strategy.

So to give my answer to the real question at hand, what will we be like?

Well, the next few years are going to be harder for us all than we can appreciate now, but, at the same time, they give me a sense of hope, of optimism for the new “Coronials” born into the world in nine or so months, if we choose to be deliberate. A world more fair, more honest and more hopeful because we have become better people.

John Roberts
Eternal, hard-working optimist

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