THE LUXURY OF EMPATHY

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As we continue to adapt  to the ‘new normal’, our guest writer, Suhel Seth emphasises on the need for the luxury brands to adapt too…

Words Suhel Seth

Brands across the world have either folded up or shrunk: adding to the woes of both the  employees and the consumers

Human crises always sharpen the human mind. They force a measure of memory that you wouldn’t otherwise imagine. William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar said, “The good is oft interred with the bones; the evil lives long after.” Such is the frailty of the human heart and mind. This pandemic will be no different. Over the last few months, people have been cloistered by fear and what’s worse, a fear that is both uncertain and likely to be fatal. This has caused the kind of mental anguish hitherto unseen by millions. And add to this, the economic havoc that has been caused, is a concoction of the worst kind and doesn’t augur well for the human race at least in the short term.

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We hear countless examples of mental health issues and the damage to human resilience and confidence that has been caused by Covid-19. And this is not true of any single geography – the cancer has spread across the globe, with no cure in sight. The vaccine may cure the disease but will it prevent the catastrophic damage it has already caused to human beliefs? I guess not.

Brands across the world have either folded up or shrunk: adding to the woes of both employees in those companies and their consumers. Storied brands across the world have filed for bankruptcy and while they’ve made the headlines, what we fail to see so often is the underlying damage to their supply chains and the employees of those very companies. Retail in itself is a form of therapy and shuttered stores and empty shop windows add to the already despondent mindset that prevails today.

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In the days ahead, consumers will seek solace from all their touch points: from families to the brands they support or consume which is why today, more than ever before, it is critical for brands to exude empathy: not something that seems contrived but one that is genuine and mired in concern and the willingness to comprehend. Brands will no longer be able to ride the high horse, and especially luxury brands, because the one thing that the pandemic has taught the world is the importance of conserving cash as also retaining livelihoods. In an atmosphere such as this, brands will have to be the THIRD PLACE: much like Starbucks invented itself as the home, the workplace and then these brands.

Luxury brands have often touted exclusivity as their forte. This will be tested more severely than before. People will look out for brands that are looking after them, allaying their fears, making gentle enquiries about their health and safety, waiving off membership fees (for exclusive clubs) and throwing in more than they earlier used to. In many ways, they will have to indulge in DEMONSTRABLE EMPATHY and where this can be laced with monetary benefit, all the better. 

As the world gets back to its pre-Covid life, consumers will be putting brands to the test in their own minds

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As the world gets back to its pre-Covid life, consumers will be putting brands to the test in their own minds. They will weigh factors such as outreach, communication and empathy as critical choice drivers. For those luxury brands that believe their job will be done by adopting safety standards, think again as that will already be the new normal: brands in the luxury space will have to INVENT, DESIRE AND TRUST. Desire alone won’t do and for the latter, empathy will be key. 

Luxury brands in the retail space (high-value brands such as Berluti, Cartier, Asprey’s and so on) and those in the experiential space (such as hotel chains and high-end automobile companies) will require greater imagination to not just woo the consumer back but to also ensure a level of traction hitherto unseen. Which is why the primary challenge before the brands will be to first define empathy. 

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The second challenge will be to have a greater and more qualitative assessment of consumers and consumer fears or expectations by geography. The consumers in mainland China will differ drastically post this than the consumer in North America and brands will need to factor that in too.

The third challenge will be to marry social distancing and bragging rights together. Many brands are consumed in order to have some effect on peers and thus brands will have to re-examine this in renewed light and with greater vigour.

As I began by saying, the world will never be the same again. Nor will brands and our relationship with them.