There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has caused dramatic shifts in the business landscape. Industries like travel and hospitality have experienced a significant impact, while business is surging at grocery stores and many online retailers. Meanwhile, video conferencing is having a renaissance moment as it becomes the new way to work and socialize.
It’s hard to know which of these are temporary trends and which are with us for the long run. How purchasing priorities evolve, and whether pre-COVID behavior patterns are resumed, will vary considerably between customers. Health concerns, job nuances, geographical conditions and personal circumstances will all play a greater role than ever in consumer decisions, making each individual’s recovery journey unique and unpredictable.
Perhaps the only change that’s clearly here to stay is the increased use of technology. While tech has added utility and efficiency to our jobs and personal lives for decades, it has never been as critical for daily living as it is in these uncertain times. The good news is that technological advances could also expedite our rebound to a new normal.
A few different tech trends are emerging as a result of COVID-19, and chief among them is the acceleration of digitization. Companies are rushing to implement technologies that allow them to serve customers online, accept digital payments and enable their employees to work safely from home. In the medical and pharmaceutical fields, technology is being used to expedite a traditionally lengthy R&D process at a time of skyrocketing demand for treatments and medications.
As companies seek to rebuild their supply chains, they are turning to technology to maximize their resiliency. For example, experts predict that organizations will address inventory shortages by building more, smaller factories closer to their customers. This strategy was considered cost prohibitive in the past, but now companies will be able to use AI solutions to deliver predictive maintenance, flexibly reallocate resources and optimize their value chains to make local production cost effective.
Additionally, according to the BCG Henderson Institute, “more companies are likely to deploy AI-enabled solutions to reignite top line growth.” The powerful analytical capabilities of AI will help companies anticipate changes in consumer preferences and detect and capitalize on emerging trends. AI solutions are also enabling companies to better engage customers, which is key to keeping them loyal post-recovery.
Although recovery will likely be as unpredictable as the outbreak itself, we can anticipate three stages of shifting consumer mindset as economies gradually reopen. We’ve provided strategic guidance for each stage below to help you plan your initiatives. Keep in mind, however, that each customer will advance through these mindsets at their own pace.
Stage 1: Concern and Caution
Stay-at-home orders are in place worldwide, raising consumer anxieties and altering priorities. Customers are concerned about maintaining their physical health and their access to essential goods. But even as social distancing continues, the urge to form community remains strong, and customers will also prioritize supporting those affected.
Plan your strategy: Showing genuine support will be paramount during this phase. Be prepared to demonstrate how your brand is keeping workers and the community safe with everything from sanitization policies to sick leave. More importantly, make sure your communications reflect empathy for customers and support them on their individual recovery journeys. Avoid business-as-usual communications that could appear callous and out of touch.
Stage 2: Adjusting Yet Uncertain
As the curve flattens, businesses will gradually begin reopening to the public, but modified operational protocols like distanced seating will still be in place. Customers will balance concerns for their personal safety with their desire for engagement and normalcy, but where they land along this spectrum will vary for each person. Economic uncertainties will focus their spending on what they value most.
Plan your strategy: Start re-engaging customers who disengaged during Stage 1—focus your resources on developing highly relevant, personalized activations that energize people to get back out there. At the same time, position your brand as sensitive to the broader cultural context. Don’t push unnecessary spending in a recession, but get customers excited about the little things they’re regaining during reopening.
Stage 3: Embracing the New Normal
As the economy fully reopens, customers will have better acclimated and should be eager to resume normal life, whatever that may look like in the post-COVID era. At the same time, maintaining preparedness for future crises and unexpected events will still remain a priority. After living a highly digital lifestyle in Stages 1 and 2, they will expect their digital experiences to deliver maximum time efficiency and efficient rewards.
Plan your strategy: This is the time to bring customer engagement back to pre-crisis levels. Invest in the right technology to identify new individual behaviors, and leverage those behaviors to create new opportunities. Implement 1:1 personalization to engage each customer with offers designed around their needs and their personal “new normal.” Taking these steps will enable your brand to regain market share and continue to grow.
Much the way COVID-19 began, the rebound from it will be staggered around the world, with different timelines for every region and every person. Supporting your customers in their individual recoveries will be key to maintaining their long-term loyalty. Pairing this approach with the right technology will reveal new growth opportunities for your brand—contact us to learn how Formation can help you make it happen.