Words by Kar Abola
Graphic by Therese Luna
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the global jolt that’s compelling the world to rethink how it works. Markets & economies are plunging possibly into a recession (📰 NY Times). The sharply declining demand in air travel and oil is causing carbon emissions to decrease worldwide (🔬 Scientific American). In the Philippines, the virus continues to spread rapidly, exposing long-standing social systems as inadequate (🇵🇭 ANCX). Business as usual, in all senses of the term, can no longer keep up. Now, we are made to confront the things that we have always taken for granted—the freedom of mobility, the dynamics of in-person collaboration, the cautiousness in consideration and the privilege of choice.
Rethinking Brands & Business
So what can we do? For better or for worse, brands & businesses collectively drive a lot of today’s culture. Here at Serious Studio, we take this quite, well, seriously. So instead of falling into the trap of helplessness, we choose to start with what we know. As we build brands every day, we are often challenged to reframe ideas and re-conceptualize industries and their impact on people. Perhaps, what this crisis is asking us to do is to walk one step further and go even deeper into the existential essence of how we do business. Below is a non-exhaustive list of a few things COVID-19 is pushing us to rethink in branding and in business:
1. The role of the workplace
With community quarantine continuously enforced, many companies have opted to work remotely. How much of our work really needed to be done in the office? But at the same time, can true collaboration be manufactured online? What is a truly human-centric workplace, whether online or offline? These questions frame the discourse around what the future workplace should be, as COVID fast tracks the urgency of finding these answers today. The challenge will lie in how businesses will create profit efficiently and humanely, through a workforce that lives in automation yet yearns for human connection.
2. The responsibility to the workforce
But not all of us are quite as lucky. While many of us read this from the comfort of our homes, the working class Filipino is left with the choice of either not feeding their family or braving the commute and the virus. With the working class including people who perform many of society’s most basic needs, along with artisans who create well-loved Filipino products, businesses need to be able to swiftly adapt their operations to allow everyone to work from home. And even with many small businesses heroically taking the high road on this, the question remains—how long will they be able to keep up? At the end of the day, we need to figure out how to protect all workers across the pyramid while keeping the business afloat.
3. The responsibility to the customer
Along with the responsibility to the workforce is the responsibility to the customer. Businesses’ mindsets should shift not just to caution but also to concern. The way you talk to your customers matters not just in the long run, but also most especially now. It’s a time for sensitivity and transparency. How can businesses start genuinely listening and engaging with customers and push everyone to be part of a broader solution? We wrote a digestible guide to help you along with this.
4. The coming of age of the Filipino business
As the world’s largest exporter, China’s problem is pretty much everyone’s problem and global manufacturing will inevitably face disruptions in their supply chain. If the primary source of imports is unavailable and all we have left to depend on are the things our country makes, will this finally push Filipinos to truly #SupportLocal, not just as consumers, but also as makers and manufacturers? Will we see the rise of a business that is Filipino from end to end? What does a business look like as a true locavore and will this effectively uplift auxiliary businesses as well?
5. The evolution of e-commerce
With malls closing and entire cities strongly advised to stay at home, a sharper shift away from offline and into online is likely, together with a growing dependence on delivery. Messages have circulated about where to get groceries online. Small Filipino businesses have urged the public to continue to support them in this difficult time. However, issues arise from this. Good online experience is now more important than ever. More broadly, the impacts of an even larger e-commerce industry on carbon emissions and the health of the new retail frontliners must be considered. Better e-commerce is now increasingly more urgent. How do we build a compelling, meaningful and fair business that is almost completely online?
6. The underlying nature of business
Underlying it all is the question of consumption. As of Monday, March 16, the entirety of Luzon has been put on lockdown and many delivery services have been put on hold. How will brands and businesses now thrive? Will people want new dresses, new shoes, third-wave coffee—no matter how fair trade these all are? At the same time, how do we continue to support the livelihoods of the people who make these products? It is with this that we wonder if business as it is today can thrive post-COVID-19. This, we have yet to find out. As with many things, often there are more questions than answers.
Finding and Making Hope
Now more than ever, we realize that it is not the time to drown in the magnitude of the challenges we face. Instead, let’s take the opportunity to build a new world with hope through the things that we make. We call on brands and businesses to reevaluate why they do what they do and to reimagine how they can contribute to a world that will survive and thrive, once the dust has settled. As the world continues to turn day by day, it may slowly reveal a tomorrow that’s drastically different from what we know today. But also hopefully, hopefully, we can build this tomorrow to be truly, genuinely better, if only because we have no other choice.