As COVID-19 continues to transform our lives and businesses, new realities are emerging for brands and communicators. Trends in Two Minutes continues its ongoing coverage of the trends of the pandemic and examines the lasting changes to business and communications throughout APAC – and how to best navigate each development.   

Trends in Two Minutes is a monthly bulletin of trends hitting businesses across
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Farewell Alternative Facts – The Return of the Expert 

A little over two years ago, both Collins English Dictionary and the American Dialectical Society named ‘Fake News’ their Word of the Year for 2017. In recent years, fake news and alternative facts have been viewed as an inescapable – and permanent – reality of communication in the modern era.

However, in the wake of new, life-threatening crises like the Australian bushfire emergency and the global COVID-19 pandemic, truth and expertise have taken on a new currency. While still a prominent and complex problem, stakeholders are aggressively fighting back against fake news and its ilk with renewed ferocity.

The battle is taking place on multiple fronts. Social media networks are rapidly implementing new policies and features to limit the spread of fake news, governments in Africa and Europe have launched targeted anti-disinformation campaigns, while one brand has even developed an app to help employees navigate fake news.  

With the global spread of COVID-19 and the attendant stakes of the pandemic, disinformation is increasingly being associated with very real and very tragic impacts on human lives. As such, communications relying on unproven claims or vague suppositions has become progressively less tolerated.

For brands and communicators, it represents a significant shift. In an era of confusion and anxiety, stakeholders are prioritising certainty, trust, and authority. Communications demonstrably grounded in truth and expertise will enjoy a distinct advantage over campaigns rooted solely in emotion or entertainment.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General claimed the only antidote to the spread of disinformation around COVID-19 was ‘verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis’. Stakeholders are no longer searching for the everyday person. In the current era, they’re searching for the expert.

Competitor Collabs: An Alternative Competitive Edge

In March, COVID-19's accelerated global spread saw the world’s major tech brands surrender up to US$320 billion in value on the US stock exchange. It coincided with what, at the time, represented the worst day for US stocks since the 2008 financial crisis. However, as the pandemic continued to intensify, two of the major brands affected adopted an almost-revolutionary strategy – collaboration.

With many governments around the world looking to digital contact tracing to help control the spread of the virus, the companies behind the world’s two most popular smartphone operating systems announced they were collaborating to develop a contact-tracing app that would work across three billion of the world’s smartphones. Since that announcement, both brands have recovered over a third of their lost value.  

It’s simply one of many unusual collaborations to emerge from the pandemic. Following China’s initial outbreak, an ecommerce brand joined forces with restaurant networks to share employees and balance out staff shortages and lost income for workers. Even governments are collaborating in new ways; Indonesia and Korea trading raw materials and medical supplies to leverage each other’s resources and manufacturing assets.

While the idea of competitor collaboration has fuelled major brand campaigns before, it’s a concept that’s taken on a more profound resonance in the current era. In today’s environment, brands or sectors or governments working together signifies to stakeholders that the relevant parties understand the gravity of the current pandemic and are prioritising overall health, safety, and wellbeing, over protecting profit margins.

It’s been well-documented that stakeholders are inclined to reward brands perceived to be doing the right thing – especially consumers in the younger generations. By crafting strategies around purpose-driven solutions or cross-competitor industry collaboration, brands and communicators are likely to build stronger, more lasting reputations and relationships with stakeholders; creating substantial additional value for businesses.

Think Global, Build Local: The New Supply Chains

In markets all over the planet, agriculture has consistently been one of the most impacted sectors of the COVID-19 pandemic. With lockdowns and quarantine shutting down both supply chains and restaurants, farmers in the US, India, Japan, Indonesia, and beyond are facing challenges that could effectively terminate their respective agricultural sectors.

However, where many farmers are struggling, some are experiencing unexpected windfalls. In Australia, some farmers have recorded year-on-year sales growth of up to 500%. Embattled farmers in aforementioned Indonesia are currently playing a pivotal role in delivering food supplies to those who have lost income during the pandemic.

It’s emblematic of a larger shift – one with significant ramifications for brands operating across multiple markets and their local competitors. In response to a variety of pandemic realities (supply disruption, widespread unemployment, movement restrictions, closed borders, quarantines), consumers are prioritising local business infrastructure.

The boosted sales for Australian farmers, for example, have been attributed to consumers shifting away from supermarkets during quarantine and pursuing local alternatives with the infrastructure for local delivery and pick-up with minimal contact and no imports. Experts and governments are similarly championing local supply.

In the UK, experts are suggesting the region’s entire agricultural supply chain infrastructure be re-deployed in service of local businesses and suppliers; citing both COVID-19 and climate change as justifications. In Australia, the government has sponsored a networking platform for manufacturers to build new supply chains.

Elsewhere, industry experts are arguing for auto, electronics, and other brands to re-evaluate their global supply chains post-COVID-19. For brands and communicators, it’s increasingly apparent that strategies will need to prioritise local connections to ensure stakeholder buy-in going forward.

In a post-COVID-19 landscape where governments and consumers alike are seeking to champion businesses and sectors with clear relationships with their local community, it’s brands that can most clearly and compellingly showcase those connections that will likely thrive over their competitors.  

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