• Alice Bodkin

How Brands Can Prepare for the Future of Cities

Full of endless possibilities and growth, big cities like New York, London and Paris are buoyant, resilient and full of ambition. They manoeuvred the financial crisis of 2008, confronted terrorist attacks and pushed past political populism. Bigger, better, richer and faster, the success of these cities were pitted against their scale of growth.

Yet, due to the status as the centre of economic life, pre crisis - these cities were also heavily populated in comparison to their suburban counterparts. As covid19 spread worldwide, cities were also the centre of the covid19 pandemic. Alarmed by confinement in their retrospective capital cities, 47% of Parisians left for the French countryside and some 250,000 Londoners followed suit in rural England. Lockdown brought to life the disadvantages of city life. Simultaneously, the world of work has shifted from physical and local to virtual and remote. 31% of people have indicated that Covid19 was the reason they were able to start working remotely at their company. At the same time, 74% of companies are planning to shift to remote work on a permanent basis following the pandemic. Thus, people are contemplating uprooting their life from their city dwellings to be in rural landscapes or smaller and less dense cities.

Our major cities will survive this virus. If we look back to nearly 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu killed close to 50 million people across the globe. Yet, London, Paris and New York all were able to boom in the aftermath that followed.

With every crisis, new and original ideas are brought to life in response to the new ways that society works and operates. As we look to recreate our way of living in cities post covid, we must acknowledge the rise in demand for people to leave their city life behind. Yet, equally we have arrived at an opportunity to address the challenges cities face and redesign urban living for better. These obstacles can be the platforms for brands to disrupt and conspire new ways of living in the future.

Amidst the height of the crisis, Bloomberg reported that pandemics are an urban planning problem. With no current vaccine present, we could be presented with a way of living that involved regional continuous lockdowns. Hygiene, safety and wellbeing will be crucial design questions for city planners and retailers that set up shop in our new urban landscape. However with climate change as an urgent and pressing issue, alongside mental health and wellbeing, designing the cities of the future will also need to address these obstacles.

So what does this have to do with brands and retail? From the moment we wake up, to when we go to sleep, we interact with a countless number of brands. From eating breakfast, to brushing our teeth, to the transport we take to get to work, or the technology we use at home, or the furniture we have used to design our homes, all of these interactions will resemble a brand. These brands illustrate our values and our choices.

So in our efforts to reshape our cities and homes to resemble a greener and healthier future, brands must ask how they can participate in this dialogue. In short, next-gen brands must recognise the challenges that urban planners face in the forthcoming decade and beyond, and apply this learning to their strategies. This includes planning for health and wellbeing, whilst descaling from global to local when it comes to community management and engagement.

  • Planning for health and wellbeing

The strains in the relationship between public health and urban design has never been more immediate. Designing for a human future is to ensure that mental health is at the core of design principles and brand communication.

Subsequent to covid19, many people have been confronted with job losses, the health concerns of loved ones and the mental and emotional challenges that came with isolation.

One way to design our cities to facilitate mental wellbeing is embrace biophilia and green architecture. An innovative example we can study is Singapore and The Nature of Cities. This is a global platform for urban solutions and transdisciplinary dialogue. The aim of the organisation is to design and create better cities for all. By definition, these are cities that are sustainable, resilient, liveable, and just. As an urban innovator, Singapore has been promoting green space since the 1960s. It is a key part of the city’s branding and can be instrumented in a number of ways, including the Jewel Changi Airport, Gardens by the Bay and more recent examples, including a mixed-use apartment complex called Kampung Admiralty. Here green terraces are features to provide comfort and respite for elderly residents. Yet, what would this example look like in a retail experience in the future? How could a brand strategy target mental wellbeing in the city?

  • Moving the focus from global to intimacy and locality

As fore-mentioned, there is an increase of people who wish to live in more rural landscapes due to lockdown. However, we must take into account that each city and country responded to Covid-19 differently. During the height of the pandemic, Marketing Dive reported that 56% of consumers were happy to learn about how brands responded to helping communities. One example includes fashion retailer Chloé, who produced and donated medical gowns to Parisian hospitals. However, as we navigate the uncharted waters of post lockdown, the disparity in responses to the virus in cities will heavily influence how brands communicate with different markets. 71% of consumers are frustrated when their shopping experience is impersonal (Research from The Drum concludes). As we rebuild cities and their economies, brands in the future will need to be sensitive to the specific challenges different cities have faced and generate services that resonate with these pain-points and provide solutions in order to meaningfully engage with their audiences.

Covid has not only disrupted the way people are living, it is changing the cities around them. As we look to build the cities of the future, brands must combine their missions with socio-economic challenges that cities and their inhabitants face. This includes creating strategies that incorporate health and wellbeing, whilst placing local community at the heart of their communication.

To innovate in cities of the future, brands should:

  • Think like an urban planner - how can your brand help reshape the urban landscape?

  • Design and develop strategies that enriches mental health and overall wellbeing

  • Move away from global communication and target hyper local marketing to ensure intimacy and meaningful connection with consumers.

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