By Robyn Novak
In the last few years, consumers embraced a heavily experiential world, driven by an era of popup shops and Instagram-worthy moments. Those experiences were seen as having more value than the product or service itself. Personal connections were surface-level, sometimes superficial, and often lacked authenticity. The Sharing Economy was a force to be reckoned with. New concepts like ride sharing, home sharing, and coworking disrupted the marketplace.
Today, we are being faced with a glaring new reality; the effects of COVID-19 will change our economy forever. As social distancing guidelines are lifted, consumers will be more cautious than ever when stepping out of their homes. They will be hesitant to share, and most importantly, they will only put their time and money toward experiences that truly matter to them, shifting the experiential and shared economy to a new connected economy.
This Connected Economy places more value in meaningful experiences with a focus on authentic human connection, supported by revolutionary new technology that allows consumers greater access than ever.
Our future economy will reveal the flaws of our past, but it will also be more connected than ever before. How will this shift change future behavior? Will your brand be ready? In the future Connected Economy, brands must understand and uphold four pillars to succeed.
1 Meaningful Experiences
Consumers will continue to find value in experiences post-pandemic, but the focus will shift to activations driven by meaning, authenticity, and connection. Campaigns that are just looking for PR buzz or fleeting moments on social media will feel forced and empty.
Experiences driven by true human connection and emotion will gain more loyal fans. Consumers will be looking for companies to rally around – ones that lift us up, support social causes, or simply make us laugh. Brands will need to seize opportunities to celebrate heroes on the frontlines, reconnect with family and friends, or simply provide us with a mental health boost. They’ll need to leverage technology to provide greater access to these feel-good moments.
Brands that can provide optimism in an uncertain time will be rewarded. They will remind us that we’re all human, we’re all connected, and we’ve made it through this together.
2 Expected Convenience
With most Americans adjusting to mandatory stay-at-home guidelines, consumers are relying on services once thought to be indulgent amenities. These conveniences include same-day grocery delivery, curbside pickup, live streaming fitness offerings, virtual doctor visits, and even direct-to-consumer movie screenings. As consumers become more accustomed to these elevated services, their expectations will shift from novel to anticipated, and brands will be expected to maintain this new range of offerings.
Retailers, restaurants, and service brands will need to continue offering flexible solutions to keep up with behaviors learned during social distancing. That means embracing technology. Every touchpoint of a shopping or dining journey should be frictionless. Whether it’s contactless payment, virtual consulting, or the replication of grocery orders with the touch of a button, technology will be key to expected convenience.
3 Responsible Social Engagement
During this time of overwhelming uncertainty, brands should take actionable steps to inform their consumers how they will adjust post-pandemic. As governments continues to drive social distancing and stay-at-home policies, a realistic post-COVID-19 response will be the impulse for more human connection. Brands need to start addressing this trend now to put policies in place for more responsible social engagement following the pandemic.
Consumers are quickly getting used to connecting with loved ones virtually and gathering in smaller groups. Brands will need to consider how they can bring their products and services to consumers while remaining socially responsible.
Retailers will need to consider the scale of their stores. This could mean smaller, more localized spaces in place of larger flagships. Shopping outings may become appointment-based, with a greater focus on customized service. Restaurants will need to rethink communal tables and focus on fewer touches overall, leveraging digital ordering or contactless payment. Large gathering places like shopping centers and sporting destinations will have to inherit not only a more robust process for sanitizing their facilities, but also the platform to showcase and inform customers about these new practices. Touchless solutions like automatic doors, voice activation, and motion-sensor lighting will help combat sensitivities when consumers are easing back into social engagements.
4 Authentic Accountability
As COVID-19 developments evolved, brands began communicating with their customers about how they were handling the situation via email, advertisements, social media, and more. This deluge of communication brought with it a new standard in accountability. Consumers will lean into brands they feel are not only trustworthy, but also thinking about the greater good.
Purpose-led brands will set the tone, showcasing the impact of transparency and sustainability in our post-COVID world. Consumers will come out of this pandemic with not only tighter purse strings, but more importantly, a greater sense of awareness of what’s important. This will translate to the services and products they are willing to support. Brands that remain focused on being better corporate citizens will create more informed and loyal customers in the future.
The world is experiencing a major culture shock at a rapid pace, and COVID-19 is fundamentally changing the way consumers are spending, but brands can learn from this experience. Because every demographic is being affected by social distancing, retailers have a rare opportunity to observe how their consumers are reacting to change and adapt their brand and business objectives to complement these shifts. Brands that create meaningful experiences, offer more the expected conveniences, practice responsible social engagement, and do the right thing by helping their communities will enter the Connected Economy stronger than before.
Robyn Novak, LEED AP, is VP at FRCH NELSON.