The future of business in the new post-Covid-19 world

I know you know that everything is changing. We all feel it in the way consumer behavior is changing and in the way responses to traditional marketing methods are changing. We feel it in the way things feel different, the disparities that emerge when we compare what we perceive. What others perceive. And what we perceive that others perceive. It’s like we no longer have a common language as people, let alone marketers.

Understandably, faced with this challenge and its bewildering attendant list of effects, we fail to understand its depth and breadth. We then are unsure in what direction we should be aiming our own efforts; in what direction we ought to be looking to change.

When change is everywhere, it can overwhelm us very quickly. But it’s worth keeping in mind that change is not happening everywhere at once and the magnitude of change is not always the same. In order to better understand what is changing consider the following areas:

  • Dying industries: Despite its ancient pedigree, gym culture, as we know it, is not even 50 years old. Its $80 billion annual revenue was already under attack pre-Covid with the growing home-fitness movement. The global pandemic severely impacted confidence in them with surveys showing that anywhere between a quarter and 72% of gym-goers refusing to return to the traditional space of paid membership fitness. In truth this has been coming for some time. Gyms represented gated knowledge and specialized equipment that existed in a box which you had to pay money to get access to. Yet, many failed to offer knowledge (which can be had for free through the internet) and fitness equipment has been steadily dropping in price. The pandemic accelerated a change that would have come anyway. In a similar boat (pun unintended) is the cruise industry, malls, retail, traditional energy companies, middle-of-the-road cafeterias and restaurants that relied on low-cost to get customers and large office tower blocks.
  • Struggling industries: Some industries were caught in transition. Manufacturing, fruit-picking, the hospitality industry, cinemas, public transport, car manufacturing and the cosmetics industry are just a few examples. Some of these will look to automation to help them recover. Others, like the hospitality industry, will restructure the way they work and adapt to the emerging forms of the new market place.
  • Morphing industries: Insurance services, tele-jobs, the IT industry, digital security products and sanitation, video conferencing, delivery companies and the education industry (to which I shall come back to, specifically, later) are all examples of industries that are changing fast to adapt to the “new normal”.

The list is far from exhaustive. The global outlook supplied by it hides the pain of the immediate direct impact sudden change is causing at the local level. Lost jobs and lost skills when presented in financial analysis sheets and statistics hide the very real pain of shattered lives, shattered families and quashed prospects for the future. These lead to communities that experience real pressure and societies that are forced to change.

For instance, the familiar look of American streets may change forever. Without many retail shops, malls and department stores much of the social behavior that revolved around them will also change. Human behavior is governed by a multiplicity of factors some of which are covered by the theory of reasoned action and planned behavior.

The pathway from intent to action

When something as seemingly simple as the intent that drives an action is affected by as many factors as it is, it stands to reason that social behavior itself will undergo significant changes. When social behavior changes, the institutions that have risen around it to support it, government services, regulations and laws, will also undergo a change.

This is particularly true given that Covid-19 may just never go away and instead become a seasonal, cyclically occurring event as some scientific studies already suggest. The theory of reasoned action and planned behavior supports the notion that perceived control and mindfulness allow the individual a measure of control over the present even when it is at its most uncertain.

Perceived mindfulness, however, only occurs when we accept that the world is inherently fluid and unpredictable. When we believe that the world is largely unchanging change itself becomes a threat to us because it unsettles us. The cognitive dissonance we experience absorbs a portion of our mental and emotional resources which makes it harder to then deal with the emergency we face. This is often expressed as denial, an inability to admit that anything has changed and obstinance when it comes to accepting change.

Education Will Change

With some notable exceptions like The Social Media Mind mentioned, the Kyrene School District (a group of 25 schools in Arizona, US) which has won awards and delivered impressive results with its innovative use of technology in the classroom, education has remained as hidebound as the days when it was first formalized approximately 200 years ago. The pandemic is putting fresh pressures upon the entire industry by disrupting the traditional education of 1.6 billion young learners in 190 countries. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations have correctly identified some of the issues and have already proposed some ways to overcome the problems caused by the pandemic. Overcoming the challenge presented by student disengagement from official learning and, perhaps, a redirection of aspirations is something that will change the way we learn and are formally trained, forever.

We need to accept that the current system of education is unfit for purpose. Its top-down, command-and-control structure that shoehorns education needs into a one-size-fits-all approach to which everyone has to comply, fails society and fails individuals within that society.

Value Will Change

In a social setting we are all driven by the need to establish and then further curate our identity, clarify our values and find our direction in life through what we value. Value is a complex construct that arises out of our own perception of the desirability of things and our perception of the value others ascribe to their achievement or possession. A Maserati becomes less of a status symbol, for example, when it remains locked in a garage. A university degree may lose its ability to lead to gainful employment when it’s not perceived useful at a time when adaptability and tenacity are being called for.

All of this is an integral part of social behavior. It constitutes a complex, intertwined chain that may unravel in as yet unexpected ways. 

The Future Is Already Here

It’s a fact that we don’t really know the future until it’s arrived. And when it does, it always appears unevenly distributed, as William Gibson mentioned.

The reason for this lies in the way the future actually appears: through start-and-stop progress, innovation, local disasters, systemic crashes and global disasters. Evolution is always messy and it is always painful and we are never motivated to do anything for very long until it presents a transition from a painful moment we experience in the present to a less painful one we can experience in the future.

The Covid-19 pandemic has levelled the playing field. We are all now in a world of hurt (so to speak) in which we experience helplessness and discomfort in virtually equal measure if in varying degrees of severity. This has accelerated everything. Nothing will again be quite the same.

So, What Now?

The entire point of this post is to draw the lines that frame ‘The Big Picture’. Now that you are aware of the framework you will rightly ask, what now?

Well, if you are marketing you are smart enough to realize that the glibness of the past and the affective marketing techniques that used to position a brand close to its customer base, are no longer effective.

This calls for a return to fundamentals: Value, Values, Connection, Relationships and Trust. I know that MBA die-hards will hark back to the marketing mix of Product, Place, Price and Promotion. At heart, even these four traditional steps are just a solidification of the four-step approach to building trust which is: Contact, Perception, Assessment and Connection.

Consider this as you put your marketing in place, as you go about creating content for your website or as you are creating the digital environment you will work in. It no longer is “business as usual” and the new rules to all this have not been written yet.