NOW is the Time to Engage Consumers…Not “Later”

De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver’s latest communique to the industry stresses the profound effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the everyday lives of people around the globe, and that diamonds remain a powerful symbol of connection and meaning. Diamonds have “always been attached to life’s most precious moments and relationships and represented stores of (these) values,” he said.

Mr. Cleaver is correct, of course. But he is correct in the same way that your mother was when she told you to eat vegetables instead of potato chips (or as my British friends say, crisps.) We know vegetables are healthier, but they don’t pack the same craving. And Mom telling you the same thing in the same way over and over no longer carried the message her words intended.

So how do we as an industry say the same things with a new voice? Having grown up in the 1960s, I can’t claim to speak for Millennials or Gen-Z, but from both industry experience and watching my kids’ behavior, I do know they value authenticity. So does Gen-X (the often-overlooked group born between Boomers and Millennials, who are the ones in their peak earning years now.)

What is more authentic than a diamond? It comes from deep within the earth, it is at least one billion years old, and … it can be yours. Perhaps images of rough and the resulting polished would convey that message even more graphically. In addition, what else can connect us to our Earth we care about more closely than a diamond, which we can fit into the responsible-sourcing-brings-responsible-outcomes message that will resonate with these climate-conscious consumers?

The 1960s, when I came of age, offer a parallel. There was a powerful anti-materialistic, anti-status sentiment going around in that decade, but 10 years later we Boomers were buying diamonds for our intendeds and shopping around for the best mortgage rates, so the latent desire is there. We just need to tell our story in a way that today’s consumers will listen.

And we need to tell it NOW. Industry posts are filled with industry leaders (including Cleaver) and pundits talking about plans for the post-pandemic world, saying ‘We will begin this after the world begins to get back to normal.”

Not “after.” Start now.

Right now we have a captive audience. Social media traffic has more than doubled in the lockdowns. I have never seen so many photos of fuzzy puppies, pratfall GIFs, lockdown recipes and stupid quizzes. Show people diamonds! Give them a story that’s authentic and engaging. Plant the seeds now. It will be a tangled jungle once the lockdowns lift, and much more difficult to get our message heard.

Also, there’s an additional reason for NOW. People around the world have cancelled their holidays and many will have those funds to spend. Travel always has been a big competitor to diamond jewelry, but right now the travel industry is facing very serious trust issues: stories are emerging about hotels and resorts refusing to return deposits or pre-paid reservations (to wit: Basel), travel agencies losing track of customers’ funds, and cruise ships have their own horror stories (no need to elaborate).

Going forward, the reality of the post-pandemic world will be difficult. A lot of lost jobs will not come back. More may even be lost as economic ripple effects spread. As such, the world economy will be operating at a much-reduced level at least through this year and probably part of next year. Our industry must adjust to this lower level of trade (remember when De Beers and Alrosa stockpiled diamonds?) while at the same time seize the opportunity to build a future with a new message to consumers whose priorities will be changed, but whose desires will remain the same.