Value(s)-based Marketing and Communication
Undoubtedly, the nature and content of marketing and communication activities have been and will continue to be impacted and modified by the implications of COVID-19. Consumers’ shifting purchasing habits, both in terms of products (with food, household supplies, personal care items, home entertainment dominating the market scene) and placement (online distribution), are just two natural outcomes of the lockdowns and restrictive measures. Similarly, the already-extensive use of social media and influencer marketing channels is not only intensifying (driven by both consumers’ choices and companies’ cost-cutting on traditional communication channels, such as TV) but also receiving a renovated social meaning. Consumers are provided with contents of social awareness and a greater sense of responsibility in an entertaining and participatory way. The use of content marketing as a nonpromotional activity is becoming one of the strongest ways in which brands can keep engaging with their consumers by leveraging their active social role and their capacity to build valuable relationships that benefit communities that are suffering. Many actors, instead of just pausing their commercial communications like Coca Cola did in the first two months after the COVID-19 emergence, are shifting from product-based to value(s)-based communication. Value(s)- based communication is important because it is the vehicle through which the three core values together provide a perception of higher value to the consumer-brand relationship based on a stronger social dimension.
By spreading messages of social connection, social participation and social engagement, firms seem to be establishing a brand of reassurance.
In April 2020, the leading Italian pasta maker Barilla developed an advertising campaign celebrating Italy and its resilience through a journey of sacrifices and isolation but constant social connection, where the brand reassures stakeholders that it is always present—in the still- operating factories, in people's houses and in supermarkets.4 The same applies for brands deciding to take on and spread the responsibility of staying at home to save lives and be good citizens. For example, in its ‘Stay Home of the Whopper’ campaign, Burger King tells its customers that ‘Your country needs you to stay on your couch and order in. Do your part and we’ll do ours [...] and the delivery fees are on us’. This campaign is an expression of social participation and consumer empowerment, where each of us is called to act in the interest of health and society.s Similarly, the Italian leading coffee roaster Lavazza has focussed its latest communication on the message ‘Good Morning Humanity’, using a Charlie Chaplin’s speech from 1940 of a rediscovered humanity and a sense of social engagement as an example of how to ‘fight for a new world, a decent world, that will give you a future and [...] security [...], a world where science and progress will lead to happiness’.6 Branding seems to be gaining momentum, albeit with different and more authentic social connotations. ‘Consumer first’ might remain the core concept behind marketing activities, but we expect that consumers’ empowerment and engagement with society will drive marketing and communication strategies towards a more responsible and deeper reconnection of value, with consumers having a renovated role: from transactional-based targets to relational-based partners.
Initiatives for Technological Involvement
We would have never imagined that certain activities would migrate online and shape new digital habits. This starts with education, where kids, young people, teachers and professors have been forced to reshape their way of studying and teaching according to digital rules. Similarly, the need for the compulsory smart working for knowledge-intensive workers demonstrates how technology has helped to address stakeholders’ social and professional needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. With regard to technological involvement, we have witnessed various new partnership initiatives, designed conjointly by individuals as well as third-sector, public and private organisations to foster the implementation of technology among different stakeholder groups in differentiated ways to favour inclusion. The Italian initiative #tutti- connessi [all connected] has been promoted by several cultural associations and organisations, such as SYX, Tekhne and ISF e MuPIn, to support online teaching and provide access to lectures and digital tools to all people through a crowdfunding activity open to individuals and private organisations. Donors can participate in the project through in-kind donations of laptops, tablets and smartphones to communities that do not have access to such devices, such as students from disadvantaged groups. Teachers can also act as ‘guarantors’ for the students and use the #tutticonnessi platform to fill a collective request for devices. Volunteers are in charge of collecting the devices, sanitising them and delivering them to the students’ families. In addition, other initiatives have been organised to support and foster technological involvement in digitally adverse sectors, such as that of sport, with the same logic of social inclusion. During lockdowns, the digital space dedicated to sport practices (including active video games and ex- ergames) has shown the potential to expand and enhance social and educational values, especially among young people. The Trinijove Foundation in Barcelona (Spain), which works with socially excluded young people, has developed a programme with their sport teams to promote healthy activities during the lockdown.s The basic idea has been to use mobile phones to create training routines to exercise and train along the soccer, rugby and basketball teams, which have allowed group training to continue using electronic devices as well as the programmes offered by social networks. This system has facilitated play in noncompetitive leagues with similar clubs in other European Union countries. Through such activities, young people have been able to learn that young people from other countries are experiencing the same situation of confinement, and they have been able to share ideas, solutions and leisure time. This sport digitalisation initiative offers the attractive and innovative possibility of using technologies with a double purpose: to provide physical and healthy activities and to create new virtual spaces to break the existing digital divide by promoting inter- cultural dialogue and equal opportunities for socially excluded young people. The Trinijove Foundation’s aim is to continue working on digital sports in the COVID-19 recovery period to encourage young people and teachers to adopt innovative and educational strategic approaches that use physical activities and digital tools to strengthen values and combat youth violence, racism and intolerance. Another case of enhancing technological involvement for social purposes during the crisis is the partnership between Dynamo Academy—an Italian social enterprise active in the field of education—and the carmaker BMW Italy. This partnership has produced a series of four free smart learning courses on urgent contemporary matters targeting secondary school students to teach them how to give value to their communities through knowledge and sharing of best practices. The topics include an overview on the sustainable development goals paradigm, an evaluation of the social impact and social business activity, an analysis of diversity within eight social projects from all over the world and an overview of methodologies for nurturing talents and developing skills based on human values.9
Disruptive Local versus Global Paradigm
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have disrupted the traditional local-global paradigm through a process that even moves away from the glocal logic. A new localism and a culture of proximity are emerging in certain sectors, such as food supply, combining technological innovations with a traditional sense of local community. The Italian start-up company Mercou (meaning market in the Genovese dialect), based in Genova, is the first online market of local food artisans in Italy.10 Mercou links local food shops or producers within local food markets with customers through two sales channels. The first is a website platform coupled with a 24/7 phone number connected to an online platform with a squad of delivery drivers. In describing the evolution of their business idea and its very short time to market, the founders indicated that their business model was designed to provide local food producers or shops with opportunities to sell more by adapting to digital technology with a social purpose. Mercou’s role is to simplify the transactions between customers and local shops by leveraging improved communication and relationships within their community. Providing a consumer market to local shops is a signal of a stronger relational-based localism, where customers are willing to pay an increased price for fresh and quality products, in part because they are aware that they are contributing to the sustainability of local producers and shops. Can we consider such a trend a valuable temporary response, or is this strong evidence of a new localism? Certainly, we need to acknowledge the power of localism in this sense and determine the extent to which it could reconfigure the local-global paradigm based on specific supply chains and areas of intervention. Indeed, we cannot deny that globalisation is strengthening its implications and potential in other specific areas of intervention, and it appears that a globalised and interconnected world can serve purposes that would be poorly served otherwise, mainly those related to knowledge sharing and the exchange of urgently needed supplies. What is happening at the Athena Health Care (AHC) medical consultancy institution in Barcelona provides strong evidence of this statement.11 AHC reacted to the pandemic by analysing key needs and focussed on a three-sided strategy to fight COVID-19. First, they filled the gap in communication between national and regional public authorities to coordinate and channel basic needs for regional hospitals, nursing homes, law enforcement and community organisations. Spain decentralised the health care system decades ago, and so the actual management was run at a regional level, but the crisis management team was appointed at a national level within the Ministry of National Healthcare, an office with no real resources or purpose. Officials did not know who to contact or who was in charge of specific tasks. AHC built the bridges between different authorities and finally achieved their goal.
Second, by leveraging their strength in communication, AHC found the right people who had actual knowledge and experience in fighting the pandemic. In the early days, AHC found a group of Chinese residents in Spain who volunteered to facilitate open dialogue between Chinese doctors and their Spanish colleagues. As a result, AHC gained immediate access to clinical knowledge, which would have been otherwise impossible since Spain had no recent experience with this type of virus. This rapidly scaled up and has become the Global Volunteers Alliance against COVID-19. Third, AHC urgently collected supplies to cover shortages in the health care community. As in any other country, basic medical devices and medical supplies were insufficient or even nonexistent. AHC put together a database of local and international manufacturers that could supply compliant basic devices so that health care authorities could buy and distribute them where needed.