Businesses are under enormous pressure to sense and respond to rapid shifts in consumer values and behavior affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile consumers have been growing accustomed to mobile ordering, wiping down their groceries, wearing masks, and connecting via Zoom for the past 60 days. Doesn’t it take 21 days to form a habit? As we settle into this ‘new normal,’ will these behaviors form into habit and sustain when our country, states, cities, and lives reopen? For example, as people place a higher priority on health and hygiene, big retailers such as Target have mobilized to install plastic shields at check-out counters and are enforcing new rules for practicing social distancing. Sustaining these measures feels right as we reopen, but will they always be around? An equally important question looms: how should businesses respond to longer-term human behavioral changes stemming from the necessities of survival during a global crisis?
Necessity Is the Mother of Invention
Overnight, businesses, governments, and other organizations have needed to figure out how to create more value, and new value, amid changing human behaviors. The necessity to pivot has inspired experimentation and adaptation, as we have seen with many retailers quickly launching curbside pick-up and delivery services during a time of social distancing. I see organizations creating value in the areas of communication, connection, consumption, care, and community. Here are some examples.
- Daily communication at scale is proving to be effective. Television viewership among 18-to-34-year olds increased 15% compared with the same period in 2019 according to Comscore. Local governments are playing a bigger role in managing our lives. Governors are calling the shots when it comes to issuing shelter-in-place orders, and local officials (such as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot) are using forms of social media to maintain cohesion and connection in cities that have become COVID-19 hot zones. How will that relationship between governments, people, and businesses evolve?
- Platforms like Zoom and Houseparty are reporting a global increase in usage to the tune of 200 million and 423X respectively, surpassing estimate and expectations. People (including older generations) are forming a deeper connection with technology to manage their everyday lives. In the early days of Zoom’s popularity, our own Mike Edmonds blogged about why Zoom was catching on (more about that here). How might we continue to leverage teleconferencing when we reopen our social calendars?
- We’re connecting socially online with apps such as Facebook and TikTok reporting surges in engagement not seen since the heady days of social media’s growth in the early 2000s. Will we see changes in behavior socially, such as the uptake of augmented reality and virtual reality to make those experiences more fun and immersive?
- There is a surge in ecommerce. Just to cite one example: Chipotle says that digital now accounts for 70 percent of its sales. A transition to digital makes intuitive sense as people turn online to buy things. But what are they going to buy and do online now that the initial wave of panic buying has subsided, especially during a recession? How might businesses track with these shifting changes in purchasing preferences?
- We want to support communities. People want to help local businesses, which are being rocked by COVID-19. Local businesses are giving back to communities (such as healthcare workers) even as they struggle to stay afloat. Local community platforms such as Nextdoor are seeing a surge in popularity — and for how long?
- According to Women’s Wear Daily, Q1 sales are up 0.2% for Unilever as buyers focus on hygiene, not ice cream. We are more concerned about managing and protecting our health, including a laser focus on staying germ-free and socially distancing. Is the handshake going to go away forever, as Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests it should? How might being hyper-hygiene aware help us remain healthy? Or will practices such as frequent sanitizing make us more sick?
- As we shelter in place, many of us are getting some time back in our day. With round-trip commutes gone, we are finding time to focus on what makes and keeps us happy. We’re focusing more on nurturing our whole selves, including wellness care. According to MarketWatch, March downloads for Peloton are up 5X relative to February 2020. How might we sustain wellness care when our commutes come back?
- Educators across the globe are finding their footing in elearning, the only viable way to sustain the curtain school year. Google Classroom has surpassed 50 million downloads and was among the top 5 most popular apps in the United States for the first time, according to App Annie. How can educational institutions make elearning a meaningful process — one that students and their families will pay money for at the higher education level, and one that will nurture younger students in their formative years? These are huge questions that loom large with the 2020–21 school year on the horizon.
- Parents of younger students are finding themselves embracing their role as parents by going beyond just teaching life lessons, but also school curriculum. The rise of homeschooling has created hyper empathy for teaching professionals. Organizations are coming up with novel ways to augment lessons or collaborating with their teacher to provide support. Businesses ranging from zoos to Disney have created free content to support “school days” for kids with no school to go to. How might parents sustain remaining engaged in their child’s education?
The leaders of tomorrow face an enormous challenge: not only understanding those behavioral changes but embracing the power of the pivot as a new business necessity to deliver new or more value for their customers. Continuous innovation is not a choice for the smallest of businesses or the largest conglomerates in this “new normal.” Never has it been more important for businesses to be empathetic. Tapping into the wants and needs of people is a first step.