Now that we’re several months into the pandemic, it’s become fairly clear that things aren’t going back to pre-COVID business-as-usual. So much has changed, and enough time has passed that most businesses have started figuring out how to adapt to this new reality.
Fashion brands have designed new lines of face masks. Alcohol companies temporarily shifted to producing hand sanitizer. Restaurants are getting innovative by providing experiences for curbside pickups, shifting to artisanal grocery delivery, and creating locally-sourced meal-kits. Theatre productions are being live-streamed. Even independent bookstores are innovating with virtual bookshop crawls, creating reading bundles, and delivering books to your door via bicycle.
With so many new choices and experiences, will consumers go back to being satisfied with the status quo? These innovations have opened up all sorts of new opportunities for brands able to adapt.
The post-pandemic business models
Post-pandemic business models will emerge through taking lemons and making them into lemonade.
When everyone eventually feels safe enough to gather en masse, expectations will have changed. Some of these expectations will include heightened safety, sanitization, and spatial awareness. Providing solutions for this could be an interesting design challenge.
As an example, as our team eventually returns to our open office space, I’ve been looking for innovative, beautiful ways to create safety barriers between our desks. The last thing our creative team wants is to put up sterile cubicles! In our research, we came across Mio, a sustainable furniture company that makes gorgeous, colorful acoustic dividers. Though Mio is not a post-pandemic design company, recent Instagram posts from their lab show they are already applying their design skills to creating “beautiful sneeze guards.”
Under Armour also applied this thinking to engineering a “First-of-its-Kind Performance Mask”. They recognized that their customers —many of whom get their exercise playing team sports in close quarters — are looking for ways to return to their activities safely. They focused on developing this mask as a solution.
Post-COVID, there will be ripples of opportunity to design new experiences that meet consumers’ changing needs. You’ll just need to look for them.
True digital-first thinking
The most obvious shifting of business priorities has been towards the digital delivery of everything from telehealth to streaming live performances to child care services and beyond. Months of consuming pretty much everything virtually has led to increased comfort with digital delivery. Why would anyone want to drive across town and wait in a doctor’s office to get a prescription filled after this?
But digital thinking doesn’t just stop at the delivery of services. Many businesses created a community around their brands through online channels. During the shutdown, a local spa created care packages and threw Netflix parties with their customers to create a sense of togetherness. Another local prenatal care and yoga business shifted to online programming, yoga classes, and even doula services.
Others worked to shift their businesses online. Our small business community, a digital services solution born in the time of COVID-19, has been inundated with business owners seeking out new strategies and a better understanding of how to market themselves in the digital domain. One of these businesses is an eyewear designer whose retailer customers stopped ordering after the pandemic hit. Instead of throwing in the towel, she used the downtime to build an online shop and digital strategy, shifting to a direct-to-consumer model. Though this was a direction she’d toyed with for years, she now had the opportunity (and urgency) to pursue it seriously.
For many years, going digital was something that many businesses knew they needed to pursue, but didn’t fully buy-in. The pandemic made it a do-or-die reality, and they’re getting a crash course in transforming overnight.
Learning to read the room
The post-COVID consumer is wide awake and doesn’t have the patience for empty marketing messages.
In mid-March, as anxiety over the pandemic grew, multiple brands paused their ad campaigns. After it was clear the pandemic was going to lock us down for a while, entire strategies were shifted. Being part of the solution became the marketing strategy.
This new ability to read the room led to better, more effective communication from brands, and though not all brands adapted to this perfectly, there was a vast improvement. All of this listening and empathy for how customers were feeling came in very handy for what would happen next.
A world of people already fed up with official handling of the health crisis watched as a law enforcement officer killed an unarmed black man while three other officers stood by. The increasing frustration with authority and the ability to focus on this issue created a perfect powder keg to ignite a movement beyond this case alone.
Now that companies were poised to listen, learn, and react with better agility, they could respond more appropriately to the surging support of Black Lives Matter. Brands with legacies in racist stereotypes were swiftly changed. Others stepped up in ways that alienated certain fans to show their support for their black colleagues. These real actions, though long overdue, have been broadly lauded.
In the post-pandemic world, effective marketing means you spend less time interrupting and more time listening. And, more than ever, actions speak louder than words. A post-pandemic consumer has no time for hollow statements.
Putting it all together
From finding opportunities to creatively solve emerging needs to using digital to efficiently deliver services and connect to learning how to read the room and get real, the pandemic has given us all a crash course in adapting. The only thing certain going forward is that these skills are going to be valuable for your business’s success.
Instead of thinking about 2020 as a disruptor, think of it more as an accelerator. Whether it’s accelerating digital transformations or overhauling of systems of oppression, these changes were bound to happen. This could be the upside of a very devastating pandemic that has claimed too many lives.
Rethinking your business through a post-COVID-19 lens means that you can completely transform because everything is being called into question at this moment. The biggest risk right now is to stay in place as the world moves forward without you.