What a year these past three months have been.
The COVID-19 global pandemic took the world by surprise. Much like losing a loved one, the change was swift and impactful across every aspect of life. Psychologists tell us what we’re feeling is grief. We buy that.
But with every tragedy that life brings our way, it is followed by a time of renewal, often greater than it was before. We will hug our family and friends again. We will attend crowded football games and graduation ceremonies again. We’ll even experience the joy of long airport security lines while TSA agents yell at us to take our laptops out of our bags. You remember? The good stuff.
And when life reverts to normalcy, what does that new normal really look like for us as marketers? Obviously, it’s still hard to predict when this pandemic will be over, but once the dust settles, life as we know it will be familiar yet different.
Let us paint a picture of the soon-to-be new normal.
Social Distancing: Near and Far
“If you’re attacked by a shark, are you gonna give up surfing?” Paul Rudd asks Jason Segal in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. “Probably, yeah,” he replies.
We’ve all been bitten, so don’t expect us to go running back into the water anytime soon. Keeping our distance is now top of mind and will stay that way for the foreseeable future, if not for an extended period of time. Handshakes will be infrequent at best. No more side hugs or high fives. People will be incredibly conscientious of their personal space (HR is loving this part). There will be fewer in-person meetings—and even then only if completely necessary.
While we keep our distance in the office, we’ll also keep our distance in other ways.
According to one study, over three billion people now live in countries whose borders are completely closed to non-citizens, with 93% living in countries that have introduced new barriers to entry due to the coronavirus.
Marketers will find that their customers now have a stronger preference for local over global products and services. And with that, messaging will need to shift.
Shorter Supply Chains
With more border restrictions comes a need for companies to take a hard look at their supply chains. Sourcing will move much closer to end markets. For those that survive the pandemic, businesses will build backup plans in case something like this happens again. (This applies to almost all areas—people will have more safety nets in their lives.)
Consumers may not have cared that their phone was built in China or their clothes were made in India before, but expect them to have a more transparent understanding of their products’ origins. Marketers may end up having an edge on the competition just by assuring customers that their supply chain is infallible.
We’ve all seen the jokes about working in our PJs every day or doing a Good Morning America interview with no pants on. While the latter should never happen, working remotely is here to stay.
Of course, offices will still be needed, but employees around the globe have shown their employers how productive they can be while working from home. According to a McKinsey & Company survey, around 90% of B2B companies have started to shift sales resources to remote/digital models, with many already saying it’s as or more effective than before. About 80% of B2B sales teams have shifted to video conference/phone and about 90% of companies have transitioned to at least a partially remote sales model.
Expect companies to implement much more lax remote working policies as the obscure line between our personal and professional lives becomes even blurrier.
Automation Is Here
In late 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that 60% of all jobs could see more than 30% of their key tasks automated, affecting 400 to 800 million jobs around the world by 2030. According to the Brookings Institution, over the three recessions that have occurred over the last 30 years, the pace of automation increased during each.
Expect automation to infiltrate every industry and every sector. Human contact is going to be minimized, but not eliminated.
Speaking of minimized human contact…
More Digital. More Online.
This one shouldn’t be a surprise, as nearly half of marketing budgets are already being poured into digital initiatives, with 2/3 of advertising spend now in the digital space. But this seems bigger than that.
While a large portion of the global population was already spending online, the pandemic woke up many of the other late-blooming segments. Early reports from China show that new customers and markets—mainly individuals over the age of 36 and residents of smaller, less affluent cities—have begun shopping online in larger numbers. In Europe, 13% of consumers said they planned to buy from online retailers for the very first time. E-commerce transactions in Italy have risen 81% since the end of February.
And what about healthcare? Teladoc Health, the largest U.S. stand-alone telemedicine service, reported a 50% increase in service during the last week of March 20, and has been adding thousands of doctors to their network ever since. The Federal Communications Commission is currently spending $200 million to improve the connectivity between virtual healthcare providers and their patients. Sweden’s KRY International, one of Europe’s biggest telehealth providers, reported a 200% increase in registrations.
Marketers in the retail space especially will need to launch omnichannel initiatives (e.g., contactless curbside pickup, buy online/pick up in store”, etc.). About 76% of U.S. apparel executives say this is already in the works, as the role of stores will soon be completely redefined.
Events Gone Virtual
According to a new survey of B2B marketing professionals by Aggregage, 70% plan to cancel all live events for the next 60 days while 25% plan to cancel some or all live events for the next six months. Around 65% plan to reallocate some or most of their live event budget to online events, such as webinars.
“The impact of COVID-19 on the world and on B2B marketing will be felt throughout 2020,” said Robert Flynn, CEO of Aggregage. “Many B2B marketers expect online events and other digital programs to replace the lead generation they were counting on from live events.”
In the new normal, many events will go virtual, forcing marketers to rethink how to engage with their audience in a whole new way.
Business Called to an Even Higher Standard
According to a NewsCred survey, a little more than half of Gen-Z consumers find it appropriate for brands to advertise during the pandemic. But what is more important to them is that those who do advertise do so thoughtfully. Rather than driving sales, these young consumers want brands to focus their resources on adding tangible value to their communities and motivating people to contribute to worthy causes.
The world is changing fast. Businesses, especially as they take money from government stimulus packages, are now being called to a higher purpose.
Marketers were already busy trying to tell brand stories about sustainability, environmentalism, and social awareness. You can now add “resiliency” to the list. Is your company set up to succeed moving forward—even in dire circumstances?
How your business fared during the COVID-19 pandemic will be etched in consumers’ minds for a very long time. After WWII, people asked both government and business, “What did you do during the war?”