The Meaning of "Value" in Extraordinary Times

We’ve mapped, tagged, quantified and explored what “value” means to different consumer groups across many industries in western culture today.

Shiona McDougall
Chief Strategy Officer RAPP Global

RAPP Worldwide
Marketing/Creative Services
New York, United States
See Profile

RAPP have been analysing the evolving meaning of value in culture for 8 years now. Through a series of semiotic analyses, qualitative research and quantitative studies. We’ve mapped, tagged, quantified and explored what “value” means to different consumer groups across many industries in western culture today. Because every brand we work with has a value story to tell.


The keys to driving real value perceptions lie in:

  • handing back CONTROL to the customer
  • helping consumers navigate the CHOICES available
  • tapping into a strong sense of COMMUNITY
  • ensuring you operate at your audiences CONVENIENCE
  • talking with CLARITY


What has changed?

COVID-19 hasn’t changed these value levers. But it’s effect has been to supercharge the importance of “the 5 C’s of value” in every aspect of consumers lives. This is a trajectory we were already on before the virus hit, but just like the viral curve itself we’re reaching new heights much more quickly than anticipated.



When the world around us becomes increasingly uncertain we gravitate towards anything we can do that makes us feel in any way more in control. This is why people stockpiled loo roll – because we feel better for having done something. Anything. And buying an extra 24 rolls is an easy (if somewhat ineffective) action to take.


Brands can drive value perceptions by stepping out of the driving seat and handing the controls to consumers. Brands can also provide a sense of control by suggesting simple actions that consumers can take now.


Diet brand Noom did just that. Instead of the ubiquitous platitudes about the brand “doing everything we can to service customers during these difficult times” they provided 5 self care actions a customer can do right now.  I took a deep breath, as instructed, and indeed felt much better. Noom = feel better!



In a world full of choice, we often become paralysed. Interestingly, many choices have become significantly reduced in lockdown. What we’re now faced with is having to navigate new isles in our local corner shop, new ways to fill our time, new shows to watch on TV and new ways to entertain our kids. It’s exhausting.


Brands that can step in and help us navigate the choices available to us will drive value perceptions. Now more than ever.


Audible have made hundreds of audio books free – particularly for children and teens. A total godsend for parents figuring out how to deal with home schooling and an act of generosity that will be remembered long after the nightmare of lockdown has been forgotten. It takes 60 days to create a habit and while I don’t believe Audible are in any way attempting to profiteer from the current situation, I do believe they will come through this with more paying subscribers. Audible = chill out!



Lockdown has robbed us of our usual gangs. But this pandemic has brought us together like only a major global crisis could. Living in London, I don’t see my neighbours much – but we’ve clapped and cheered in our street together every Thursday at 8 since this thing began. I feel connected to them through our shared experience and our collective support for the NHS and keyworkers we clap for.


Brands too can elevate their relationships with consumers beyond the everyday transactional by demonstrating purpose we can align with and creating shared community experiences.


Brands that have stepped up to help with repurposing their resources to support the needs of the country and the wider world are demonstrating their beliefs in a way that no TV ad ever could. Ford/Dyson/Burberry/Ralph Lauren/ and many more = on my side.



Before things started going pear-shaped, we were firmly in a so-called “post-truth” world where an expert perspective was worth less than that of a conspiracy theorist with a knack for storytelling. Thankfully, there is now new-found respect for the decades of medical schooling our doctors have undertaken and we’re all obsessing about infection rate graph data.


It might seem like a platitude to suggest that brands should aim for maximising clarity of their communications… but it is surprising how many make compromises.


We don’t need to know about the home working policies that every brand we’ve ever done business with seems to think we’ll be interested in. We do need basic information conveyed in a way that will help us cope. Barclays sent a simple text to customers to tell them they won’t be charged for overdrafts with a link to find out more about the options available. Simples. Barclays = trusted advisor.



Of course brands need to make themselves available with minimum inconvenience to consumers – we don’t need Byron sharp to tell us that. But it does take a global pandemic to actually make it happen. Deliveries from the local shop! Why has that not always been a thing? Toilet roll subscription! Of course, that makes complete sense!


Maximising convenience has been the stock and trade of innovator brands for decades. Innovations born out of covid-19 necessity may well shape the ways we live, work and shop in the future.


Supermarkets have always been the convenience queens. Will we see competing supermarkets collaborate again for the greater customer convenience? And which brands will step in where the big brands have (literally) failed to deliver? Personally, I’m delighted to have found all my needs met by my local independent shops and the supermarkets will have to work extremely hard to win me back. Supermarkets = let down.


The new normal

The multitude of brands that clogged up our inboxes with lengthy platitudes about “unprecedented times” and “we’ll get through this together” are simply demonstrating they haven’t learned anything from GDPR and are unable to really listen or respond appropriately to the needs of their consumers.


Brands need to quickly catch up or risk becoming one of the victims of this pandemic. It is no longer ok to be trading on deals and discounts alone. The opportunistic money-grabbing deal-making brands still trading on cheap product (that it turns out we don’t really need after all) won’t come out of this well. The brands that have been able to pivot, innovate, diversify and respond to the changing consumer demands are the ones we’ll remember in the long run.


I hope brand communication has changed forever. The 5 C’s of value we saw emerging as nascent semiotic codes in culture back in 2012 are coming into their own now. It has taken nearly a decade and a global pandemic for these value levers to reach mainstream brand communications but all the evidence points towards a permanent shift. It takes 60 days to build a habit. Will the marketing community make value perception generating habits last beyond lockdown? We can try.