Lenin vs the Oracle: who would have given the best advice for researchers?

By Alex Johnston, August 2021

One of the quotations that I’ve seen that most sums up what is going on during the COVID-19 pandemic is attributed to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and was said just before the last big pandemic (Spanish Flu). To paraphrase, he said “that sometimes nothing happens for decades but then in a few weeks decades happen” which is a great summary of what we are seeing in terms of social, technological and commercial (especially retail) trends.

But there is another quotation which to me is equally important in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and we have to go back much further than Lenin for that one. In ancient Greece one of the holiest sites was the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, home of the famous Oracle. What is fascinating here (to me at least) is that the inscription above the door, before it fell down, read ‘Know Thyself’ – not ‘honour the gods’ or anything like that, but ‘know thyself’.

That’s good advice to anybody. But it’s great advice when you consider it in relation to brands living through COVID-19. Know what you stand for as a brand, know where you want to go, and also, critically, know your customers. The latter point being especially important given that their attitudes, behaviours and needs have had decades of accelerated change over the last 18 months.

It’s critical now for brands to re-establish and revisit the foundations of their customer understanding. Does the accepted consumer dogma of two years or even a year ago still hold true? What are the long term vs short term changes? And how do brands need to adapt to match this evolved market?

I think there are three, interlinked, things we need to do to build that understanding

I think these are immensely interesting times to be working in the insight business, either in agency or client roles – and knowing our customers will be critical to get through them successfully.