By Lutz Dietzold.
It’s time to act: the world is just a jungle of coronavirus signs. Barrier tape confines our movements in shops, restaurants and public spaces. In places where we were once guided by rigorous systems to present us with products and boost sales, we are now met with towers of chairs or plastic boxes blocking any spaces where crowds of people might form. The much-praised improvisation is seeing carefully composed brand installations fade into the background as safety comes first. At the start of the crisis, flexibility and fast action were of course essential to the survival of many companies – whether that was switching from producing luxury goods to masks, quickly setting up a web shop or organising regulation-compliant reopening of commercial spaces.
It is high time we got back to rigorous and comprehensive brand management. The crisis affords strong brands a particular opportunity to secure the trust of partners, consumers and employees for the benefit of a long-term customer relationship.
But where do all of these measures leave brand perception? The appeal of brand staging that has been cultivated over many years is now rapidly declining, which also comes at the expense of trust in the brand. The virtual world is edging closer and closer to centre stage – but leaning towards a virtual presence at the expense of stationary presentation is no strategy for the future. It is high time we got back to rigorous and comprehensive brand management. The crisis affords strong brands a particular opportunity to secure the trust of partners, consumers and employees for the benefit of a long-term customer relationship.
Improvisation without a holistic overview of stringent design across all customer contact points means that valuable opportunities and resources are wasted. Hence my plea: it is time to bring our focus back to consistent brand staging at every contact point.
The coronavirus oracle – the (un)certain future
When planning the latest measures, many are relying on various futurologists and self-proclaimed experts. But how are these any different to astrologers or ancient prophecies drawn from the flight of birds or the scent of sacrifices? I’d like to see the Oracle of Delphi brought back to life, too – with a live stream for pronouncing the future and a video chat with the priestess. Interestingly, even the priests of the oracle did not depend on visions, but rather on accumulated knowledge and current insights that were brought to them. We should remind ourselves that we can’t predict the future, but we can do our best to shape it. Now is our chance to revitalise weak brands and strengthen established ones.
Shopping experience – customer journey X.0
There are already some shining examples, with many a new campaign guided by methods that have always been a part of customer management for luxury brands, where appointments at the shop are arranged in advance and only a certain number of customers are allowed in the store at one time. Advice is celebrated and the brand is given totally new value with an exclusive experience that retail can definitely learn from. A queue in front of a shop does not need to be a sign of a crisis – it can occasionally be an indicator of desirability. Take for instance those fans of a brand who will even spend the night outside a shop awaiting the launch of the latest smartphone.
A small number of companies are also currently achieving sophisticated integration of an online and offline brand experience with a new retail concept. The Danish furniture manufacturer BoConcept, for example, has recently opened a virtual 3D showroom where all the products can be handled in 3D visualisations. An interior design consultant is also on hand to answer questions and provide advice via a video chat. As an additional highlight, customers can book a private visit to the showroom outside of the regular opening hours. The brand and its values are represented at all of the touchpoints for the target group with an omnipresence that can only be of benefit after the coronavirus crisis, too.
Master of disaster – risk and resilience
A key question is whether you can actually prepare for crises. The Design department at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences is working with Kyushu University in Fukuoka to develop a disaster kit for Germany based on the emergency kits that are common in Japan. Given that it is much more likely that critical environmental situations will demand rapid adaptation in Japan compared to Europe, the Japanese have a head start with this issue. This has resulted in interesting everyday objects that can be repurposed in a disaster, such as a bedside lamp with a shade that can be used as a helmet in the event of an earthquake.
If we can now free ourselves of this stigma, we will be able to deal with crises more confidently in future. It is just as possible to learn resilience as it is to find a strong route out of the crisis. We are now in the midst of the learning process.
Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences is developing easy-to-follow guides that can help the population deal with a disaster, bringing together approaches from product design, information design and digital applications. Crisis preparedness was not a popular topic in the past – almost as if just thinking about it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we can now free ourselves of this stigma, we will be able to deal with crises more confidently in future. It is just as possible to learn resilience as it is to find a strong route out of the crisis. We are now in the midst of the learning process.
Lutz Dietzold, Managing Director German Design Council
Lutz Dietzold (*1966) has been managing director of the German Design Council since 2002. He studied art history, classical archaeology and German language and literature in Frankfurt. After working as a freelancer in the area of design communication for national and international clients, he was appointed as the managing director of the Deutscher Werkbund Hessen (German Association of Craftsmen in the federal state of Hesse) as well as the managing director of Design Zentrum Hessen (Hesse Design Centre), where he was responsible for the strategic reorientation of design promotion.
In 2011 he was appointed deputy chairman of the Stiftung Deutsches Design Museum (German Design Museum Foundation) and member of the advisory council of the Mia-Seeger-Stiftung (Mia Seeger Foundation). Mr. Dietzold publishes articles on a regular basis and gives national and international lectures on a variety of topics relating to design. He is also a member of numerous juries as well as of the project advisory board of the German Federal Ecodesign Award of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.