At the time I first published this report we were three months into the worst health and economic crisis since WWII. Citizens, communities and brands are grappling with devastating and complex change. The old playbooks are out the window. We’ve been learning as we go, adjusting daily to an evolving reality. To bring order and expertise to the complexity, Gen 2 Advisors launched a five-member, multi-research project to help brands think strategically about where the culture is going next. The following five themes are drawn from that collective research to provide guidance, pose questions and start planning for the future.

Team members: Buzzback,  Consensus Point , Converseon Embee Mobile  and me, Panoramix Global

An Uncertain Present

A global pandemic is uncharted territory for everyone, particularly for consumers. People have been forced to adapt to personal restrictions, product shortages and job loss. They’ve experienced new realities when it comes to family, school, work, hygiene and entertainment.

The question on everyone’s mind: When will this end? Probably not soon. Laurie Garrett, science journalist and pandemic expert, predicts it will take 3 years to get back to normal.  While 35% of small businesses surveyed by the Census Bureau don’t think business will be back to normal for more than 6 months.  No wonder we’re feeling uncertain.

The invisibility of the virus, a constantly changing information landscape and personal restrictions have been too much for many to handle. To deal with all the change, many of us are looking for “cognitive closure”– “an intense desire for certainty.”  In the absence of certainty we have turned to baking, cleaning closets, staging indoor Olympics and planting gardens in efforts to regain control and calm our fears.

The reality is that the pandemic will change the world permanently in ways big and small. For marketers thinking about their customer, know that the generation coming of age will be defined by this pandemic and our society will be scarred by devastating loss. Start redefining your customer profiles now and keep adjusting as new information comes in. Be a source of order and stability. Develop solutions that give customers a sense of control in their lives and in their relationship with your brand

 

Sticking Together

Our need for each other, a common enemy and a shared sacrifice reminds us of what’s really important. We long for a coffee shop meet up, a kid’s soccer game and every kind of celebration that’s been missed. The essential workers that keep our lives and communities running have come into stark relief and the outpouring of support and compassion to these people feeds our souls, reminding us of and reaffirming our interconnectedness.

Social solidarity is a potent evolutionary force that will always power us through a crisis. But don’t underestimate consumers. Research shows that they have grown weary of empathetic ads focused on “these uncertain times”.  Instead, rely on the tested marketing rule of “solve don’t sell.” Make a tangible difference now and focus on selling later. Consumers are already checking to see how brands behaved during the pandemic on sites like Did They Help.

 

Protecting Health and Home

Never has attention to health and safety been more important. For many, adhering to shutdown orders is complicated by new sanitation needs, changed eating habits, interrupted activity patterns and anxiety from increased isolation and uncertainty. For others, fear was at the center of hoarding and the instinct to protect family and property.

Opening the economy is vital to restoring normal patterns, but without a vaccine, consumers will look for safety measures in every space from movie theaters to hair salons to the workplace. Technology will be a dominant part of the solution, like, apps that trace contacts with people who have been infected.

On the plus side of health, Google search trends show that searches for free weights, pull-up bars, and in-line skates are experiencing massive year-over-year growth and more people are buying backyard equipment and games to stay active.

Experts believe people will gradually overcome fear and, with precautions, learn to live with the virus until a vaccine is available. Long term, the focus on healthcare will change the industry and our understanding of public health. Household and personal hygiene will be a lasting habit and in turn, consumers will require evidence of sanitation in “clean badges” and touchless payments, room entry and more. Due to a lack, brands have opportunities to fill the leadership void. Edelman research shows that 86% of respondents say that “brands should “be a safety net,” stepping in where they are needed and able, to fill gaps in the government’s response to the virus.”

 

Bottled Up

The limitations on people’s movements, social interactions and work have resulted in heightened emotions and pent up demand.  People are looking forward to gathering with friends, browsing stores, and returning to work. For some, daydreaming about travel keeps their spirits up. Others, tired of restrictions, have already welcomed loosening guidelines at beaches and parks.

Many birthdays, graduation parties and more have been postponed. According to CNBC and The Knot “tens of thousands of couples have postponed their weddings this spring and left many vendors scrambling.” “They are still going to celebrate, but over 95% are just rescheduling for later on this year or later on next year.” Look for an explosion of celebrations when it’s safe to gather again.

Until there’s a vaccine, life will be limited but people are naturally moved to rebuild the lives and freedoms they’ve always known.

Don’t forget: Consumers aren’t monolithic. Some people will be excited to meet friends for burgers, others will still shelter in place. Customers will be looking for tools to help them imagine and plan for full lives on the other side, and some will need more help than others.

 

A Blurred Future

The future is blurrier than ever. Change is happening so fast that even huge cultural shifts barely register. And the old ways of living our lives are being replaced. Adjusting to the pandemic has created new awarenesses, new habits and maybe a few patterns that could yield a few positives. People are committing to ongoing sanitation, better preparedness, attention to budgeting, and appreciation of their loved ones. Shoppers are embracing e-commerce, patients are trying virtual healthcare and essential workers are in the spotlight. Twitter and Facebook have announced dramatic work-from-home strategies. 64% of Americans have been inspired to live more sustainably.   Innovations will continue to emerge as demand for them presents new opportunities.

The pandemic is an accelerant for changes already underway and will have repercussions throughout the economy and society.

  • Take control of what you can: Bring your own business’ plan into focus through scenario planning and forward-looking research.
  • Remote-first workforces will change office real estate, surrounding businesses, infrastructure and the environment.
  • Virtual healthcare will bring access to underserved communities
  • Inequalities laid bare will drive boardrooms and the election
  • Automation and AI will be growing in acceptance for necessity and economic realities
  • Demand for equitable pay and the growth of unions/worker rights is just over the horizon