Getting Ready to Restart
Posted on June 17, 2020
How We Have Changed and Adapted
I’ll admit, it took time to accept the new coronavirus. The weeks passed, then the months, and it persisted, growing like a giant invisible cloud above the city. Like a storm, it seemed ready to burst at any minute, but I was waiting for the wind to come in and blow it all away.
That didn’t happen, of course. Instead, our agency turned off the lights and locked the doors, our temporary offices now living rooms and bedrooms. How long would it be before the team would share a table, pouring over ideas or hosting a potluck?
On the same day, I waved goodbye to my daughter as she got on a plane to California to visit her grandparents. A few days later, she was back, weeks early and the first few days of her spring break spent on a plane. Coronavirus seemed to have moved in, forcing her way into my life and the life of those who mattered the most to me.
Since then we have spent our time in a hybrid stage of family, work, school, and outdoor activities. We had to adapt to new routines, work better as a team, and compromise our personal space and time. Struggling with the pros and cons of social distancing, balancing our time, and focusing on what matters the most created new challenges for our psyche and mindset.
Our own desire for order structure has created a lot of reorganized pantries and closets, and has resulted in well-manicured COVID-19 front yards and gardens. Simple tasks with instant gratification helped to distract us from the stress of crisis management and existential economic and health fears.
Social distancing has created a new normal of socialization and communication. We had to navigate new technology, trying to look our best on screen while wearing sweat pants.
Our desire to interact brought us together for virtual family meetings, team check-ins and online happy hours. While our physical interaction has decreased, some of us experience more frequent interactions than before. I have seen more of my in-laws in three months than in the last five years combined.
Initially, I was reluctant to wear a mask to go out in public. I did not want to buy into the idea of fear and helplessness. Apart from a few reluctant and defiant individuals, most of us have gotten a grip on the concept of protecting others and the necessity of “flattening the curve.” Now I am the proud owner of a variety of fashionable face coverings that were purchased online. Once I have figured out how to prevent my glasses from fogging up, I will have accepted this as my new normal. I assume that Apple’s Face ID will sooner or later have the ability to unlock my phone even when my face is half-covered.
It took a while to feel and grasp the deep impact the coronavirus would have on our business and work environment. When the stay at home order began, we had a full pipeline of work ahead and our team was quick to reorganize and initiate a work-from-home setup. One could argue that it made us even more focused and efficient in our daily tasks and interaction with each other and our clients.
Unfortunately, the service industry is the “canary in the coal mine.” Marketing is almost always the very first budget to be cut in a crisis, and we felt the domino effect of our shut down economy very fast and furious. Retainers were reduced to a pure minimum, events and collateral got cancelled, and branding projects were put on hold indefinitely. If it would not have been for the PPP loan, we would have had to make some very painful decisions to keep afloat.
What We Have Learned
During the first three months of the pandemic we had to hunker down, learn new ways to communicate, and keep ourselves busy and healthy. We created a new order, control and structure for our day-to-day lives. Some of us started to embrace our new habits: no commute, more sleep, less interruption, and more focus.
We have learned social distancing. For me personally, 6 feet of distance is now my comfort radius.
The business experienced significant cuts to normal office overhead: less rent, less maintenance, less parking, less coffee… etc.
According to a recent article in Columbus Business First, Nationwide, “the $49.3 billion Fortune 100 giant plans to close most of its smaller offices by November and transition employees from those locations – about 4,000 people in total – to permanent work-from-home status. The company had about 5,000 employees working from home prior to the pandemic, bringing the total when the move is done to about 30% of its 28,000 employees.”
COVID-19 has accelerated ongoing trends, like working from home and online shopping, and paralyzed many traditional ways of living, shopping, eating, and working. Brick and mortar businesses were most affected by the negative economic impact of this pandemic, while online shopping and food deliveries increased their business and market share.
How We Have Evolved
“At times of crisis we see innovation flourish.”
Many of us have spent a lot of time cleaning up our storage and doing a lot of house projects to feel empowered to do something. Beyond that, our desire to solve problems has driven our thoughts and actions. We have embraced new ways of doing things in the same way we embraced smart phones when they first came out. According to Forbes Magazine, we have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation within the past two months. Telemedicine and online education are just the visible tip of the iceberg. This crisis is forcing anything that can digitize, to digitize.
I just saw the virtual tour of Contemporary Art Matters’ latest exhibit. It not only helped me to understand and relate to the artwork, but it gave me in-depth information I would have never encountered in a traditional gallery opening. And multiple visitors can view it at the same time.
Restaurants have adapted to pickup and delivery, fashion designers have designed face masks, and many of us have experienced better focus and less distraction in our daily work.
By now, we have a better handle on video conferencing, are more focused on how we look on screen, and have learned to wait for the slight delay in the visual and audio response from our colleagues.
It is likely that future consumer and business behavior will evolve into a hybrid of pre- and post-pandemic forms.
What Will Be the New Normal
Most likely it is going to be a relatively slow restart, and most of us won’t restart at the same point from where we left off. People will have to maneuver through their fear, caution, and the desire to be social. Decisions will be made dependent on everyone’s level of comfort and safety. Risks will be taken by what is considered essential versus non-essential.
Fear will keep us mainly in the online world that we have learned to embrace during this time of social distancing. Our desire of personal interaction will continue to grow, but we have already adapted to “Zooming” with our friends and family. I have learned to appreciate the visual interaction with my team members on our daily Google Hangouts sessions, and there is a certain disappointment when I call in meetings where people interact by voice only.
We are multi-sensory beings that need stimulations on multiple levels. We may have to give up touch and handshakes. If we want to truly interact, the more senses we allow, the higher our success rate of building actual relationships will be.
Social distancing rules with 6 feet of separation will be part of life for at least another 12 months. Even if we reopen everything, it does not mean that everybody will feel safe enough to go out in the public to mingle.
It is possible that a second surge of the virus will come after we have reopened everything for business. Even if we erase this virus from the face of the earth, there will be another pandemic, and the fear of the economic impact will force us to be better prepared to adopt social distancing immediately. Our new normal will be embracing our digital world more than ever.
How To Prepare for the Future
Due to the changing nature of their businesses (e.g. fast food becoming a delivery business), companies will be forced to rethink archaic marketing strategies, tools, and processes they have been living with. Digital presence can give us the opportunity to build direct, measurable relationships with consumers. We need to treasure the data we can get from consumer feedback and behavior. It will enable us to make better and more efficient marketing and communication decisions.
Competing brands will acquire more responsive and real-time marketing stacks, and data-driven dynamic creative technology can enable rapid and immediate changes to creative content to be pushed out to all marketing channels. We need to embrace these technologies or face being left behind.
The companies that are best placed to benefit from the situations are those which offer comfort, convenience or necessity for consumers. For most brands, there’s space to think about the digitization of your product, not just the delivery.
According to Forbes Magazine, going online is the right solution for businesses. Here are some interesting facts:
- Growth of mobile apps: Despite the crisis impact, the mobile app spending is expected to double by 2024. Moreover, downloads will reach 183.7 billion, i.e. 9% more from the forecast made before COVID-19.
- Increase in online shopping: Amazon says it is out of stock of household items, and deliveries are delayed due to coronavirus demand.
- Reduced human contact: Online businesses are empowered with contactless deliveries. Shifting to an online marketplace is a wise decision, which helps save your resources, customers and business altogether.
- Experts’ recommendation: Retail and logistics experts say online shopping is permissible and encouraged during the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, categories like electronics and health experienced a 91% and 109% increase.
COVID-19 has shut down retail sales almost entirely during the shelter-in-place phase; however, brands with e-commerce offerings and direct-to-consumer marketing have skyrocketed in sales.
Digital marketing is their response to retail sales continuing to plummet and possibly not recovering for a while due to social distancing.
There will be a strong demand for platforms to manage digital media purchases and creative and content automation platforms to deliver specialized offers and personalized messaging.
There is also the aspect of scale. Digital delivery of content, service or goods has less local boundaries. The opportunity of an online presence for your business is an opportunity of scale and the ability of breaking local boundaries. There will be more choices of interacting with AI or an actual person. Personal training has always been a one-on-one business (or the size of a defined local group). With the assistance of AI, we will be able to create an avatar that can assist you and correct your exercises through systems like a mirror. This avatar has no more restrictions on how many people it can serve and reach. And there will be a lot of choices in between.
Many traditional brick and mortar companies may not survive after the second wave of this pandemic. This does not mean that local-to-local business can’t thrive. Better local delivery and distribution systems, aided by intelligent apps and portals, will allow a regional-for-regional or local-for-local production change. Fresh food to table subscription concepts will allow farmers to adjust their businesses, make them more profitable, and gain independence from large corporations.
The government has invested a lot of money to keep us working. The time to get ready for our economic restart is yesterday and now. Take that positive energy you have used to clean out your closets, manicure your lawns, and organize your pantries and apply it to boost and redefine your digital presence and identity.
This is my advice: use your current extra time wisely and focus on your digital presence now. Be prepared to ease into the restart of our economy. It will be your competitive edge. Build out your virtual brick and mortar on the adapted consumer and business behaviors that have formed during the coronavirus.
Take the opportunity to invest in digital marketing technology. Positive online experience will be the differentiator for competition. UX design needs to focus on ease of use, and it needs to be engaging and easy to understand.
For Ibel Agency, our redefined role is to help our clients navigate through this new digital world. We are here to bridge clients to new market realities by delivering digital campaigning, increased automation, increased network flexibility and new technology-enabled solutions that position our clients well for the future. Even as we begin to return to work, both remotely and from traditional offices, the future is here to stay, and the way we work will never quite be the same again.