In a recent compelling keynote, Dr. Helen Edwards, Adjunct Teaching Fellow, London Business School, Marketing Week columnist, and partner at Passionbrand focused on three key areas:


As marketers we need to try to understand what's going on in the world and respond. The question is, in these difficult times where might we look for guidance on what matters most: including one of the most pressing questions right now: has consumer behaviour changed permanently as a result of covid?

As we have seen in the past 6 months, there is no shortage of panels and research work, but are they really giving us true insight?

Edwards questions if we should use science so liberally as we do when it comes to human behaviour. Does the whole concept of science have a place when it comes to people and behaviour?

Behavioural science in itself is an oxymoron, as human behaviour is too fluid and individual to be linked to the word science. The actual discipline of behavioural science is heavily dependent on single famous experiments which have failed to replicate.

The very notion of marketing science makes Edwards feel a bit ''squeamish'', and if anything it has taught her that evidence was being upscaled by science, science embraces science but evidence doesn't mean you are in a science- because observation is evidence too, and often it's overlooked.


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All these things are just signs that include how people ‘are’. This is about signs not science and how we can use them to understand how consumer behaviour is changing, and maybe it just isn’t changing?

We underestimate the significance of signs - small cues coming back to us from people if we care to observe them. For example in medicine - signs are increasingly important. A good GP is working towards a diagnosis the moment a patient walks through the door, a handshake can be sign of frailty, a tell-tale sign in the eye signifying a deeper problem.

A recent study published in the Telegraph showed that Doctors who use gut instinct were better at catching cancer, than those who relied of formal diagnostic solutions. The sign is a start point - it tells you where to probe further, with a more structured analysis to follow.

Here is one simple checklist you can apply to any disciple in marketing, to get closer to your customers.

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Now let's look at 3 signs Edwards has observed and see how they can be played out in Business action.




Actually, this goes way before the current crisis, we're looking at a long-term trend towards localism. A study from Kantar found that Covid drove a surge of support for local produce in all parts of world, and that globally 65% prefer to buy goods and services from their own country. So, is this move from globalism to localism here to stay?

What we're seeing are prior trends, being accelerated by Covid, across different categories. The next question to ask yourselves is what does this mean for my brand?

It means new resources for microlocal brands and new opportunities to support microlocal brands.

The constituents of 'Brand power' are Salience, Meaning and Difference. Local brands easily win on ‘Salience’ and ‘Meaning’, and Global brands fight back on ‘Difference’ –driven by innovation. 

What is the prior trend before Covid? And has it been given a Covid impetus? Yes and yes? Then the likelihood of change might be large and lasting. We've learnt here that big global brands must keep innovating in product, service, pack, business model, delivery mechanism - EVERYTHING to stay in business. Dr. Helen Edwards




Zoom didn’t just show us to our colleagues, it showed us to us. Thanks to a new way of working, people are interested in improving homes. But could it be that home improvement could be more mass mainstream?

We saw mass market homestores made an entrance into FTSE 100 last year. Is this a trend to last beyond the crisis? Is it relevant to the home category?


Enter the 'Diderot Effect'. Denis Diderot, an 18th century French philosopher realised after being gifted a fine velvet dressing gown, that the splendor of this garment made his background look and feel drab and old. So he set about improving his environment one by one, to match his gown. Sound familiar?

This recognisable tendency is so intuitively true, as something ignites for example being home/on zoom, this ignites something else. Can it affect actions beyond home improvement? Yes, as we make our homes lovelier, why not make the packaging around us lovelier. Why would consumers not include aesthetics in their evaluation of choices? Packaging is an opportunity. Dr. Helen Edwards



If we switch to the supply side, what happens here within companies affects what consumers do down the line. This could be a simple sign of a simple issue with a simple solution.

Poor employee brand engagement -> Sub standard service -> Bad customer service experience.

So the solution would be to reinvest in employee brand engagement, improved service, and better customer experience. Right?

BUT, it could also be something else going on, a sign of a deeper malaise with a more distastrous customer effect, serious employee discontent, resulting from endemic management indifference, spilling out into open. We've heard stories in the past year of exactly this, and we're seeing younger consumers take an active interest in how a business treats its employees. Trends that start with the young filter up the age range over time such as Veganism.

Is it time to reinvigorate the Employer Brand, or a time to think about the Unemployed Brand rather? How a business says goodbye to surplus employees matters beyond the employees and sometimes it is wise to take a hit. Dr Martens was one of first to give back furlough support, which played well to their consumer group. There’s a pandemic on. Soon it will be over. People are likely to remember how you handled it at the time. Dr. Helen Edwards


We've taken you through 3 signs to see how they can be played out in business action.


What we’re talking about is consumer behaviour change, yes sometimes permanent, but look at what’s it taken to make it happen, and how much will stay the same.

It's time to drop the arrogance to ''nudge'' people, and be much more alert and responsive for consumers nudging brands.

For example, when calls drop off this is a nudge to improve response time, when consumers touch your product and fail to purchase this is a nudge about quality, when consumers fall off the online process to purchase, it's a nudge to simplify the online process. 

When you see these nudges, you have to respond - no question.


What’s REALLY changing? Nobody knows. But there are signs, maybe we should just try looking. It's time to drop the arrogance to nudge people, and be much more alert and responsive for consumers nudging US. Dr. Helen Edwards

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