How brands can prepare for the ‘next normal’

While the restrictions that have come with this whole CV-19 business are starting to ease, we’ve still got some way to go before the virus becomes a novel pub trivia question. Which is good news for marketers since that gives us time to get ready for the ‘next normal’.

Life under COVID has become the ‘new normal’ and after that, well, it’s onto the ‘next normal’.

Predicting exactly what this will look is nigh on impossible. Sure, we can turn to other countries such as China that are starting to come out the other side, but the Australian experience is now – and will be – different from most other countries.

A seismic shift in shopping behaviour

While us business types are chasing the best possible scenario – the V Shaped Recovery – consumer attitudes and behaviours may be quite different; more cautious. They may cause a lag.

Some are declaring this a “structural break” (a term used by economists and sociologists) in the same category as the Great Depression and World War II which fundamentally changed things.

And we’ve certainly seen seismic shifts for many businesses that suggest this could well be the case. One of the changes likely to stay with us is the increased use of online shopping.

Even the luddites among us are being forced into it now since bricks-and-mortar stores are closed or inaccessible and the uptake from all demographics (and tech abilities) makes it easy to predict a new sustained increase post-COVID.

More so than any other event in modern history, this has highlighted the retail brands that get digital and those that don’t. Given there’s likely to be more and more online purchasing in the coming months and years, the brands that haven’t got their shit together in this regard are, frankly, stuffed.

For the businesses that were already geared toward digital, or able to quickly pivot, the challenge will be to improve the e-commerce experience to differentiate from competitors.

That said, counter-trend thinking says that perhaps after months of real-life retail therapy deprivation, in some categories, we may see a resurgence in bricks-and-mortar visits as people discover a new appreciation of the physical shopping experience. I mean, how many people have been lamenting the loss of the Bunning’s sausage sizzle?

Expect even more demand for experiences over products

A trend that surfaced following the GFC was a significant spending shift from products to experiences. It would be fair to expect this again as people put more value on being able to connect with family, friends and their favourite pastimes, rather than simply consuming more stuff. This will be a much-needed boon for restaurants, recreational activities and domestic tourism.

Also here on home soil, we can expect to see a renewed interest in products grown and made locally as nationalism around the world increases. This comes off the back of the loss of security and safety, driven by being too reliant on just-in-time supply chains from the global village.

People will want to buy Australian products from Aussie businesses and this will see industries brought back to life that have long been outsourced abroad. For brands with an Aussie origin story to tell, this is the time to capitalise on it. I suspect there will be an acceptance of the premium price that is likely to be required to buy stuff that is sourced and made locally, at least for a period of time until the hip pocket nerve triggers our collective COVID-19 amnesia. How long? I’ve got no idea.

And along with this, controversially, will come a reduction in products from countries such as China. Already US and Japanese firms are actively looking to move manufacturing to other Asian countries and a survey of EU citizens found 61.9 per cent would support a boycott of Chinese goods. Brands, would-be manufacturers and retailers currently heavily reliant on Chinese products and components may have a problem, especially if there are locally sourced alternatives available. It would be wise to have a backup plan in place to deal with this. Next stop India?

While COVID-19 has caused all manner of upheaval, there’s also new opportunity for smart marketers and businesses. We need to think hard about the scenario planning for what life will look like once this is all over for our customers. For marketers, the best strategy is to place your brand’s strengths in the right place to take full advantage of the upswing that will come with the next normal.

Craig Flanders is the CEO of full-service agency Spinach. The agency’s clients include Baby Bunting, Drummond Golf, Liquorland, Sportsco and The Reject Shop.

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