TRENDING: Finding our safe spaces

by Louise Burgers. How do brands compensate for the loss of sensory experiences for their customers as we navigate our future world in our ‘safe bubbles’?

by Louise Burgers. How do brands compensate for the loss of sensory experiences for their customers as we navigate our future world in our ‘safe bubbles’ – both literal and figurative? Retail will be one of the most changed sectors as we navigate our ‘next normal’, as McKinsey describes it. Wunderman Thompson is now looking at the ‘zero touch spaces’ that brands have to navigate for their customers; and the move to ‘slow retail’.

There’s a raft of research each week from international trend agencies and market research bemouths which are helping us make sense of Covid culture as they track trends in our rapidly evolving world; amidst fluctuating consumer needs and emotions; and within a landscape of irrational regulations driven by political agendas the world over. These unchartered spaces are all about safety and the reinvention of culture and society to keep us safe. The challenges are enormous and differ in various cultures and communities. Safety is relative when trust is lost – whether it is trust in Government or brands. Here are some of the most interesting trends we are tracking:

Slow retail

The entire retail experience is being repositioned and fashion retailers and luxury brands in particular, are emphasising simplicity, quality, longevity and permanence, says Wunderman Thompson. Fashion brands are expected to reduce collections and even go seasonless. The key is sustainability, with some fashion labels aiming to increase their use of regenerated materials that are recycled and sustainable. Wunderman Thompson calls it a “pushback against fast products” and promotion of mindful consumption and less conspicuous consumption.

Craft over bling

We all know Generation Z (think Greta, think Gen Z), are more environmentally conscious and the impact is that they will go for sustainability and longevity of products, including apparel, over fashion. Craftmanship and artisanal products that support and grow communities, will gain prominence. Look at our own local South African campaigns to ‘Buy Local’ to rebuild our economy. I’ve seen many similar calls on local community social media pages to support local businesses battling to keep afloat under lockdown. It is a rallying call the world over. Lockdown has also shown us how little the traditional celeb influencers matter – ordinary humans doing extraordinary things – or making us laugh, were our new celebrities; as well as brands driving a more empathic conversation. Gen Z will look more to brands as influencers, as Retailing Africa reported recently,  than celebs in the future. It’s a massive opportunity for brands to showcase their socially responsible agenda.

Safe spaces

Both Kantar and Wunderman have highlighted the unusual ways restaurants, gyms and fitness professionals, like the pop-up yoga studio in a bubble in Canada, are trying to keep clientele safe by creating real ‘bubble’ spaces where diners and gym goers can exercise in their own individual ‘bubbles’ or ‘pods’. While actual bubbles, especially outdoors, seem a bit extreme; there is no doubt that all businesses have to make customers and employees feel safe, by creating these safe spaces to allow people to physically distance to protect themselves from infection. And it needs to be done in a way that will not alienate clientele but reassure them; or entertain them – like the return of the drive-in theatre and drive-in concerts, the world over. We all want to get back to normalcy and meet people and do the things we love – but the challenge is doing it at a distance. Brands have a great opportunity here to come up with innovative experiences that combine safety and entertainment for the near future.

‘Next normal’

McKinsey, obviously trying to get away from the overused ‘new normal’ cliché, have come up with another oxymoron, ‘next normal’ – but there is nothing ‘normal’ about this pandemic and global lockdown and destruction of our economies. But yes, we do have to look ahead at the ‘next’ steps to take to navigate ourselves out of this global sh*tshow; and they have come up with five actions that brands can take to influence consumer behavioural change, in their latest insights mailer about this ‘next normal’. It’s a long piece with some interesting insights about which changed consumer behaviours will stick. These are the five actions they unpack:

  1. Reinforce positive new beliefs.
  2. Shape emerging habits with new offerings.
  3. Sustain new habits, using contextual cues.
  4. Align messages to consumer mindsets.
  5. Analyse consumer beliefs and behaviours at a granular level.

This is McKinsey’s key takeout: “The COVID-19 crisis has changed people’s routines at unprecedented speed—and some of those changes will outlast the pandemic. We’ve seen differences in consumer behaviour across geographic markets and demographic groups, and those differences will only widen during the recovery phase, given that the health, economic, and social impact of COVID-19 isn’t uniform. Companies that develop a nuanced understanding of the changed beliefs, peak moments, and habits of their target consumer bases—and adjust their product offerings, customer experiences, and marketing communications accordingly—will be best positioned to thrive in the next normal.”

The great staggering

South Africa’s own trend guru, Dion Chang, calls the period we are heading into, as business tries to recovery after months of lockdown, as ‘The Great Staggering’. From “life in limbo” and the return to full business operations – probably only in 2021 when a proper treatment protocol or vaccine is available – he addresses the extreme uncertainty in all spheres of life. Chang’s trend consultancy, Flux Trends, is looking at what determines which businesses survive and what innovation is required for the reframing of business models to address the huge societal changes we are experiencing and the impact on the various generations. In regular trend talks and seminars, Chang warns against ignoring permanent behavioural changes in consumers: “Re-imagining your business model has never been more important. While it is an interim period, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the learnt behaviours – of consumers, as well as a workforce – during this period could also become permanent behavioural changes, which business owners will need to consider and adapt to.”

Ecosystem brands

Despite lockdown, the strongest brands in the world saw their total brand value increase by 5.9% in the annual 2020 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking, released last month. Ecosystem brands are going to be especially important going forward and more will appear on the BrandZ Top 100 rankings in the future, said Doreen Wang, Kantar China CEO and global head of BrandZ. “Nowadays we see this very important trend of technology companies upgrading themselves into the next level, which is ecosystem brands… interacting with customers and consumers; with the core value at the centre, but with a gradually expanding ecosystem. Because in all these different interactions they have with consumers, they want to keep building their brands and strengthening that relationship [with the consumer].” COVID-19 has accelerated the rise of ‘ecosystem brands’ and what we are seeing the world over is the complete transformation of the digital business model. A decade ago, brands either sold a service or a made a product for sale. Brands are now creating more occasion-based brands that play a role in the customer’s life wherever they are, being part of every experience. This was a key finding from the BrandZ research.

New possibilities

Measuring the emotions of people under lockdown and the great reset on our lives, the world over, has brought some interesting opportunities and new thinking around the way we live. McKinsey, again, did an interesting dive into the emotions people are displaying. I like the way they presented the research, with interviews from around the world and graphics displaying the various emotions, which they colour coded. It’s an interesting study, as never before in our modern history, have people had the same shared experience of the impact of this virus, the world over – from the Amazon rainforest to the urban jungles of our biggest cities. McKinsey also found that people are reacting in much the same way, with the same 16 emotions coming up frequently, with slight differences from country to country; from joy, serenity, acceptance – to apprehension, distraction, fear; as well as boredom, annoyance, sadness, disgust and anger.


Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.

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