Brands need to pay attention to our perception of safety like never before. Crowd DNA’s group managing director, Dr Matilda Andersson, offers five new safety cues to consider as society opens up...
A sense of safety is one of the most fundamental needs for human survival and wellbeing. The feelings associated with being safe have had many manifestations in the past, but never have they been so complex, confusing and important for brands to acknowledge. As society opens up (albeit at different rates around the world), hygiene, health and protection will be firmly front and center of people’s minds.
We used to take the feeling of being safe for granted in the Western world, but certainly not anymore. People are now searching for it, their decisions strongly driven by it. With the web of safety cues already embedded in design, language, experience and behaviour, it’s necessary for brands to understand these changing cultural codes and how to create a sense of safety for their customers, employees and wider public. Every channel is up for grabs and no brand is exempt. Leaders need to recognise that perceptions of safety happen subconsciously, meaning that tiny nuances in design or behaviour can make or break a brand. Here are five cues of safety to consider as society opens up.
Safety is consensual
Safe and healthy relationships, whether personal or transactional, are all about consent. They’re about how to interact and use our bodies, what information to share and what to hold back. Covid, in many ways, has also been about consent: negotiating how close to get, when and where to wear face masks, even giving someone a hug now requires an extra layer of consensual decision making.
It’s important for brands to communicate with transparency and without pressure so that consumers feel in control and able to consent at all stages (from signing up to newsletters, to navigating staff at IRL checkouts). Gen Z, who have always championed safe spaces and consensual interaction, are leading the way and have the opportunity to educate older generations on consent.
Safety is local, empathetic brands
Small and local outlets are seen to care much more about their consumers than big, global brands. Over the past year, constant changes to restrictions have meant that local stores the world over have become well versed in adapting to shifting safety requirements. There’s a general perception that big businesses think profit before people, so smaller outlets can often ‘feel’ safer as they have the flexibility to adjust to new standards.
In London, for example, boutique retailer Glassworks upgraded their personal shopping offer to include ‘lock-ins’, where the entire shop is closed for a more personal (and safe) experience. This is another reason why local brands are winning out. Safety is dependent on being empathetic; genuinely listening to consumers’ fears, and quickly modifying the environment to make them feel safe at every turn.
Safety is being equal and part of a network
Safety can’t discriminate. Brands who leave people behind, ignore calls for diversity and inclusion, or fail to keep their workers safe need to be held to account. It’s not an option to protect only some; everyone needs to be included in order for individuals to feel safe. For example, despite the fact that Covid disproportionately affected marginalised communities around the world, entire populations have felt shaken. It’s about creating a sense of networked safety for everyone (including the environment).
This can also be seen in brand responses to the BLM movement. Promoting and uplifting Black-owned businesses (often side-lined in white, big brand-dominated industries) is one way forward. Beauty icon Glossier set aside $500,000 in the form of grants to be distributed to Black-owned beauty businesses, and delayed the launch of their latest product ‘in an effort to focus attention, and that of their audience, on the ongoing fight against racial injustice.’ It’s important to remember that brands are also part of a wider network.
Safety is the ultimate luxury
Constantly being vigilant about safety is exhausting. Taking a break and indulging in a care-free moment is the ultimate pleasure nowadays – yet, without safety, we can’t have this kind of experience. To truly sit back and relax, everything needs to be safe. This includes safety from infection, but also from physical and psychological harm, bullying, racism, misogyny, and all other forms of harassment. This doesn’t mean that brands need to hunker down and promote a secluded form of protection to be considered premium. It’s about looking after your consumers in a holistic way – their body, mind and emotions – to signal that everyone is safe, but included, and everything is in hand behind the scenes.
Safety welcomes a new design standard
The last year has placed a spotlight on how reliant we are on nature for our safety and wellbeing. We’ve seen many examples of design changes because of previous pandemics (the introduction of private chambers after the Black Death; urban parks and water sanitation after cholera outbreaks). This time round, the interaction between outdoor and indoor is the most important for brands to acknowledge – bringing the outside inside, or vice versa, and celebrating the great outdoors as part of overall consumer wellbeing.
This could be literal space that adjusts to the needs of people in the moment, or longer-term air purification devices that are installed in public spaces, such as shopping centres. But designing for safety doesn’t have to mean rigidity and sheets of wipeable plastic; brands should experiment with materials that are both aesthetically pleasing and naturally hygienic, such as wood and copper, too.
This post is based on conversation from Matilda’s appearance in the Style Psychology Human Discussions podcast
If you’d like to discuss the changing cues of safety and what they could mean for your brand, please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com