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Asymmetric Impact isn’t just economic, it’s cultural too

Last week, Gertjan Vlieghe, a member of the Bank of England’s MPC gave a speech warning about the highly asymmetric effects of Covid-19 on the UK economy. It’s clear that whilst there are a few economic winners in the crisis so far, most sectors are badly affected, and some much, much more so than others. It all makes life much more complex and difficult for the central Bank and the Treasury, for whom dealing in broad macro-economic levers is always neater and simpler than having to manage competing interests and needs on an awkward, sector by sector basis.

Reading about the Bank’s difficulty with ‘highly asymmetric economic impacts’ made me think about the similar variations we’re seeing in how different sections of the British public are being affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Yes, it’s bad and troubling for everyone, but our research is showing that the degree to which people are being affected varies a great deal…and that the nature and experience of the negative effects also varies hugely across different sections of society and walks of life.

So, whilst there are things we can all recognise and relate to in common, from our distress at the death toll, to our admiration for the NHS, to our frustration with confinement and social distancing, the real-world difficulties and concerns are being felt in quite different ways by different groups.

For example, the stresses of families home-schooling whilst holding down jobs is markedly different from the huge increase in leisure time available to the pre and post kid generations. The longer term environmental and economic anxieties of Gen Z and Millennials are of a very different nature to the short term health and isolation concerns of the Boomers. Those working in the tangible, real world economy, in retail, leisure and hospitality for example, have a different set of limitations and job security challenges compared to those working in the knowledge economy, who can more easily adapt the shape and pattern of their working lives. And ultimately, as is often the way in crises, the more affluent middle-classes may be able to afford to stand back and take stock of what all this means to them, whilst those on lower incomes have to face up to some very real and immediate pressures and hardships.

One of the truths of crises is that they expose and amplify the differences in economies, society and culture. When things are ‘normal’ and relatively benign, we find it that bit easier to build and accept our place in life, to feel ok about who and where we are, to focus a little less on the differences and inequalities between ‘us’ and ‘them’. But the challenges and difficulties brought on by real crises, whether Brexit or Covid-19, tend to explode that comfortable commonality, heightening the real world divisions. In the case of Covid-19, its colossal read-world impact has, to reprise the Bank of England, done that in ‘highly asymmetric’ ways.

As we move forward, marketeers will need to think carefully about how to engage with different groups within their wider audience, who have been affected in varying ways, and left with differing sentiments and attitudes about what it all means for them.

This is especially so for big, mainstream brands that reach broad swathes of the British public. Building empathy, inspiring action, creating engagement and delivering against what people need during and immediately after this crisis is going to demand a carefully targeted and nuanced approach. There are going to be risks involved in playing out propositions and communications that may resonate strongly for some but actively alienate others.

A deft, thoughtful, carefully calibrated approach is going to matter just as much for marketing teams as it does for the Bank of England.

I’d love to know what you think and what your plans are. Feel free to drop me a line on roger@daviesmckerr.com

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