Opinion: Planning for the future when the present is uncertain
I don’t have to tell you that we are living through a unique period in time. The COVID-19 has effectively disrupted human behavior in just about every sphere of our daily lives. Work? From home. Socializing? Through screens only. Shopping? Almost exclusively online, or in a crazed frenzy.
Even without listing the obvious ways in which the virus has impacted purchasing habits (we have all seen videos of stampedes towards toilet paper displays), consumer behavior has never been more interesting to observe and research as a marketer. Social distancing has robbed us of a vital means of conducting business; altered consumer behavior shines a light on failings in crisis management, business models, and technological ecosystems that were not built to accommodate a surge in demand.
The closure of non-essential physical touchpoints have hit businesses hard. For certain industries like tourism, hospitality and entertainment that rely exclusively on physical experiences and consumer mobility, COVID-19 will be catastrophic. But for businesses that have always been skittish about diving into e-commerce, perhaps due to a lack of necessity, technological expertise or distribution strategy, the absence of brick and mortar store trafic should not represent an alarming risk, but rather an unfortunately-timed opportunity to take the plunge and begin their digital transformation.
While it’s true that not all businesses can easily begin migrating their activities towards e-commerce, those who can must find ways to do so quickly – even if fine-tuning the customer experience is done incrementally. Consumers will be much more forgiving of a few kinks during roll-out if communication is transparent and context is acknowledged, and it may even foster a sense of brand loyalty, in a “we’re in this together” kind of way.
We are in the thick of it. Budgets are slashed, jobs are lost, and uncertainty about how the situation will continue to develop day by day rules over long-term planning. But this is just a moment in time, and while many companies are finding innovative ways to adapt their value proposition to this current moment in time, it’s how the long-game will be played out that will determine who comes out of this not only a winner, but an actor of reason and longevity.
Marketers need to remain informed about how consumers shift and adapt their behavior while dealing with an unprecedented public health crisis. This also means understanding how marketing can play a role in maintaining trust between brands and their customers during a moment where trust is tenuous, and how marketing, especially digital marketing, can contribute to balancing out disrupted behavioral patterns during the crisis and once it subsides.
Will current behavior become the new normal? How will companies succeed (or not) in leveraging digital agility while remaining true to their core value proposition? Will companies return to business as usual after the dust settles? And how can we, as agencies, create bridges between a potentially new normal and old marketing habits?
Agencies will undoubtedly have an incredible role in the post-COVID future. Both in the short-term by helping companies get back on their feet and into the swing of things when activities start returning to normal, and especially by working with businesses in reimagining their marketing strategies to adjust to changed behaviors.
But agencies also have a crucial part to play right now, as businesses are scrambling and ad spend is dwindling- they are shepherding digital transformation, however hasty it may be, and must start preparing tomorrow’s businesses cases that prioritize 360 digital initiatives that can weather (almost) any storm.
Businesses are currently facing a tough job : remaining anchored to and aware of the context of the moment and developing reflexes that minimise damage and meet consumers halfway. But getting bogged down in the day-to-day takes away from looking ahead and planning for “what next”, a question that every business will have to answer once the crisis subsides. Having that answer, or a partial answer, sooner rather than later will help businesses smooth the transition between now and after, and awaken the realization that digital already plays an integral role in the business of tomorrow.
In order to empower marketers to stay up to date with trends that evolve daily in their industries, to understand which of these trends could be here to stay, and the actions to take to prepare the future, we created a diary for marketers, that will be continuously updated throughout the next few weeks. Consult it often to help guide you during this challenging period.