After the Crisis – 5 tips for doing business in the ‘new normal’

11 May 2020
Kathy Benson

Kathy Benson, chief client officer, Ipsos Australia and New Zealand

There are a lot of smart people in our industry, in our country and around the world focussed on providing predictions on what we can all expect to see “after the crisis”, with many referring to this period as the ‘new normal’. In some respects, our constantly unwritten future is always the ‘new normal’ with life around us changing on a daily basis. Usually, the changes happen incrementally and slowly. We can’t see the change, but it is happening, and it is constantly evolving our world at a mass, albeit slow, scale.

Large-scale motion, like the mega-trends impacting our lives, are hard to detect, but are nevertheless significantly impactful over time. Every now and again something seismic happens which alters the course of these mega-trends, or like an earthquake, creates large and visible ripple effects which impact us much more greatly.

Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is the seismic event that is creating an astounding amount of ripple effects. Governments, businesses and brands are grappling with navigating the tsunami of change that is occurring right now, but many of the savvy ones also have one eye on the future, asking: “What will happen after?”

And consequently, many smart people around the world are rushing to provide answers.

Of course, none of us has a crystal ball, but we do have clues, and really the more pertinent question is which clues do we follow?

Ipsos has been conducting a global trends study every two years which looks at the mega-trends or, in our language, the macro forces, which are shaping the world. The framework examines change at three levels: macro forces that are long term, far reaching and that are shaping humanity. Trends are person-centric or culture-centric and reflect changing values. The micro level of change is what we call signals - localised reactions and expressions of the impact of the longer-term trends.

These can emerge quickly but can also fade just as quickly from the trends landscape.

Predictions are too often made on the signal – that is the localised expression of a trend which could ultimately be a fad that comes and goes. Business, government and brand leaders need to understand the bigger picture, that is, the macro forces driving the signals in order to interpret them more accurately. COVID-19 is a shock to the ecosystem, radically impacting signals – for example, people shopping online for products they have never bought online before - but to understand if that signal or micro behaviour change is going to continue or not, we need to link it to a longer term trend or macro force. That is, the new or altered behaviour needs to be linked to a pre-pandemic trajectory of change.

The other effective strategy in determining what is likely and not likely to eventuate is listening to all the predictions and advice and applying the principle of convergence validity to assess which “predictions” to take to the bank.

Using both of these strategies in combination, here are our top 5 tips for doing business in the ‘new normal’.

1. Plan for a Behaviour Spike
There is a lot of information available based on the China experience and many references to a “behaviour spike” describing an extreme uplift in purchasing and non-purchasing behaviours immediately after lockdown restrictions were lifted. The cause of this is described in several ways: “unleashed consumption”; “release of accumulated purchase intent”; “expenditure of deferred demand”.
The critical point is that the surge is described as a spike, and after an initial surge, behaviours then stabilised, and spending decreased.
Our business leaders need to do two things to get ready for this spike:
• Gear up to ensure they can meet the demand);
• Develop strategies now that they can employ later to create “stickiness” where possible. That is, strategies that reinforce new behaviours or that incentivise repeat business.

2. Emotionally Pivot
Several reputable industry commentators have recently mentioned that in observing the cultural change during the early recovery from previous “crises” (eg. the great depression, post-World War I and II) we can expect our collective emotional sentiment to be of extreme happiness, optimism and liberalism.
Our business leaders need to anticipate this and be ready to emotionally pivot. Many brands have launched specific COVID-19 advertising and communications during this time which connect strongly with emotions such as caring, safety, concern, warmth, compliance and security.
However, organisations communicating through the early stages of the recovery will need to pivot from this tone to sync in with a new emotional landscape aligned with joy, vitality, freedom and celebration.
And then it is very likely they will need to pivot again as the heavy reality of a slow economic recovery starts to hit home.

3. Provide Tech-Enhanced Experiences
Our lockdown experiences have sent everyone plunging headfirst into the ‘Digital Village’. Apps and video-chat services we had never heard of a few months ago (eg Houseparty) are now everyday language. This mass engagement of living in a more virtual world is unlikely to revert. Business leaders need to consider long-term working from home strategies, tech-based virtual product and service experiences, and a whole raft of other implications.

4. Deliver a Seamless Omnichannel
The lockdown saw many bricks and mortar businesses move very quickly to offering an online digital extension. Every single retailer will now need to think about how they blend their physical and digital presence.
Brands who haven’t already need to extend their physical services into the virtual realm and those who already have, need to maintain it as business as usual.

5. Be Socially Responsible
And a final word of warning. If you are business or brand who has taken a socially responsible stance during this crisis, whether it be supporting frontline medical workers, donating money, helping customers navigate financial problems - do not stop. Now you have started, stopping may leave you looking inauthentic and insincere.

Let’s face it, if there is one thing positive that comes out of this pandemic, it will be the big shining spotlight that has been put onto the issue of the relationship between our planetary health and human health. This should weigh heavily on all of us and everyone needs to do their bit.

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