We live in uncertain times.

And the world is changing at a rapid, unpredictable, and unprecedented rate.

According to McKinsey, “Catastrophic events will grow more frequent but less predictable. They will unfold faster but in more varied ways. The digital and technology revolution, climate change, and geopolitical uncertainty will all play major roles.”

This is problematic for us as humans.

One of our core basic needs is a need for Certainty. To feel in control and to feel secure. To have moments in the everyday that we can rely on. Our need for certainty is a survival mechanism. So, when this is brought into contention, we panic.

In times of uncertainty, when we lose our anchors of stability, we are forced to search for these elsewhere. And this is where brands come into play.

Brands can provide a whole belief system to consumers built on dependability, reliability and assurance.

They can provide common ground for consumers based on shared experiences.

And they can provide some much-needed security to appease our anxieties.

In a global survey conducted by The Institute for PR, 48% of respondents said they think brands can provide stability in uncertain times.

Scholar J. Walker Smith believes that brands have the opportunity during crisis to provide the “comfort food” society is craving and act as “anchors of stability.”

But this is a not a new phenomenon. For as long as brands have existed, they have guided consumers through tough times.

During the First World War, Ford repurposed their production lines to help provide military vehicles, with Henry Ford financing a diplomatic mission to bring peace between nations.

After 9/11, Johnson & Johnson quickly mobilised medical supplies to local hospitals and kept their distribution centres open 24/7 in order to help the wounded.

And, in more recently, the NHS was the pillar of hope and support during the pandemic.

But whilst uncertainty is not new to brands, it is becoming more prevalent as society
moves from one crisis to another, in remarkably quick succession.

Therefore in today’s permi-crisis, what are best brand behaviours to guide consumers through uncertainty?

1. Communicating ‘Why’

When the going gets tough, brands have to go back to basics. If a brand is a vessel for emotional storytelling and they exist to resolve a consumer anxiety, then it is important they communicate their reason for being – their why. A brand with a clear purpose can reassure consumers that It is acting beyond commercial objectives to be there for its consumers.

Headspace, the mindfulness app offered its consumers free meditations and mindful practices through the pandemic as a way of handling exacerbated anxiety and stress.

2. Value your Values

“Tough times are when values and culture matter most” – Marc Benioff

There is nothing more compelling than a brand that is clear on its core values. Since 2020, the demand for brands to show their conscience is louder now than ever before. Values serve as a way that a brand can emotionally connect and build trust with its consumers. If core values are well defined, they become embedded into the brand ecosystem. And in times of crisis, they can serve as a pillar of reassurance and accountability.

Nike during the Covid19 pandemic mobilised its community to play inside, not just for themselves but for the world. They also give free access to its training membership to encourage people to work out from home.

3. Sparking Joy 

“A crisis brings out the best in us”, Ingvar Kamprad

In times of uncertainty, consumers turn to brands to bring joy into their everyday and guide them through crises. Bringing consumers joy when life is seemingly difficult fosters trust, and makes the brand dependable (and thus indispensable) to the consumer.

Apple Music launched ‘At Home With’ that created specially curated playlists from the biggest artists in the world, including interviews and FaceTime group chats. This incentive aimed to drive connection and increase happiness during a time of isolation.

4. Empathise and humanise

In times of crises, consumers want brands to be more human. Consumers want to feel seen, listened to, and understood. They want brands to acknowledge tough times and extend a helping hand to those it serves. We connect more deeply with brands that guide us through the worst and make us feel our best.

Morrisons during the pandemic set up telephone ordering for those who did not know how to order shopping online and set up a hardship fund for employees. Now, it is offering discounted and free meals for children

By following these core protocols, brands can build uncertainty into Brand Design.

And if brands are designed well, consumers can build long-term relationships with brands that can out live any short-term crisis.

When the rest of the world seems fragile, blurry and uncertain, the best brands can represent the constant.

And as we search for new solutions to new crises, consumers will depend on brands increasingly, further cementing these brands as pillars of stability for society.

Author: Stephanie Thomas 
FreshBritain Brand Strategist