Rebecca Caroe tries to imagine how business marketing will be different post COVID-19. Understanding how clients will respond in the 'new normal' should give some companies a head start

Rebecca Caroe tries to imagine how business marketing will be different post COVID-19. Understanding how clients will respond in the 'new normal' should give some companies a head start

By Rebecca Caroe*

I am trying to understand how marketing needs to change.

How quickly can marketers discern the new rules, the new landscape and the new markets we are now trading in?

The new marketing reality

Nothing is clear.  This is obvious.

But that's hardly helpful for us marketing people who need to keep on creating campaigns, keep on filling funnels and keep on pushing our recovery efforts after lockdown.

Signs are emerging about what consumers are interested in and where they will look favourably on brands.

Understand the new priorities

Clues about the new priorities can be found from a range of commentators.  Some have been "banging this drum" for a while, others are interpreting new data.

I look to global trends as well as industry-specific experts when trying to find a pattern worth following.

Mark Carney, Central Banker, says the "The economy must yield to human values".  People matter over profit and the capitalist model is being challenged.

Retail specialist Mary Portas calls it the "Kindness Economy".

Kindness isnt weak but strong: a foundation from which to grow a business that has truth, integrity, longevity and commerciality. As we move away from a time of rabid consumerism and peak stuff,we are entering a new type of economy. One built on kindness and a Triple Bottom Line: people, planet and profit - in that order.

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, interprets apparently polarising reactions to the same situation in terms of "moral intuitions and values". In this way, relaxing lockdown provokes both protests against restriction of liberty from social distancing and protests about growing exposure to harm by going back to work. Both can be understood from underlying moral values.

The moral values of your brand now matter.

What consumers value

Home-stay business Look After Me surveyed their audiences and found a distinct shift in sentiment.

Instead of favouring flying on holiday, most now prefer car travel; most prefer to book with local companies to "keep money in the NZ economy", and most now prioritise accommodation "cleanliness" over price, comfort and wifi provision.

Financial and economic news website, asked its readers what they value.  The answers were clear from the start - every single segment of reader who was surveyed came back with similar views.  Two quotes suffice

Your people have a better understanding of fringe issues, more reliably, than any other NZ news outlet. Your reporting on these peripheral matters shows incredible strength. And that makes the world better.

With the woeful quality of NZ journalism it's my only trusted source of financial news.

What will "value" mean?

This is tough and will definitely evolve as fear of infection subsides and rises with waves of the pandemic.  In New Zealand now we are feeling relatively safe - lockdown is in Level 2 and we are back at school and work.  Compare our situation to Brazil or New York and value is very different.

Here are some themes which may emerge - to what extent does your business subscribe to these?

  • Local resilience is worth more than global efficiency
  • High corporate debt increases the riskiness of the underlying equity
  • Will the state continue to be engaged with subsidising private commerce?
  • Is resilience more important than business risk?
  • How are tail risks managed?
  • We all understand the fear of unemployment now.
  • The price of everything = the value of everything, including global heating.
  • Economic dynamism and efficiency ≠ solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion

What did your company do during Covid-19?

Writing the history of this period can wait for now.

Yet I am certain that the judgements will fall on brands and the public perception of where they were before and after the emergency passes will be based on "people" outcomes not "profit" outcomes.

I bet Greg Foran wishes he was still at Walmart and hiring thousands of new workers rather than at Air New Zealand and laying them off.

This will have the resonance of "what did you do in the War?" and whether you judge the outcome to be "good" or "bad" will depend to a large part on the consumer's view of whether you were a hoarder or a generous giver; whether you laid off staff, furloughed or retained staff; whether you hoarded resources or paid over the odds to acquire over others or whether you generously supported others.

Adjust brand positioning

Once you know what values your consumers now have you can start customisation to respond to this new priority.

Some of these will be short-term and related to Covid19 and Lockdown - like Rose and Thorne's Gift-a-Bra to an essential worker.

How important are these people? Very.  How much do we value them?  A lot.  And how many do we know? Lots.

This is great marketing because it is a classic member-get-member programme aligned to the issue of the day.


Look After Me have taken a lead by redesigning holidays into packages that theme around hobbies and interests, that are local and have quality marks for locally owned businesses with high cleanliness scores.

Smart.  Easy to understand.  Aligned.

There's a Recession too

And of course the recession is already creating new winners and losers.  Take a browse through the Manaaki Emergency Business Forum questions business owners are asking and their own perceptions of "need" and consistent themes emerge

  • growth of online ecommerce or at a minimum a website
  • how do we reach our customers
  • fresh marketing ideas
  • finding distributors and stockists
  • learning about digital media
  • how to get customers to switch to online
  • why word of mouth doesn't cut it any more
  • migrating from in person to online
  • starting a customer database

Part of me groans when reading these; part of me rejoices.

Blending the practical with the strategic is going to be critical in giving quality guidance and up-skilling.  Yet the problem lies as much with medium as small businesses.  Speedy decision making is easy for the owner-operator and will not be so easy to apply to enterprise.

What is the new Maslow hierarchy?

Values and needs are realigning.

Now that we fully realise the deep inter-dependency of our global community, will this change our prioritisation about health, wellbeing, global supply chains and personal independence (doing what I want) compared to communal dependence (doing what WE need)?

Can we learn to trust experts again?

Will our approach to climate change (surely the biggest existential threat to our way of life) be adjusted to reflect these new values and to form a new consensus on priorities compared to risks?

Rebecca Caroe is a B2B Marketing expert, currently focused on Recession Marketing. is a client.       

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Oh irony:

"Will our approach to climate change (surely the biggest existential threat to our way of life) be adjusted to reflect these new values and to form a new consensus on priorities compared to risks?"

Climate change isn't the biggest existential threat to our way of life. It is merely the exhaust-gases of our massive energy-use, and that use is of a finite resource. Worse, we're extracting it at increasing rates. Worse, we've extracted it best-first. Worse, we've build a whole global collection of infrastructure - suburban tract housing, every form of transport and everything we shift via that transport, to fill those tract houses with - based on (and/or made from) the same finite feedstock.

But I agree with your basic question: will we adapt/change? The answer is probably not, or we would have by now. Our best public media - RNZ - are still in thrall of the experts they call economists. Until that changes (or until economics as taught, acknowledges the Limits to Growth, nothing is going to change. Certainly the opposition leadership hasn't changed the chant.

In other words, the biggest existential threat to our way of life is our way of life.

Globalization, pushed by so many nations around the globe, became a catalysis spreading an infectious disease.
Keeping a safe distance from the rest of the world will be new motto.

Good point and of course this is something New Zealand is geographically well placed to take on.

All very ‘flowery’ but will it be enough to overcome our innate desire to be supreme - better than the rest. Unless you think wokeness is the new model...

Some societies have managed to be demure and look far ahead; the North American Indians contemplated their impact on the seventh generation hence.

But where they saw the US as full, in that light, instant-gratification Europeans (having run-down the place they needed to expand out from) was it as empty (as per the inscription inside the Statue of Liberty. They were wrong. But wrong in overshot terms, usually overcomes 'right'. So the species had to get sapient fast enough to avoid collapse. And clearly it didn't; we're still teaching ' marketing' - which can be translated as ' pushing stuff at people faster than they'd use it if left to their own choosing'. So marketing is part - a big part - of the existential problem.

Egalitarianism is just not part of nature. Human social forms require leadership, power and prestige. I agree there will be a stronger desire for economic choices made based on social and political outcomes as a result of Covid but not enough to surplant the capitalist model - yet...

Article has this vague whiff.....Smells like a sales pitch......

If we all abruptly take to doing business solely on-line, what are we going to do with 500,000 years worth of evolution that taught us how to 'read' people face-to-face i.e. body language including the hundreds or even thousands of micro-expressions and micro-gestures we have developed over all those years to 'read' and interact with other people and that have helped us to survive; everybody alive today is an evolutionary success story because of this process, obviously discounting extraneous threats like war, accident, wild predatory animals, etc.

Will they become as redundant as our appendix?

I do hope not. I prefer to believe that we continue face to face living. Online is a convenient outlet - the smartest brands will be working out how to combine both media.

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