ReUnited Kingdoms #1: Time to reclaim and rebuild

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9 April 2020

From pivoting in crisis to a new conversation about the future

As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to spread, behaviours amongst consumers, brands, employers, governments are continuing to change. Over recent weeks, we have been highlighting these changing behaviours in our “pivoting in crisis” content series.

Speaking a couple of weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, outlined how the UK & Scottish Governments are working together to battle Covid-19 noting that “together, we will get through this” (link). ‘Togetherness’ has taken on a completely new meaning in recent weeks though with society clapping for our carers, donating for doctors and going out of our way to help others.  Togetherness in this sense is no longer just a physical togetherness – it’s stronger than that. It’s a display of emotional and practical solidarity even though isolation is keeping us physically separated.

There’s no doubt that this has caused devastation to brands, communities, families and businesses. As we try and look to think about coming out of this, there’s an element of starting to ‘reclaim and rebuild’ all of these parts of our lives for the better. Families can’t wait to be reunited.  Businesses are already looking to rebuild even stronger than before with remote working at their heart. And, as we start to build back and reunite things that have become a bit broken, we look at how we can build on new behaviours and start to build things through a new lens.

Here lies the thinking behind our second content series, “ReUnited Kingdoms”, in which we’ll explore various aspects of life beyond lockdown, looking particularly at how we can all play our part in creating the future. 

Then: A kingdom that felt divided

At the back end of last year and even in the early part of this one, the country felt divided and not just along the obvious Pro/Anti Brexit, Leaver/Remainer lines but also in a host of other ways:

  • Gender inequality in pay, discrimination and respect
  • Affluence in terms of the Haves and the Have Nots
  • The North/South Divide
  • National and regional campaigns for independence
  • A growing generational rift between young and old
  • Continued intolerance of others based on race, sexuality and/or identity

Now: Reunited by a global challenge

There is a real opportunity to change the nature of the conversation. To turn the corner on division. To begin to talk about reuniting rather than dividing and isolating ourselves. There always was such an opportunity. All that was needed was a common cause. Little did we know that such a cause was just around the corner. Coronavirus has swept the world which for many, including GMB leader Gary Smith (link), author Yuval Noah Harari (link) and the IMF (link), is the biggest threat to health, the economy and the future any of us have seen in our lifetimes.

Not surprisingly, ordinary consumers agree. Some 86% of Brits are concerned about the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation in our country. This degree of unanimity has been lacking in public debate over recent years. Nearly nine in ten of us now share a single major worry (link) which extends across both personal and societal spaces.

The #coronaviruscrisis has created a unity of experience. No-one, not even the Prime Minister nor the Prince of Wales are exempt. Right now, we’re not talking about Brexit. We’re not talking about other forms of division in society but, instead, about a shared “enemy”.

We need to find ways of maintaining that commonality once the worst of the current crisis has abated. Here are just some of the specific ways that the country has been united by Covid-19, areas of common ground that can represent the foundations of a less divided society.

Reunited around our NHS

As the crisis has unfolded, our reliance on and appreciation for our beloved NHS has multiplied. A staggering 750,000 of us volunteered to help the stressed and stretched health service in England, some three times higher than the government’s target (link). Millions of us have stood on our doorsteps and shown our appreciation via the #Clapforourcarers initiative, while businesses too have shown their gratitude with priority access to supermarkets for NHS and other key workers (link).

Reunited around our leaders

We’ve even unified around our government and their efforts to get ahead of the steadily rising infection and fatality rates. As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the government now has net positive approval ratings for the first time in almost a decade. Over half, 52%, of Britons approve of the government’s record compared to just half that number (26%) who disapprove (link).

Reunited in kindness, particularly to the elderly and vulnerable

One of the most heart-warming aspects of the current situation is the degree to which ordinary people have come to each other’s aid. While it is difficult to quantify the degree to which this is happening, anecdotal evidence for it is very strong in Britain and beyond, with the Guardian likening it to an “emotional Mexican wave” (link). We must all do whatever we can to ensure that this is one corona-change that is not temporary; that we come out of lockdown, kinder and more respectful than we went into it. This trend isn’t just highlighted in society and people, as brands too have stepped up by making hand sanitiser, donating hotel rooms, providing food to key workers and opening up paid-for access to digital content or services (link). They too should be applauded for their support.

Reunited in expectations of difficult times ahead

Almost three quarters expect that Britain’s economy will be in depression (19%) or recession (52%) within a year (link). With large numbers of people laid off, placed in furlough or in reduced circumstances, the future will clearly be challenging for all of us.

Reunited in a desire to get the economy moving again

It is in everyone’s best interests that the economy gets moving again as quickly as possible once we emerge from our lockdown cocoons. Our American cousins have long believed it is the collective responsibility of everyone to get the economy moving, and that consumers must do their part, even positioning such activity as a “patriotic duty” (link). While we are not suggesting for one minute that such an approach would work as well here, it is possible that empathetic bonding messages such as Asda’s “We’re all in this together” (link) will continue to work, even as we strive to co-create our shared future.

Reunited by the brands we love

Brands play a pivotal role in supporting our lives. This is true at the best of times. And now in times of challenge, it is clear that consumers recognise that brands can help in a number of ways as we try to get back to some form of normality. At the moment there is agreement that the efforts should be focused on the here and now – 74% approve of brands running advertising that shows how they are responding to coronavirus or helping customers. However, there are also strong levels of approval (link) for the efforts of brands that are “business as usual”, such as showing funny or light-hearted content to entertain people (69%), continuing to sell non-essential items on their website (62%), or running “normal” campaigns that are not related to Covid-19 (42%).

What next – Reunited in looking forwards?

As the story of the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, we’ve detected a change in mood and emphasis over the past week or so. Yes, people are still very concerned about the impact of Covid-19, both to the potential health of themselves, their loved ones and to society at large, and the longer-term economic impacts. But, as we acclimatise to lockdown, individuals and corporations are starting to ask, “what happens next?”.

Britain now has a set of shared concerns, attitudes and behaviours to an almost unprecedented degree. Some have evoked the war-time “blitz spirit” which for generations is a highly symbolic metaphor for collaboration in adversity and stoicism. Whether that is entirely accurate or not, we strongly believe that what comes next will be about reuniting our personal and professional kingdoms.

That’s why we are introducing a new content series, Reunited Kingdoms, in which we’ll explore the way ahead. We’ve deliberately adopted the plural form for our descriptor. We believe that it will take the combined efforts of all of us to come out of this stronger, more together and with a clearer vision of the kind of society we want to create and live in. We’ll need to take forward the shared mood and concerns that we all currently have as citizens. Businesses will need a more unified vision and less silo-ed way of working. And, they will need to better empathise with the genuine needs of their consumers. Each of these individual “kingdoms” will need to be reunited if it is to succeed and we’ll be sharing our thoughts on the challenges to be met and the routes to success over the coming weeks.

This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at Unlimited Group.

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