Change is perennial. We, our circumstances and the lands we inhabit are in constant revolution. But rarely is change so visceral, so intense as to overwhelm the monotony and minutiae of our everyday lives.
Many of us are working from home, enforced or otherwise. We’re operating in a local radius, separate from our customary journeys and habits. We can look any stranger in the eye and start a conversation around more than the weather; we have a shared threat, a shared purpose. Our lives – already digitised for a generation – now orbit online channels with limited real-life alternatives. And, my word, we’re struggling through an entertainment gap, our new worlds devoid of the delightful interruptions and cul de sacs we need to take us off the treadmill.
As of the time of writing, we’re creeping towards 10,000,000 cases and 500,000 deaths. Close to 4m have recovered. There are a rising number of cases in many Southern & Western U.S. states, while Brazil and Mexico are suffering through exponential growth in positive tests. There are fears of a second wave; there’s talk the first wave has yet to conclude.
GDP fell by 20% in April, the largest fall in results since records began. May’s performance will likely be little better. Wage subsidies are covering 9m furloughed workers, many of whom are redundant-in-waiting. There’s an invoice for £100bn+ in the government’s pigeonhole.
If they sound like fantastical numbers, they are. There is no forecast for this, no model to wrap them around.
Customs are enduring. And many of our prior habits will return in due course. But let’s not pretend that we’re headed for anything other than a fundamental shift in behaviour.
The long-term ramifications of Covid-19 have too tangled a web to unravel today. It will change where we go, what we do and how we interact just as much as the threat of further waves of virus contraction will.
Short-term, however, trends are emerging that should prompt an immediate response, irrespective of which sector you operate in:
During times of stress, we centre our focus on a smaller viewport. It’s why we’re not great at making decisions when we first enter a new, unfamiliar environment, blinkered as we are by potential delights and distractions.
Right now, in a world of heightened risk, we’re more likely to seek our traditional comforts. When you first go out for drinks post-lockdown, you’re drinking a generic gin & tonic, a glass of ‘whatever’s cold’ white wine or the nearest beer. No shame in that; you’re there for the experience, the connection, not the liquid.
The daily briefings may have ceased, but Covid-19 related news is still ringing in the ears for most of us, overwhelming the din of our regular lives. Add to this the re-opening of the country, the number of operations screaming for attention and the complexities of stepping into a world unmade.
Recent innovations have a place. But the majority of brands should focus on their core offer and their core audience. Remind them who you are, what you stand for and what they’ve been missing.
One of the reasons you may have to remind your customers who you are is because, chances are, you haven’t been all that communicative as of late.
Of the millions furloughed, a fair few were responsible for maintaining contact with consumers, and numerous brands have hibernated since we’ve been forced indoors. In the interim, the more nimble operators have found ways to stay in touch, provide a sense of entertainment and community, and have nabbed a sizeable share of attention as a result.
If you don’t happen to be part of that set, you have some catching up to do. Be personal, be transparent, and accept that the world has moved on without you.
This is not business as usual. Don’t pretend that it is.
At home economy
Those nimble operators, the ones that have stayed in touch during the crisis, realised long ago that their relevance is not related to their real estate, off or online.
Would you pay £33 to cook your own burgers? Well, turns out plenty of people have. And not because of a lack of patties or buns in the supermarket, but because restaurants fill the role of entertainer first, sustenance provider second.
So, presuming your business didn’t major in an enduring proposition (e.g. content creation or logistics) pre-Covid, now is the time to think about how you can convert what you do well (hint: It’s not your product, it’s how you make people feel) and deliver it, by some means, to a consumer.
Brexit was the defining event of recent history up until a few months ago. We were as divided as we’ve been on these shores for generations. Now, such topics seem trivial.
Covid-19 has instilled a sense of collectivism against the common foe. This is the time to collaborate, to support people as individuals or as a general populous, and work together towards a better future.
Local > National > Global
Our radius’ have shrunk without the daily commute and the shlep to and from meetings, back and forth on public transport. We’re creating new, local relationships, with neighbours and shopkeepers and regular strangers, superseding those we may have relied on previously.
Globalisation, an unsettling force for many (see Brexit), is in reverse. Staycations will dominate our summers. Domestic supply chains will place more British products on our shelves. Grim, foreign statistics will strike our shores, reinforcing isolationism anew.
Every brand has local stories to tell, based on people and practice. Now is the time to share them.
Return of the expert
Politicians have done a remarkable job of undermining governmental authority in recent times. Amplified first by media, then by social media, institutional deception has undermined the jurisdiction of people we should rely on for guidance.
Then we spent 3 months listening to the likes of Sir Patrick Vallance, Prof Chris Whitty and Dr Jenny Harries, positioned – rightly – as beacons of knowledge on an unknown menace. They have and continue to speak intelligently and consistently. The general public has limited points of reference, if any, and therefore no pre-meditated opinions on the subject. Media outlets have, in general, reinforced their expertise rather than refuted it.
The net result was a spike in the government’s approval rating during the height of the crisis (since reduced to pre-Covid levels) and a renewed appreciation for those trained and dedicated to their cause.
We’re all heading down an unchartered path. There’s an opportunity for any entity to invest in their role as an authority, lead on their area of expertise and offer practical, helpful guidance.
If you’ve ever played poker you’ll understand that bad beats linger far longer than hands well played and won, irrespective of the stakes. Generally, we hate to lose more than we love to win. And we’ve all been on a hefty losing streak over the past few months.
Loss aversion can create inertia. There’s a reason most of the adverts you may have seen on the side of the bus are from brands you’ve never heard of; the bigger players have retreated, giving way to a raft of smaller, challenger brands with less to lose.
Amid grave uncertainty, your audience will be more inclined to defend what they have. Help them to safeguard their hard-earned reputation or financial position first, before offering them anything to upgrade their future opportunities.
Loyal to agile
Unfortunately for many, en masse furlough will give way to en masse redundancy. Businesses will try to do more with less, shaving payroll and finding ways to become more agile should lockdown return or a similar threat markedly alter their route to market or working practice.
This may, perversely, open up greater opportunity for agencies and freelancers, filing a regularly-flexing gap in an oscillating structure.
Brands need to protect themselves. Preparing comprehensive guidelines will support third parties and ensure coherency across projects. Developing owned channels will help control spends and gather consumer data. Converting anything that relied on face-to-face delivery to a consistent, scalable, digital format is essential transformation.
Every business we’ve spoken to over the past few months has spent time reviewing what they do and how they do it, finding ways to angle their efforts towards a new wave of challenges.
The world isn’t the way we left it a few months ago. It won’t topple neatly back into place.
Tear up the rulebook, write your own and lead the change.