Essential Reading

18 May 2020

Written by Nikki Crumpton, Chief Strategy Officer at BeenThereDoneThat


There’s a lot of talk about behaviours during this Covid 19 crisis. How they are changing, how we are adapting and how we are devising new and ingenious ways to stay sane during lockdown. And the reports have been helping us decipher what that means for those in charge of brands and reframing their role in this new landscape.

One of the angles it has inspired us to explore is how this crisis has, and will continue, to impact on what people now think of as essential.

You’ve probably heard a lot more of the word ‘Essential’ in the last few months than you might have expected. And that’s because Essential has been one of the most thematic pieces of language during this crisis:

  • We’ve cheered ‘Essential Workers’, as the light has been shone on the people in the shadows who actually make the world go round.
  • Amazon has denied us the usual next day deliveries of our inadvisable late night purchases, instead prioritizing essential items. Leading to one Amazon worker deciding that “Kids books are essential, dildos are not”.
  • As a society, we decided Liquor stores should be deemed essential businesses, which we may or may not live to regret.
  • We have even seen an awful lot of snark reserved for the self important folks who seemingly prize their ‘essentials’ over the safety of others… “‘No, getting your nails done is not essential…. Karen”


Societal and moral debates aside, this time has pulled into sharp focus what we as individuals deem essential. We’ve had a lot of time to think about the things that make existing truly livable, pleasant, enjoyable and give it meaning and it’s not the things that we thought it was before we entered the crisis.

It’s given us a new found appreciation of the people, the things and the rituals that matter.


What makes something Essential is not one thing, it is often a combination. But the products brands that are winning out have some factors in common. We’ve unpacked the findings, and cross referenced that with brand and market insights to unlock our themes of essentiality.


  • They upgrade me with a new skill or ability
  • They make me feel savvy, frugal and resourceful and proudly so.
  • They help me immerse in the moment, escape and leave the ‘real world’ behind
  • They replenish my optimism and give me a belief in a better world to come and faith in human nature
  • They inspire an unflinching trust and reliability in what and how they deliver
  • They make me laugh, grin and smile spontaneously
  • They connect me to others across geographical and generational divides, creating feeling of shared rituals and shared identity.


But what does all this mean when we move from lockdown to restriction and we face the mother of all economic pandemics that has been spreading and snaking its way round the globe faster than Covid 19.

The one thing that will be unique is lockdown has got us preparing for recession ahead of time. Recessions normally hit us overnight, markets crash and we are left scrambling to figure out how we will respond.


Brands need to be aware of an army of consumers who are already on a war footing. They are watching this recession coming over the horizon and they are ready... and this is the time for brands to really ask themselves the simple question “Am I essential or will I be deemed excess baggage?’


Our advice is look deeply at your essence as a brand, revisit what you thought were the right insights about the people who buy you, reanalyse what makes you special, and put that through the wash.

Make your own sacrifices, what are the sharp problems you need to solve, what don’t you need to do, and what’s going to help you put yourself in the pantheon of ‘Essentials’.

It might end up being essential work.



BeenThereDoneThat harnesses the world’s best thinkers to help fulfil a brand’s potential. If you would like more information then please visit and also subscribe to the School of Athens weekly newsletter. It shares thinking for people who have been there done that, from people who have been there done that

Written by Nikki Crumpton

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