These are unsettling, upsetting, uncertain times with the situation changing rapidly, often moving in the least expected direction. Writing now, five days into my own self-isolation, it is very difficult to anticipate how people will be feeling, or if they will be in the mood to read it, even tomorrow.
But today, I don’t mind. It is giving me a focus on something other than my own anxieties. Because I am anxious. I am worried about my family, my friends, my colleagues, my community, my work, the economy, society, the future.
I lie in bed at night, I stare into the garden during the day and I fret. I have been worrying about whether I should admit it, but then realised that there is nothing special about me; most other people feel the same, it’s just that we are all putting a brave face on it to protect those we care about the most.
But I am not sure we should. I think it is probably better to share our anxieties. We need to get it out of our system so we can then focus on how we are going to manage, not just over the next few weeks of this phase of social distancing, but into the inevitable future phases. And not just manage to survive, but also manage to thrive.
I am not one for hyperbole, but our world has changed irrevocably and we currently have no idea what all the changes will ultimately be. Many of the things that we hold dear, that keep us going, will be denied us for weeks and months to come: gathering with our friends, supporting our neighbours, getting a hug from our mums.
In the these first few days, we have all been focused on working out how to work from home for more than a couple of days, managing the clash of our worlds as home meets work in our living rooms and kitchens. We will all have had dozens of emails with advice on remote working, on keeping yourself and your team energised and motivated. And some of them are really useful.
But I think we need to go beyond these. Marketers need to spend, what will certainly be a prolonged period of confinement, really thinking about what we want the world which we will eventual step back into to look like and how brands can help restore confidence and rebuild morale.
I know a lot of this work will need to be done by governmental bodies, but I strongly believe that brands have a part to play too.
One of the most worrying aspects of the first weeks of the outbreak was witnessing the consequences of the breakdown of trust in politicians. It meant that important public health messages were unheeded and it was only when actual medical and scientific experts finally began to speak that any of the advice really began to land.
Marketers need to spend, what will certainly be a prolonged period of confinement, really thinking about what we want the world to look like.
It strikes me that brands, which have invested huge amounts of time and money in building trust, could usefully spend some time now thinking about how they might use that trust to help bring us together, to restore community cohesion.
We have already seen some great examples: Pret giving NHS workers free coffees and discounted food; the BBC stepping in to help educate a generation of children with no schools to go to; supermarkets having protected hours for older and vulnerable customers.
But we will need to think about the future. I hope that Covid-19 will bring out the best in us, but worry it will encourage the worst. We need brands to start thinking now about how they can remind us that we are fundamentally good souls who care about our communities, who look out for each other.
I want them to think about how they can begin to support the revival of those most important bits of civic society – music, arts, cinema, theatre, sport – which have fallen away. How they can work to reframe physical retail and the hospitality industry to restore the society of others that we as human beings crave.
These are the things that give so many of us the balance we need in our lives. They are the things beyond our immediate needs (shelter, food, warmth) that keep us working, that keep us going.
I am pleased to be talking already to a few organisations who are up for this. We aren’t yet sure what the ‘new normal’ will be. It is likely to involve social distancing for a sustained period, but we need to make sure that it is only physical, not emotional.
Surely between us we have the creative power, the reach and the will to connect meaningfully with consumers to help us flourish in the new normal?