A changing world, changing attitudes

In these extraordinary times, Ashgrove Marketing’s Terry van Rhyn explores how global events might be influencing consumer behaviour

I’m not sure I ever thought I would write a Marketing Matters article that started off about a war in Europe – but then many strange things have happened in recent years.

Over the past month the events in Ukraine have left us all equally staggered and appalled. The daily coverage of cities being bombed, people in desperation hiding underground and families fleeing for their lives has seen an outpouring of support that is quite extraordinary and heart-warming – and in direct contrast to the cold, calculating military aggression that has created this situation in the first place.

We have all in our own way tried to support the plight of the Ukrainian people by donating money or showing alliance in some form or fashion. This has included many instances of companies and big brands putting principles before profit and withdrawing services and goods from the Russian market in protest.

We have discussed before in these columns the growing need for brands to be seen to do the right thing, particularly by younger generations who have a keen sense of right and wrong, and who are not weighed down by the emotional baggage carried by the older population. This is one of those moments where you need to make a choice on where you stand quickly and not find yourself at the back of the herd.

It’s also a moment that might have lasting consequences for customer attitudes and behaviours, especially following on so soon from the shifts we have seen during the COIVD pandemic. To suggest that as consumers we’ve had to adjust how we behave since March 2020 is certainly an understatement.

Whenever you remove any, or all five, of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs you create dissonance and disorder. In the pandemic, we all had to adapt very quickly to our new reality and changing environment, something that, fortunately, our DNA is programmed to do so quite naturally to ensure survival.

For those operating in a retail or sales environment, the adjustment had to be quicker than most as their revenue channels relied on bums on seats, feet through doors, heads on pillows, etc.

Digital innovation was at the forefront of how we changed the way do business. Zoom became our WFH office space and online shopping became second nature. Not all bad, I guess.

For the most part during this time we also experienced human nature at its best and saw communities coming together to support those most vulnerable and to lend a hand to neighbours.

We also had more time for inward thinking, to reassess our priorities and to reflect on what we want to do with our lives. The YOLO (You Only Live Once) philosophy came into play and, for some, a more adventurous, bolder and daring spirit is now taking shape.

This human characteristic manifests itself as a pre-occupation with self-indulgence, adventure and letting go of the safety net. While there will be others who favour closing ranks and hunkering down to protect what they have and to play it safe, the search of a simpler lifestyle where you have more control over your destiny and are also a little bit more selfish about personal enjoyment is evident in most age groups.

For some demographics, it is more profound. Gen Z, for example, have missed out on key coming of age moments like leaving school and socialising during their first year at university, a gap year travelling the world, or have had to begin their first job experience remotely.

Like the progressive 60’s crowd, this generation will also be characterised by what they’ve experienced during these impressionable years and how they have adapted to their new world. They will lead older generations to a new way of thinking about how we do things and, consequently, a shift in behaviour.

Just look at the remarkable popularity of Tik Tok and how audiences are turned into influencers as one example. The phenomenal growth in plant-based food and the consideration of environmental issues is another. It will be necessary for brands to tell their stories in a compelling manner that will resonate with this new mindset and the associated sense of creativity, adventure and dismantling of the status quo.

There is an oft expressed belief that the closer one faces death, the more one appreciates being alive. Nobody should ever have to discover this through war and my heart goes out to those individuals walking with their worldly positions in a suitcase and a child on their hip to try and escape to safety. Their lives will be forever life changed, as have those of many Afghans, Syrians and others before them.

For the rest of us, with this war and its implications so swiftly following COVID, there could well be an added sense of urgency to the YOLO way of thinking.

Myself, I find am listening more and more to the protest songs of Baez, Dylan, Lennon and others from the 60s and 70s. They seem just as relevant now….

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”

– John Lennon