Marketing Mag – May, 2020
The unbearable lightness of being inessential

Christina Aventi considers the concept of essentialism during COVID-19 and what that term actually means for brands who sit on either side of the classification. 

In the spirit of essentialism, I’ll get straight to the point. A new class of ‘essential brands’ has emerged. And whether you’re deemed essential or inessential, it’s worth having a little think about carving out your piece of essentialism pie before it gets eaten up.

To be or not to be… essential.

At the start of COVID-19, ‘essential’ was the qualifier for what we did, what we bought, where we could work. A hierarchy of essential emerged and we found ourselves asking – what’s essential? It prompted an evaluation of the very definition of the word. There was the state-defined essential and then there was essential with a wink, in the eye of the beholder. And so, a seemingly absolute concept started having a bit of elasticity to it.

It originates from the Latin word, ‘essence’, which is rooted in ‘esse’, which means ‘to be’. And therein lies the existential crisis that comes from a world revolving around essential, posing many questions about self-worth, be them occupational or social: Am I an essential worker? Do I matter? Who are the 10 people I’ll visit now that I can? Who will pick me? Am I part of that essential, magic 10…to someone?

It makes the end-of-the-world desert island conundrum feel palpably real.

Has COVID-19 accelerated essentialism?

Greg McKeown defines essentialism as “the consistent and focused pursuit of less but better”. He states that, “it requires stopping regularly to ask yourself whether you’re spending your time and resources on the right things”. It is about energy, effort, values, priorities.

Even prior to COVID-19 there was a shift to de-materialism, a shift from unboxing to purging parties and decluttering movements, and being more mindful in all that we consume. Underpinned by a rejection of being beholden to hamster wheel lives needed to support mortgages and lifestyles we had become accustomed to. We started asking ourselves – “are we time poor or priority poor?” We sought out better quality yes’s and needed to re-learn how to say no.

Post COVID-19 this is likely to take hold even more. We have for so long outsourced decisions to habit, routine and defaults because of busy-ism. And now we will be more conscious of that. 

This is both in a functional sense, because we are less ‘liquid’, and philosophically, because we’ve been forced to re-evaluate what we really need to survive.

→ Read the full article here