We’ve accepted, we’ve adjusted, and we’ve adapted (well almost…). So where to from here?
Life has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride of late, hasn’t it? One minute we were all going about our business, free to visit the gym, go to a football match and high five the person to your right (if you so wished). And then boom, lockdown.
Every agency from here to Hong Kong pivoted (marketing’s word of the year no doubt) their offering and became AR, VR and digital ‘experts’ overnight (we laughed… they had to catch up at some point).
Some brands got slapped on the wrist for attempting to profiteer off of the situation, and rightly so. Others put their brand values into practise, and actually did some good, finally giving that brand love back. And the rest are still frozen in fear.
The people adapted. They moved their boardrooms into their bedrooms, replaced the ‘beautiful game’ with esports, and started ordering all ‘essential items’ online. Travel is currently a dream, e-learning is a reality, home schooling is here to stay (WTF!), and what you wear below waist level is no longer a consideration.
This is the ‘new norm’, and I think it’s safe to say, for those living in a first world country, life is OK (except if you have kids. I have kids. But that’s an article for another day.).
In short, we’ve accepted, we’ve adjusted, and we’ve started evolving. Crisis accelerates change, so we’ve had no choice but to find ways to make this ‘new normal’, our normal for now. But what does that mean when lockdown lifts?
Are people going to leave their houses, just in time for the Great British Summer, ‘skipping’ like cows coming out of their barns after winter? Will they flood the streets singing anthems of survival, high-fiving to celebrate their freedom? Or will they be a little more weary with gloves on and masks at the ready, cautious of any unsolicited pats on the back, and preferring smaller, more intimate social gatherings?
What exactly does life after COVID-19 look like? How different is the world going to be? How different are we going to be?
There’s no question that the coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed patterns of consumer behaviour. The question is, however, when lockdown lifts, are those behaviours going to do a swift u-turn to the pre-COVID days, or are they here to stay? And what does this all mean for brands and agencies?
Andreas Kappes, a psychology professor at UCL says, “It seems very unlikely that people will get back to life as it was before, once the coronavirus is over. People’s behaviour is extremely orthodox… Now, the crisis forces us to change our behaviour, radically, and we might discover that new way suits us better.”
There are certainly many new behaviours that are going to be here for the long haul, just because it would make no sense to return to the old days. I mean why would you commute for two to three hours a day, if you can, and are able to for the main, work from home? Why would you use your valuable time, fork out money for petrol and tube fares and actually go into a store to buy anything, when you can order pretty much everything online? Why would you go into a potentially germ-infested gym, when digital fitness is free…?
Some newly-adopted, anxiety-driven behaviours will remain for some time owing to deep-seated fear. This pandemic has had a massive psychological impact on the people of the world. And how long that takes to lift after lockdown depends entirely on a person’s mindset, how resilient they are, and how scarring this experience has been for them. I mean, I would still consider doing the festival circuit next year (I’m a risk taker like that) but chances are, I’d be one of very few attendees. And being totally honest, I may be mindful who I rub shoulders with. Literally.
And then there are behaviour changes directly related to the global pandemic’s effects, like salary cuts and job losses. It’s truly frightening to read about the anticipated global recession, which we all know in our hearts is just around the corner. Reduced income means reduced spending, which means people are really starting to weigh up how essential an ‘essential’ item or service really is. You also can’t ignore the fact that the probability of global catastrophes like this are likely to become the rule, rather than the exception: mutations of COVID-19…
So where does this leave brands and agencies?
Although many have got to the point of it being ‘business as usual’ (in very unusual circumstances) these behavioural changes mean it’s not going to be ‘business as usual’ for all businesses. The world may not look like it has changed (although one can now see the Himalayas for the first time in decades), but people have started to evolve, and if you want your business to survive, you need your brand to evolve with them.
Chances are, you’re coming down from your pivot high. You’ve accelerated your digital transformation. You’ve created more agile work processes. And you’re feeling quite impressed with yourself for being so very productive. But you’re still trying your damnedest to find that pin of opportunity in the current haystack of chaos.
What you really need to understand now, is how your consumers’ behaviour has changed. Identify whether that change is a just-for-lockdown change, a just-for-lockdown-and-some change, or a never-ever-look-back change. And remember to always ask yourself how relevant and meaningful your brand is in their life now, because of that change. Brands with genuine purpose are those that’ll be here to stay.
Understanding your consumer’s psyche will go a long way to helping you identify just how tall the mountain is that your business needs to climb to reach them. And as agencies are in the business of understanding people, they should be the ones helping you do just that. Not just ‘pivoting’ your marketing plan, but making sure your brand still plays a relevant and meaningful role in your changed consumers life, especially when lockdown eventually lifts.
So what does happen after lockdown?
In my opinion, the gloves and mask accessory will last more than a season, you’re not going to be getting any unsolicited high-fives or pats on the back any time soon, you can postpone that trip to Malta indefinitely, and people are going to be broke and weary of, well, most things for a while. But, as a creative, a big part of what I do is to absorb what’s going on around me, and from what I’m ‘seeing’, I don’t believe we’re going to emerge from this into a whole new world. Life as we know it is not going to be all that drastically different. I mean I don’t know about you, but I’m already pretty video-called out, and I’m dreaming about schools reopening in the not too distant future.
The fact is, behaviours have changed. We are evolving as people. And the longer we’re in lockdown, the more chance these changes have of sticking. Maybe not forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future. Sitting here, writing this, it’s hard to imagine things ever being normal again. But it will be, it’ll just be a ‘new new normal’, and we need to look beyond ‘the now’ and start preparing ourselves for what that ‘new new normal’ looks like.
I’m normally a hugger, but a sanitized cyber high-five to you all. For now anyway…