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Virtual Connections

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Out of touch: How to make emotional connections in the time of COVID-19

While the world faces the biggest macro-crisis since World War II, we are all to some degree facing our own micro-crises: one of self-confidence and identity.

There’s nothing like the toxic combination of an obscure viral enemy and an unprecedented lockdown to trigger a messy pandemic of personal insecurity. Because when you can’t go to work, see people and do the things you love, a crisis of confidence is surely natural.

When life takes such a bizarre twist, it’s important to understand how we build our personal identities in the first place. What is it that has been shaken and how can that be rebuilt?

It goes beyond the basic needs of our jobs, houses, heat and food sources. Travel higher up Maslow’s triangle and you’ll first find the need for belonging and connection, and next you’ll find self-esteem.

The internet is a utility, not a luxury, and it’s all that is keeping many of us hanging on by a thin emotional thread.

Emotional separation; digital connectivity

And here’s the catch folks: while COVID-19 lockdown is necessary to keep us physically healthy, it is separating us emotionally from the people, things and activities that make us feel secure in ourselves. In short, we’ve been temporarily barred from the self-confidence club.

While COVID-19 lockdown is busy pushing our buttons and pummelling us with uncertainty, one thing’s for sure: digital connectivity has come into its own. The internet is a utility, not a luxury, and it’s all that is keeping many of us hanging on by a thin emotional thread.

Consumers are looking for connection and reassurance that some semblance of normality will continue in a world that has never felt more weird. So, how can brands assert themselves thoughtfully and with relevance, using digital means, to support and emotionally connect with people in their hour of need?

A good place to start is for us to suggest that brands should mimic the behaviours that humans do in real life to create intimacy. They do these things:

  • Give their attention and show they’re listening
  • Provide comfort when it’s needed most
  • Show others they care when they can’t be there in person

We’ve added an actionable layer around the opportunity for brands in three areas:

  1. Help people STOP doing what is becoming unimportant
  2. Help people EXPLORE new ways of enjoying what they want to do
  3. Help people DO more things that help them self-define

1 - STOP

We’re realising that we are more than capable of doing our jobs well from home, and seeing how nature is claiming back its space from us polluting humans, it makes us wonder if we were doing life right before lockdown. Expensive commutes and long hours in the office don’t necessarily bring joy. How can we make the most of life at home?

It is refreshing to see a piece of content from Audi Australia that literally screams ‘stop racing around!’ and encourages us to unwind. Their four hour long car journey in the Audi A6 Sedan is an invitation to enjoy the open road from the comfort of home. Crank up the tunes and zone out.

From switched off to switched on. Lots of food brands might have shut the IRL doors, but they have revamped their service models to go above and beyond in-home delivery. From full Sunday roast dinners with wine delivered from gastro pubs, to discounted food for NHS workers from Pret, we admire the work of brands like Donut Time, usually bastions of the high street, who have quickly and efficiently set up home delivery, and click and collect services, so you don’t go without your favourite sugar fix.

The desire to explore how to fill those spare hours is strong and brands can recognise this and help us in the discovery of new ways to take part in the pastimes we love.

2 - EXPLORE

Many of us have more time on our hands in lockdown and when your world is limited to a couple of miles radius around the house, the twitch of tedium calls. The desire to explore how to fill those spare hours is strong and brands can recognise this and help us in the discovery of new ways to take part in the pastimes we love.

Avid cyclists are perhaps experiencing the twitch more than most as their outside exercise and socialising is seriously curbed. So, well done to Zwift for picking up the pace with their popular online cycling world. Racing fans, from beginners to elite athletes from around the globe, plug their bike into a turbo trainer and race their hearts out from the living room in a virtual ride. So far the platform has broken all previous participation records and by partnering with Team INEOS (previously Sky), you can pedal along with your favourite riders and ask them questions too.

Fashion brands are having an online ‘moment’ thanks to lockdown. One of our favourites is Dior reopening its Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition online and on social media. Gallery and fashion fans can virtually wander through the visual beauty of couture dresses, archive photography and original sketches by Christian Dior. The Dior YouTube channel is a rabbit hole where fashionistas can lose themselves for hours.

3 - DO

The act of doing anything, except gazing at the wall in a demotivated stupor, seems so limited in lockdown that it can be exasperating. But brands that understand how to upskill and help in useful ways are going to win the day.

Helping us ‘do’ comes in many different guises. On a serious note, US advertising for the National Domestic Violence Hotline has launched the ‘#Listeningfromhome’ campaign encouraging people to take action and get help if they hear or observe domestic violence.

Lighter fare is coming from brands like IKEA, Pizza Express and Burger King who realise that people are desperately missing their favourite scran. Burger King France have created a how-to guide to make the Whopper at home, Pizza Express are showing us how to make the famous dough ball, and IKEA have made recipe cards for making their moreish Swedish meatballs. All essential for lockdown survival.

And finally, when you can’t get to the gym, and you’ve overindulged in the home cooking, it’s easy to get rather lost with your workout regime. Step forward Avengers star and exercise buff Chris Hemsworth who is giving away free six-week trials of his fitness and nutrition app for 30 days. He’s one of many but the tone is what really nails it: there’s a sincerity there that many fitness sales pitches lack, so hats off to Hemsworth.

People have long memories and they will remember how you made them feel. Where life has slowed down and blank space has erupted, brands can show recognition, offer comfort and something useful. It’s not about selling; it’s about vital emotional connection. And it matters now more than ever. How will your brand be remembered in the time of COVID-19?

Tom Poynter, Managing Director at Southpaw

Southpaw Communications Ltd

Southpaw

Advertising Agency
The Warehouse, Hill Street,
Tunbridge Wells,
Kent
TN1 2BY

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