Pride and purpose: COVID-19 brand lessons from Italy

We look to Italy to see how people, and brands, are responding in these unprecedented times – and see what brands everywhere can learn.
09 May 2020
Italian Fiat
Michela Russo

Head of Brand Strategy and Guidance, Insights Division, Italy

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It’s almost impossible to forget even for a while what is happening, and the impact that COVID-19 is having on us all.

In the first place because we are all at home, 24/7, in isolation, and, although we know it’s going to end at some point, we really don’t know what our new reality will look like. Thus, our mind lingers on a temporary situation that feels somehow permanent. We hear everywhere about the bad effects this is having on us all, both personally and professionally.

But perhaps we should focus more on what we can learn from this moment, and see the glass as half full.

Back to basics

As our daily behaviours change, we, as people and as consumers, are evaluating our lifestyles and learning to prioritise what really matters. What to keep and what to leave behind. The “back to basics” mantra that has been around for years is now a reality, that we apply to everything in our lives, including brands. We are deciding which brands we want to be part of our life, and which not.

This is the moment where brands can be strong and grow into our minds and into our hearts. Or, they may just slip out of our minds and hearts, lose relevance. Especially in moments like this, brands need to stay in tune with their consumers, continually monitoring how their behaviours are changing in order to adapt with them. Because people are not on auto-pilot now, they are re-evaluating their own lives, and reviewing their choices.

Rediscovering our strength

This ‘back to basics’ moment extends beyond just brands. There’s one phenomenon that we’re observing clearly in Italy: everywhere people, institutions, organisations, brands… speak of the Italian pride, of the Italian strength, of the power of the “we”.

However dramatic this situation is turning out to be, this is definitely a good outcome: we’re rediscovering the sense of being part of a nation, and of sharing some traits that make us unique. It’s a bit what happens during the World Football Cup, but with a greater intensity and depth.

And it’s not just in Italy that we are seeing this; all over the world, communities are suddenly coming together, such as the ‘Clap for our Carers’ movement in the UK, or the neighbourhood help groups coming together everywhere through social media. People are also becoming conscious of supporting local brands and businesses that have been hit hard by the situation.

Fewer words, more actions

For brands, there’s a fine line between becoming ambassadors and enablers of this “we-moment” and just stating the obvious - or, even worse, claiming this strength and unity only because it “has to be done” to be considered appropriate.

Honestly, we are observing many examples of the latter, much less of the former. A lot of similar stories blurring into a general and generic feeling of celebration, being supportive, having done your share, telling how Italians are being strong… ending up with people asking themselves “what brand was that”?

Recent Kantar research proved that people are becoming tired of generic positive brand messages. As our COVID-19 Barometer demonstrates, what is really resonating with people right now is empathy demonstrated through practical support - 80% of Italians want brand communications to demonstrate ways that a brand can be helpful in the new everyday life.

So what should brands be considering when deciding on their reaction? To be successful in this ‘we-moment’, a brand must identify its own “we” perspective: what is it made of? Which values does it carry?

1. We all want brands we can trust, that are transparent, behave fairly and sincerely, because we feel a bit in the dark out there For instance, the insurance company Generali launched a new portfolio of health insurance products to help in this difficult time, under the tagline #InsiemeGeneriamoFiducia (#CreatingTrustTogether).

2. We all need brands to hold us up in this new daily routine, emotionally and practically. We need help to settle in and cope with the new reality. Ikea embraced this new way of living at home by giving tips and suggestions on how to handle the situation. The new campaign #TogetherAtHome tells stories of how our homes now comprise the office, gym and kindergarten, and how to make the most out of it.

3. We all expect brands to stay close to us and understand our new needs, responding accordingly. Another insurance company, Unipol, decided to refund one month of car insurance to every customer, as nobody is using their cars.

4. We deserve honesty in a world where fake news dominates and we struggle to tell the true from the false Instagram is controlling the sources of news to avoid spreading fake news and the search engine on COVID-19 prioritises official sources.

It’s all about purpose

Whether or not a brand is successful at this boils down to the mother of every brand activity: its Purpose. The question brands must ask themselves is how this moment of togetherness translates into their brand purpose. What they can do to bring to life the “we”, in a way that authentically taps into the brand positioning and purpose.

It may appear trivial, something you’ve already heard, but the reality of a successful brand that can weather any storm is being all about consistency, brand values and brand-led insights. There’s ample proof of those being pillars we must never forget, even when we’re reacting in the moment and planning tactical activities. We ultimately need people to have a consistent experience across all touchpoints, and recognise all expressions of our brand intuitively. Responding to COVID-19 is no different.

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COVID-19 Barometer

The leading syndicated study on how COVID-19 is influencing consumer behaviour, attitudes and expectations, covering over 60 markets.
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