This article originally appeared in Ecommerce Age.

We love something different every now and again. Maybe it’s in our endless pursuit of happiness or motivation. Maybe it’s ADHD slowly catching up with our internet-overused minds. Whatever it is. We simply cannot stand being inert.

The ostriches and the meerkats

In the face of change, everyone freaks out to some degree. The difference is what is done after the initial shock. This is where ostriches get separated from meerkats. Like the ostrich, some bury their heads in the sand and continue at a familiar pace while the meerkats consume as much information, become agile in testing novel approaches to stay ahead of the market and steadily serve their overall promise to their customers.

We saw this disparity during the heat of the pandemic. New habits were forged amongst consumers and the buying landscape evolved. Product preferences switched as people started looking to companies that offered them a more holistic brand experience. In the face of these changes, some companies became ostriches while others assumed meerkats. There were lots of ostriches.

The resultant effect? The concept of essential products changed. The darlings of household consumption switched from product-focused companies to user-centric services. Consumer purchase choices became dependent on brand usefulness, innovation, and ease of accessibility. For example, brands that saw ahead of the tide understood that new concepts like WFH would mean not only more empty toilet paper aisles at grocery stores (I don’t know why this ALWAYS happens), but also a mass migration to online services. We saw a ‘4 to 6 years’ acceleration of ecommerce. The switch to ecommerce (or the absence of it) led to the closure of multiple retail businesses during the pandemic. Mom-and-pop stores were the worst hit.

In another case of a meerkat amongst ostriches, mobile telecom usage tanked during the stay-at-home phase of the pandemic, but home Wi-Fi usage surged. Yet, one telecom brand thought hyperactively on how it can evolve to maintain relevance. And it did. That brand was giffgaff.

Leading with purpose

Brand purpose has been a hot topic as most companies grapple with the changing buying landscape and the growing need to reflect purpose, profit, and relevance. Traditionally, it was relegated to what appears as a quoted line in brand documents but increasingly, consumers are making purchase decisions that invariably require companies to think beyond profiteering, shareholder value and become advocates/enablers. Covid made this reality starker – separating preferred brands from others.

When it came to giffgaff, it wasn’t only all about mutual sharing and community-building but also relevance and simplicity of offering. It put people at the center of its brand existence and led with heart. From its ancient Scottish name to its ‘anti-establishment’ brand personality to its product offerings, the brand has remained as one that listens and matches commitment with action.

Covid only helped to amplify what the brand does best – caring and sharing. For example, When Covid hit, giffgaff set about resetting their customer offering to reflect the changing needs of consumers. Knowing the possibility that lots of customers, or their family may be struggling financially, they provided an offer of mutual giving. giffgaffers could donate their un-used data to friends and family members who couldn’t afford to pay for their service during the pandemic. Users rewarded this relevance with loyalty.

The World’s Simplest Brands (UK) was a confirmation of this shift in buyer perception. Afterall, on a list of the usual meerkats – internet search giants, home-streaming services, earth-friendly grocers – what were the odds that a giffgaff would make the top 5 (especially when the industry outlook was not its best)? Well, it is not self-dubbed David amongst Goliaths in Mobile-land for nothing.

Thriving in 2022 and beyond

As consumers adapt further to the changing landscape, brands must think beyond visual appellations and become more experiential, collaborative and make communication a two-way street. To make this work, consider two things.

Research. As the consumer terrain gets even steeper thanks to an evolving buying habit, it has become more imperative to make fact-based decisions, which improve brand equity and drive long-term strategy.

To get this going, you need to conduct user research. Get into the heads of your current and prospective users—diving into their needs, expectations, and motivations to develop a fact base that guides our work. After which you capture your customer experience through mapping your customers’ journey, identifying barriers to success as well as the opportunities for creating an ideal future state. Then, you draw up your experience strategy. At this point, you define the principles—both conceptual and applied—that guide your organization’s behavior across touchpoints and moments in time.

Deployment. The stage of deployment is bringing to life relevant information captured during research. The trick is finding the right amount of data that works and delivering a simple experience to your customer. Once you have captured this, think of the relatable design and how it bears your intended message on your website, apps and/or physical environments (that are human-centered, differentiated and influence your users’ actions). Then, you build test and launch digital experiences that fit seamlessly into your organization’s operations—and make your brand purpose real.

It is worthy of note that brands that match consumers’ continued demand for simplified consumer experiences would be rewarded with brand adoption and retention.


Ben Osborne is Head of Insights, EMEA.