Brand as business, Brand as culture


23 February, 2021

Ride the waves

Like a surfer, great brands catch and ride the waves of the time. The waves are an expression of consumer feelings, sentiment, wants and needs. And 2020 has changed the seascape forever. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework for understanding consumers’ needs, these are some of the new waves that brands would do well to ride in 2021 and beyond.


“Never take funerals for granted.”

In 2020 we learnt the definition of what is “essential”. Many services and activities that we had previously considered essential to our everyday lives were closed down after being declared non-essential. Hair and beauty salons, holidays and travel, restaurants, bars, gyms, beaches, cinemas, nightclubs, churches and mosques, galleries and museums, weddings, dinner parties, schools and even funerals are all non-essential. Services and activities that meet our most essential needs are pretty much food and medicine.

“Never take funerals for granted” is the wave for brands who are inclined to over-state their promise. It comes down to making the distinction between what consumers “need” and what consumers “want”. Brands that meet human wants, not needs, should not position themselves as offering essential products or services. To do so would be to over-state their relevance and place in people’s lives, and after 2020 consumers won’t be as gullible or susceptible to such claims.


“Health is the greatest wealth.”

2020 taught us the value of health. In countries with high standards of living especially, and in a world where we are all living longer and healthier lives, health was something many of us took for granted prior to 2020. Suddenly we were all vulnerable to the random roaming of a virus called COVID_19 as it arbitrarily struck people down across the world. Lockdown forced many of us into states of anxiety and depression, with the full impact of this on our mental health yet to be revealed.

“Health is the greatest wealth” is the wave that many brands would do well to ride, not just health brands. Consumers are seeking products and services that meet the needs of their emotional and mental wellbeing, and brands in the beauty, travel, and fashion sectors can all have a role to play. The opportunity here is to tap into the deep-seated need for consumers to feel and be safe from illness and anxiety and help them get on the front-foot with a positive mindset and attitude.


“Hard times reveal true friends.”

Physical distancing and working from home in 2020 has kept people apart in 2020, with the need for belonging and connection now being greater than ever before (if that’s at all possible). There is nothing that can supplant the human need for personal contact, especially contact not mitigated by a screen. Many of us have noticed a spike in video call requests, chats via instant messaging, and “just checking up” emails. This is a sign that our friends care hugely about us, and maybe it took the pandemic to have them admit it.

“Hard times reveal true friends” is the wave all brands should ride. No matter what you’re selling, we are all human beings first and foremost. Human beings come first, not race, not religion, not nationality, not occupation. Insofar as brands are a tribe of people who ascribe to a set of beliefs and values, now is the time to value human connection by making your brand tribe feeling more included and valued than ever before.


“Not all heroes wear capes.”

When it comes to “esteem” no-one is better than anyone, and COVID_19 has been a stark reminder of this lesson. The people who made a difference and mattered most in our time of crisis and need don’t sit in corner offices on the 57th floor, they mop the floors. The heroes of Covid_19 are the cleaners, nurses, doctors, caretakers, grocery workers, delivery drivers, teachers, bakers, farmers, packers, garbage collectors, funeral workers, pharmacists, social workers, IT people, and treasury workers (apologies for any omissions).

“Not all heroes wear capes” is the wave for brands – no matter how big or small – who have a strong and clear purpose, a commitment to making a contribution (beyond making a dollar), and who recognise that every human being is worthy of attention, acknowledgement, and respect. Especially the cleaners.


“If you want to turn the tide you have to get in the water.”

The nature of a virus such as COVID_19 means we are literally all in this together. Nobody can sit by, watch, and do nothing. My actions have unintended consequences which can destroy the lives and livelihoods of others. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. This is the new morality, and everyone gets it.

“If you want to turn the tide you have to get in the water” is the wave for brands to ride who are prepared to walk their talk by taking action and doing things that meet and serve the needs of consumers. We’re all in this together is the feeling consumers want, and it’s a feeling that comes through action and positive brand experiences, not just running nice TV advertisements that make people feel good.

Good luck to all marketers in 2021 and beyond 🙂






Back to All Articles


  1. “Health is the greatest wealth”, word! that can be the next big topic. but one must be careful with the choice of words. Not every product can be called that.
    Cheers Pierre

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.