COVID-19 has and still is reshaping the world and its economies. With lockdown easing, it can be tempting to think that we’ve weathered the storm and come out the other side. The reality is that, for the global economy, this is a false dawn. The true effects will stay with us for years to come, and as marketers, we need to be ready.

It has also shifted our focus as societies. Attitudes are changing fast with regards to racial inequality and economic inequality, and climate change has not and will not go away as a focus for Gen Z and millennial consumers.

We need to rise to the opportunity to find new ways to do business, to reach and represent our customers, to reduce our impact on the environment, and all in an unparalleled economic downturn. So how can we do this?

Building trust by helping the customer

26% of people in the UK still say that Coronavirus will have a big or dramatic impact on their financial position. The brands that will succeed more in 2021 are those that help their customers through this time. Brands that used their resources to help, banks that reduced their overdraft charges, or restaurants that passed on their VAT savings to customers will be the likely winners coming out of this crisis. Their support will not be forgotten.

Speaking the right language

We may see economic growth in 2021, but from a very low base. We need to help our customers navigate this complex economic landscape, and communicate empathy to people struggling in this climate.

Capturing the zeitgeist

Knowing your target market has never been more urgent. We need real time insights that help brands to react to customers’ needs in days, not months. We need to know what people are really thinking, not just what they’re saying. Surveys and social listening have their limits – they can be slow and only show how people want to portray themselves and search trends can help plug this gap. Every decision needs to be data-led, and coronavirus has made brand altruism a powerful purchase driver.

The relentless rise of online

The divide between online and offline is well and truly over. Brands should be focusing on digital experiences, online stores for all websites and apps, delivery services for every restaurant and shop. There should be a consistent experience and messaging across all brand interactions, whether online or offline. Now is the time for companies to integrate their digital and offline marketing teams, as these need to work together now more than ever.

Brands should represent, not just sell

The Black Lives Matter movement is a call to action moment for the world to look at how representative brands are internally, and for our industry to look at who we are portraying and trying to reach in our marketing and advertising. Campaigns without diverse representation already make a brand feel dated and out of touch, as well as less profitable. In a Google study in the US in October 2019, 69% of black consumers said they would be more likely to purchase from a brand whose advertising positively reflected their race/ethnicity. Among LGBT respondents, 71% said they would be more likely to engage with an online ad that authentically represented their sexual orientation. Diversity is as good for business as it is for society.

Ethical business

Climate change will be the rallying war cry for Gen Z, and millennials will follow their example. This is a great opportunity for brands to engage with younger consumers and to be more environmentally friendly. H&M is one of the high street fashion chains leading the charge on this with their Conscious sustainable clothing line. Products and policies like these will only become more important over the next few years, both for customers and investors. For Gen Z it feels like there’s a palpable sense of urgency to save the planet, and a deadline to do so – the UN has said 2030 is the year after which climate change becomes irreversible. Searches for sustainable shopping reached an all-time high in June, even despite the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. We need to be creating campaigns that sell sustainability as a virtue and putting this information front and centre in online stores on websites and apps.

For brands to prepare for the future, we need to boldly change the way we do business and embrace these changes as opportunities. Data and attribution should be front and centre to ensure that we can make marketing spend go further and make sure we retain profitability. Now is the time to capitalise on the trust built in these times and invest in online platforms and assets so that we are never reliant solely on bricks and mortar stores. Teams need to become representative so that we can reach new audiences with an authentic voice. Brand ethics will become central to a brand’s identity and perception and will give them longevity. It is our job as marketers to ensure that we help brands communicate this to our audiences.