“Shelter in place.” “Social distancing.” “Flatten the curve.” While it’s hard to believe that a little over a month ago we’d never heard of these phrases, social media and the 24-hour news cycle have ensured they’ve become part of our everyday lexicon as we battle the novel COVID-19 virus.
Believe it or not, though, there is an end in sight. If history is any indication, our society will fundamentally change because calamities like this tend to expose our weak spots. There have been many thought pieces published about what that means for marketers, but we haven’t found any to be as comprehensive and informative as After Right Now, a collaboration between Toronto-area agencies Bensimon Byrne, OneMethod and Narrative.
Using the 1918 Spanish Flu and 9/11 as examples, the report takes a look at what kinds of behaviors, values and habits we can expect to see from consumers right now, in the not-so-distant future (3-18 months from now) and 18 months onward as the dust presumably settles and things go back to “normal.”
While the authors are up front about their predictions being speculation, they do share some compelling statistics to back up their claims, as well as draw upon their collective experiences to make educated guesses.
Here are some key takeaways:
1. Right now, it’s important for brands to stay in contact with their audiences through appropriate content. While it may be tempting to “go dark” or even assume people have more important things to worry about than your brand, research shows that while conserving marketing budgets helps the bottom line in the short term, it actually hurts in the long run as a brand can be perceived as uncaring.
Audiences still want some normalcy, and they’re going to log on to see what their favorite snack food is posting on Instagram. Just be sure to show sensitivity by taking into account the current situation. For example, with health experts encouraging social distancing, now is not the time to post ideas for hosting a large family gathering.
2. In the near future, we can still expect to see economic reverberations affecting our buying habits, for both large and small purchases. Marketers will need to be empathetic to buyers and their bank accounts, as many will be trying to recover from debt incurred while they were furloughed.
Brands may need to reposition themselves to this new group, called “Used To Haves” in the report, by focusing on attributes such as reliability, steadfastness and security in order to rebuild trust and maximize appeal.
3. Who the experts are will change moving forward. Whereas before influencers and “keyboard warriors” were able to command attention and their word was taken as Gospel, the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis is going to result in a renewed trust in elected officials and traditional media (especially on a local level), and decreased cynicism toward specialists within the public and private sectors.
We’ve certainly seen this phenomenon already start to take place, as local news outlets report increased viewer and readership since the COVID-19 crisis started. Audiences are recognizing the value of reporting about what’s going on in their backyards in addition to around the world. Elected officials who engage regularly with their constituents and are open with their communications are also being lauded for their leadership and transparency. Experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci are emerging as national heroes who offer a calm voice backed by decades of experience amidst the storm.
After Right Now also predicts some societal changes that will permanently alter our collective psyche moving forward. The authors cover topics like technology, civil liberties and economic security as they pertain to our buying habits and brand perception.
The bottom line is that from now on we are going to view our way of life in terms of “pre-COVID” vs. “post-COVID,” and if history is any indication, we must either adapt with the times or be left behind.