New pandemic rule for brands: Define your ritual accelerator

And other takeaways from the Great American Realignment panel at PRDecoded.

WE Communications’ Marisa Lalli (top left) led a roundtable discussion at PRDecoded.

NEW YORK: Within the change, tension and uncertainty that COVID-19 has sparked worldwide lies an opportunity for brands to carve a more constructive path forward, and the time for change is now, according to WE Communications’ Marisa Lalli.  

Lalli and WE consumer SVP Elizabeth Herrera Smith led a roundtable discussion at PRWeek’s virtual PRDecoded conference on Tuesday entitled, the Great American Realignment: Adapting to Changing Consumer Behavior and a New Cultural Framework.

Lalli, SVP of consumer and New York GM at WE, discussed activities that people used to take for granted but are now much-missed, such as simply attending an exercise class or seeing family members in-person. 

Many consumers are taking what they miss and creating rituals around those things. People are just “trying to find things that will help us feel more normal,” Lalli said.

One example of a brand taking a ritual and turning it on its head for this adjustment and acclimation period is Kraft Mac & Cheese, which removed “dinner” from its iconic blue box in August and started pushing the dish as a breakfast option.

“They had data from the beginning of the pandemic where people said, ‘As long as my family eats something, I will be content,’” said Lalli. 

Another ritual that consumers don’t want to give up is travel, so brands are getting creative to safely provide that experience.

“We are seeing people have a desire to get out and explore, both in terms of the resurgence of the Sunday drive and virtual experiences,” said Lalli. 

Amazon, for example, started offering virtual sightseeing tours last month. And Alaska Airlines, early in the pandemic, released virtual travel destinations via Instagram.

“We picked our top destinations like Mexico and California beaches,” said roundtable attendee Cailee Lyngaas, a media relations manager at Alaska Airlines. “And we launched education videos for kids [and] gave tours of the cockpit and the plane and pitched it to educational outlets.”

Alaska Airlines hopes to continue that kind of content post-COVID-19, she added.

Another trend Lalli has noticed is a surge of “with me” content on YouTube, such as “cook with me” and “read with me” videos. Disney+ is also pushing its GroupWatch feature and Levi’s launched a Squad AR experience allowing groups of friends to come together with a stylist.

“There is a desire for connection that we as humans will always have,” said Lalli.

Another attendee, Cowen retail analyst Oliver Chen, noted that the “new horizon” is TikTok, and it’s important to note that Walmart has tentatively agreed to purchase a 7.5% stake of TikTok in the U.S.

“So how do you recreate [the shopping experience] virtually, merging bricks and clicks?” said Chen. 

The big takeaway for brands? Define your ritual accelerator.

“If you can hone in on that as a brand, you can help shape these rituals and create new ones that provide some new value for your customers and for each other,” said Lalli.

Go here to re-watch this and all the other PRDecoded panels.

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