Nineteen weeks ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, we started daily reporting on how brands were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. What’s now becoming clear is that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption. So we made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.
As Uber’s business evolved amid the challenges of the pandemic, its app needed a refresh to reflect the company’s direction. Now, the first thing you see when you open the Uber app is the introduction of food delivery as an equal theme in the design, something Uber has been experimenting with since last year. But the pandemic has pushed the company to fully commit to making the Uber app about more than just rides. When you first open the app, you’ll see a group of buttons representing various services, including two large buttons that lead to Uber’s two main services, Eats and Rides. Below those you’ll find a row of four smaller shortcuts that will link to newer Uber services, some of which are based on the Uber Eats model. The company’s services now focus on two basic scenarios – one where Uber helps you go somewhere (via an Uber driver’s car, a scooter, or a bike), and another where you get something (such as a meal from a local restaurant). On the “go” side, Uber plans to offer the service of a driver and car for increments of time, instead of single trips. But most of the new services focus on “get” scenarios that leverage the Uber Eats model and where Uber drivers act as couriers. For example, you can order up an Uber courier to pick up something and deliver it to a friend across town using the Connect service. Uber plans to increasingly deliver things to you from local businesses, such as pharmacy products, home goods, or flowers, via its Direct service. And you’ll see Uber competing with Amazon and Instacart in grocery delivery, where Uber contractors pick out and deliver your groceries. “Over a period of time, we think that we can shift behavior from one mode of behavior into multiple modes of behavior,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says of the new app experience. “And just as Amazon went from books to overall retail and opened up their marketplaces to third parties, we think we can really extend the definition of movement from moving you from point A to B, to moving… anything you want to have delivered to you.”
London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, which specialises in children’s care, has built the entire hospital within Minecraft to break down the fear that can overcome children who will be receiving treatment on-site. Now children and parents can tour the hospital virtually, exploring the wards and the different departments they may have to attend. This sounds at first like another story of a vast DIY building project within the Mojang game, but in this case the hospital struck a partnership with Minecraft owner Microsoft to ensure high-quality work and parity with the building. “The project took around two months to complete,” said Lee Stott, senior software engineer for Microsoft UK. “As you’d expect, lots of research went into building Great Ormond Street Hospital in Minecraft.” Microsoft and a crew from professional Minecraft build team Shapescape were provided with hundreds of images and video clips and, crucially, were able to study floor plans which have been constantly updated since before the turn of the 20th century. “Throughout the project, we worked with Shapescape, a company steeped in heritage amongst Minecraft Content Creators, who have previously recreated places such as Trafalgar Square, Chicago and Florence. We trusted them to build the most realistic experience possible using their team of more than 30 people from 11 different countries,” explains Stott. The project will allow children to explore the hospital on computers and soon also in VR. No section of the hospital is off limits, from Paediatric Intensive Care to the café or the golden chapel. The possibilities this generates are seemingly endless; community staff on-site could set challenges for the kids within the game, or use it as a tool for them to meet others their age in similar situations. Naomi Owen, PR for the hospital’s charity, explained: “We see this as a big project and one that can be explored with other hospitals across the world and bring new ways to interact.”
In a new report, The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) paints a picture of what a resilient agency looks like within this climate. Aside from practical advice for financial and operational focus, it offers recommendations as to where agencies should invest, or at least not cut too deeply. The capabilities and skills that are in current demand ideally support strong margins and likely will remain in demand due to societal changes taking place, says the report. This includes strategic planning, data and analytics, digital development, creative technology and innovation, customer experience, voice and social. “This is the time to invest and make sure you’re doubling down on what’s next, what’s new and to take whatever money you’ve saved and not just put it into the bottom line. Invest for the future,” says 4As president and chief executive Marla Kaplowitz. “That’s what the agencies that grew after the recession did. They took the hit in other areas but said we’ve got to invest in new capabilities.” As the “distance economy” continues, the digital habits being formed in terms of personal interactions and purchase behaviors will continue, says the report. This makes customer experience and customer-journey analyses and strategic skills vitally important to marketing success. In fact, the report says, fluency in effective social media strategies, user experience design, and creative digital-content marketing are table stakes. Today, organic growth should be the focus. “Always be pitching… your current clients” and “love the one you’re with” are two mantras the report espouses. “People are promiscuous,” says Kaplowitz. “You need to be focusing on your current clients, and not just always be focusing new business, especially during a time like this.” New business efforts need to be more strategic. The report reads: “Think of your client roster as an investment portfolio to safeguard against declines in certain sectors…While every client being a creative showpiece helps you clean up at awards shows, they don’t always translate to stable income, strong cash flow and margin.” When it comes to marketing, agencies should stick with the same advice they are preaching to their clients – strive to maintain share of voice and share of mind with clients and prospects, says the report.
Home decor brand West Elm has become the third retailer to partner with the 15 Percent Pledge campaign, promising to stock at least 15% Black-owned brands in its stores.
The first major retailer to take the pledge in June was Sephora, followed by Rent the Runway later that month. West Elm has laid out a three-point plan to diversify not just its supply chain, but also the company itself. The chain of home goods stores promised to “increase West Elm’s design” collaborations with Black designers, artists and Black-owned brands to a minimum of 15% of total” and also increase the number of Black creatives partnering with its West Elm Local platform to 15%. The Brooklyn-based retailer also pledged to “ncrease the share of Black employees within West Elm’s corporate workforce to a minimum of 15%, as well as strengthening the retail-to-corporate pipeline. “We are determined to use our purchasing power to create economic empowerment for Black-owned businesses, artists and designers,” said West Elm president Alex Bellos. “We look forward to working with the 15 Percent Pledge to ensure our commitments make an immediate and sustained impact.”
Starbucks has announced that it will require all customers to wear facial coverings while visiting any of its 9,000 locations across the United States. The rule will go into effect on July 15. The order may supersede local ordinances in states and cities that do not require mask wearing in public. In those locations, customers who do not want to wear masks will still be allowed to use Starbucks drive-throughs or use curbside pickup and delivery services. “The company is committed to playing a constructive role in supporting health and government officials as they work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Starbucks said
Total back-to-school spending in the U.S. is expected to amount to $28.1 billion, or $529 per student, according to a Deloitte report, which would be close to what families spent in 2019. But Deloitte’s forecast predicts spending on clothing will drop this year compared to the last three years. Meanwhile, spending on electronics might almost double what we spent in 2017. It makes sense that laptop sales might increase if students are going to be working online. It also makes sense that clothing sales might not be as hot as usual if students expect to stay home more. The Deloitte forecast notably includes “a 28% increase in technology spending for K-12 students, now an $8.6 billion market.” Meanwhile, more than half (51%) of parents plan to increase their spend on virtual learning tools. In fact, 40% of parents plan to subscribe their children to a supplementary e-learning platform. Parents also plan to allocate budget for personal health products, spending an average of $46 per student on supplies like sanitizer and wipes. And children have an even greater influence over purchasing decisions, with 69% exerting a moderate-to-high influence over computer and hardware purchases this year, up from 54% last year.
Wearable tech company Fitbit have launched a COVID-19 study seeking to build an algorithm to detect COVID-19 before symptoms start, according to Shelten Yuen, VP, Research. “There is a significant acceleration of the potential for wearables when it comes to early disease detection,” he said. “Not only do wearables enable scientists on the forefront of COVID-19 research to reach more people and gather more data quickly, they also track key health indicators like resting heart rate and heart rate variability, which could be important in identifying COVID-19 before individuals show symptoms. We’re on track to hit 100,000 participants within just two months of launch. We’ve seen signals such as subtle changes in breathing rate or heart rate variability one to two days before symptoms are reported by the user. These indicators may help provide earlier insight into changes in someone’s health. This is important because the CDC recently estimated that 40% of coronavirus transmission is occurring before the onset of symptoms.”
UK media brand Dennis Publishing’s Cycling division has launched a new UK title, Cycling Electric, a new brand for e-bikes and e-mobility. The launch comes at a time when public interest in cycling has soared, both in terms of people eager to get fit again post-lockdown as well as looking to replace public transport for fear of contracting COVID-19 in confined spaces. Launching as a magazine, and supported by a dedicated e-bike online channel within cyclist.co.ukand social channels, Cycling Electric has been established to capture the growth in interest in e-bikes and e-scooters. The new title’s umbrella website, cyclist.co.uk, which launched in 2015, currently has 900,000 unique users a month. Whilst Cycling Electric was planned before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch nevertheless represents a huge achievement by an editorial and production team working under lockdown conditions from their homes. Dennis Publishing said that the title has also garnered a high level of industry support with commercial backing from a number of brands.