It Takes a PandemicThe Return of the Essential Industries
October 15, 2020
In spring 2020, the world as we knew it screeched to a halt. Entire supply chains shut down. Public gatherings disbanded. Consumer retail plummeted. Transportation all but ceased.
As business activity narrowed to those industries and workers deemed essential, priorities shifted and behaviors changed. Beyond the collective anxieties of remaining healthy, caring for their families and ensuring a months-long supply of toilet paper in their linen closets, Americans gained fresh perspective on what “essential” means.
The coronavirus crisis forced us to take a step back and reevaluate what’s important to us. And, as the research shows us, it brought consumers closer to the unsung heroes of our economy – core industries like agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing – by revealing their value in our daily lives.
Farming and Food: The New Battlefront Industry
Back in April, nearly one month into the mass closures and work-from-home reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, G&S conducted a snap poll on consumer attitudes toward farming and the food supply chain. We discovered that both perceptions and behaviors were evolving as a direct result of the pandemic – and, moreover, Americans were beginning to view the nation’s farming infrastructure in a whole new light. Concerns about food supply, safety, availability and affordability had spiked; shoppers had changed their habits in the grocery store; and across the board, people craved information about food safety protocols at every stage, from farm, to supermarket, to fork.
Fast forward to this month, when Gallup released its annual survey of industry rankings according to consumer perceptions. The far-reaching poll revealed that, for the first time ever in the survey’s history, farming and agriculture had risen to the top spot in terms of favorability, with 69% of Americans reporting a positive impression of the industry. The notable jump from last year – an 11-point increase – suggests a growing awareness among consumers of the complex supply chains behind so many essential functions that they had previously taken for granted but that had been suddenly forced under uncomfortable scrutiny.
This is also an incredible opportunity for the ag industry to redefine its role. As my colleague Caryn Caratelli noted several months ago, “Consumers are listening. It’s time to raise our voice.” Farmers, the unsung heroes of the supply chain, can finally bask in the unprecedented warmth of consumer appreciation. The industry, which has long been the backbone of our nation, has been deemed unapologetically essential. Now is the time to tell the story of the technology that is reshaping its entire supply chain, bringing people closer to the innovation that feeds a growing world in a sustainable, transparent and safe way.
Innovation and Industries of the Future
It’s not just ag that has come to the forefront. Healthcare, perhaps predictably, has also risen in the Gallup rankings – a whopping 13-point increase in favorability vaulted it from the third-lowest ranked to a 51% positive rating. The new reality has given consumers a newfound appreciation for the core industries that are changing their world behind-the-scenes every day.
In May, we redefined our purpose as an agency, dedicating ourselves to helping innovative companies change the world. In many ways, the clients we serve are those unsung heroes whose work the average consumer may not notice in their daily lives. Yet nothing amplifies the voice of a pathology association like a pandemic. Nothing makes packaging more critical than concerns around food safety. Nothing makes elevator protocols more important than official government regulations to maintain space in enclosed areas that are critical to everyday life.
These industries have always inspired us as business communicators because of the invigorating challenge of distilling their complexity into compelling stories. But when the world stopped turning, bringing consumers face-to-face with the core industries responsible for keeping it in motion, it’s clear that they discovered a newfound appreciation for those essentials. In the wake of the pandemic, these industries have an opportunity to present a new face to the consumer world – if they choose to take it.