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With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases now in the millions, and with more and more countries going into lockdown, the question on many peoples minds is ‘When will it all be over?’.
Whilst we should spare a thought for those suffering and their loved ones, I don’t think there’s any shame in thinking forwards to what the marketplace will look like when this crisis is over, and I think it’s wise that business owners not only plan their recovery strategy, but be prepared to execute it at short notice.
None of us knows whether this crisis and lockdown are going to last 3 weeks or 3 months. Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer gave the indication that the lockdown could be 6 months, with others suggesting up to 12 or even 18 months.
The uncertainty of the current situation is without a doubt a contributing stress factor to both individuals and businesses alike. For many, the lack of there being a light at the end of the tunnel is troubling. It stifles optimism and drive, and of course, it makes planning for the future difficult.
It’s like being made to go out on a run, but not knowing exactly how far you’re going or for how long you’ll be out. At some point, your motivation is going to wane, but you may only be 100m from the finish line…who knows? Given the number of people who’ve taken up daily marathon-length training sessions on my Strava feed in recent weeks, that was probably a bad analogy.
I think it’s fair to point out right now, we’re marketers here at Invoke Media, not public health experts. We aren’t going to be making any predictions in this article about when this crisis will be over or the impact it’s going to have from a health or political perspective, we’ll leave that to the Facebook warriors looking for a bite.
What we do know about is business, and I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss with you some predictions about how businesses and consumers are likely to act when the lockdown is lifted. Let’s have a look firstly at how consumers may act.
When will the market return?
It’s difficult to say how exactly people will react without knowing when the lockdown will be lifted, and what that will look like. There are suggestions that we could go into full lockdown, whilst others say we’re likely to go into a ‘semi-lockdown’ scenario, with most industries returning to work but certain activities and industries being prohibited, such as sporting events and restaurants reopening. The fact is, we don’t know what’s going to happen.
It’s essential to note that many people, are experiencing a reduction in wages or income, but that could be offset with reduced costs as they travel less and learn the benefits of cooking meals at home instead of eating out. Again, it’s difficult to quantify the impact on individuals personal financial situations, when there are so many variables at play and people in such different circumstances.
What we do predict, however, is a quick rebound in the market for hospitality & leisure in the days and weeks following the lockdown. After weeks or months stuck inside, we predict Brits will be flowing to restaurants, bars, spas and hotels to enjoy all of the creature comforts and small luxuries that they have missed. As a species, we place high value on resources that are limited. Scarcity as a marketing and sales tactic is one of the most powerful motivators in persuasion, and it is one that has been deployed effectively to the population in recent weeks without any effort from marketers or business owners. We expect a short period of hedonism, as those with expendable income ‘blow off some steam’ after months in the house with their three-year-old on constant repeat. Expect meals out, nights out, weekends away and general ‘treating oneself’ to be one of the first orders of business.
This obviously provides an opportunity for those in the industries affected to recoup some of their losses from an inactive period.
On the flip side of that coin, there is also the possibility that people may be apprehensive about engaging in pursuits that place them around others, as they practice extended social distancing until they are confident the threat has passed. It’s hard to say, these are unprecedented times and there’s no rule book to follow, what we advise is to prepare for both eventualities.
It is also of note to mention that this period of hedonism and spending could be short-lived, as some economists predict a looming recession.
Let’s quickly take a very simplified look at the habit formation process.
Reminder: The Trigger or Cue
Routine: The Behaviour or Action
Reward: The Benefit from the Action
Humans are creatures of habit. We know what we like and when presented with too much choice (or too little!), we’ll often go for the safe option. Let’s use a meal at a restaurant as an example.
Let’s say I go for a meal out every Friday with my girlfriend for ‘date night; (Trigger/Cue). I get to the restaurant(behaviour/action), being greeted with a warm smile from the Maître D and swiftly directed to my table, I have a great meal and on my way out get another glowing smile and farewell as if from a lifelong friend. I’ve had a great experience (benefit/reward).
The chances are that I’m going back. There’s been a positive feedback loop and the habit-forming process has begun.
The following week we go on date night again, we look online at the vast array of options of where to eat and can’t decide (a very real problem with my girlfriend!), after 20 minutes of trying to make a decision we select the restaurant from the week before (the habit is formed).
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and we won’t want to eat at the same place every time. After a month of eating there, we might decide to try somewhere new, have an experience that isn’t necessarily bad but just isn’t as good, and then go back to our original restaurant the following week.
Let’s break this down to the restaurant example again:
Reminder (Trigger/Cue): Girlfriend/Friday
Routine (Behaviour/action): Visit Favourite Restaurant
Reward (Benefit): Have a Great Meal & Experience
Habit: Return to Restaurant Following Week
How does this affect your business?
Being in lockdown means that many of our habits are broken, not by choice, but circumstance. In my example above, date night itself is now broken as a habit, not just the choice of restaurant.
This means that when the market does return, you may find that many of your customers take the opportunity to try a competitor or alternative solution. They may have been forced to find alternative ways to get the reward that you once provided and in fact now prefer it due to the experience or its cost. They may not even restart ‘date night’ or the habit that brings them to you.
On the flip side of that coin, you may also find that you have a completely new pool of people open to trying your business who were previously loyal to a competitor. We’ll come on to this in a minute.
As I keep saying at the moment…treat adversity as an opportunity.
What can you do to make it work for you?
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to keep the positive feedback loop going if you’ve been forced to close during the lockdown. The restaurant example I gave earlier couldn’t be more apt. Whilst some have opened a delivery service, for most people the actual experience of going to the restaurant is as important as the food itself.
You can, however, do the next best thing…stay front-of-mind and build desire. Front-of-mind (also called top-of-mind) awareness is essentially brand recognition and recall, it’s staying in front of your customers and being the first brand in your industry that they think of. We wrote an article on in recently that you can read HERE. When I talk about building desire I refer to teasing the benefits of what you offer in a tasteful and situationally aware manner. See this post we created for a client as a good example (if we say so ourselves).
By keeping your customers engaged, across multiple channels, you are keeping the embers of their habit cycles burning. You’re staying at the forefront of their minds and maintaining their loyalty. You’re also raising awareness in those who’ve become disengaged with their usual provider, providing an opportunity to capture their loyalty when the market returns.
Clamber for Market Share
Have you ever been paintballing?
As a man with a military past, I normally fare quite well. One of the tactics I employ in the classic capture the flag scenario, one I’ve had to utilise in a real-life scenario, is to dash forward in the opening minutes, to find the best cover and launch my attack or make my decision as to the next best course of action. One thing that is hammered into you when conducting attacks as an Infantryman is to keep the momentum going, and the same principle applies in paintball, as it does business.
It’s about gaining ground and putting yourself in the most favourable position to launch your assault, keeping a rate of fire that puts you on the front foot and the enemy (or competition!) on the back foot.
European empires of bygone centuries used the exact same strategy, albeit on a larger scale. Grabbing land and carving it up amongst themselves, providing them with resources as well as strategic advantage and thrust.
I use the military analogy purposely, as business strategy is directly modelled on military strategy. The words and concepts have been directly brought over from centuries of military knowledge into the corporate and business world.
How does this affect your business?
When the market returns, it will be a ‘land grab’ situation, with businesses clambering for market share. Everyone will be dashing forward to gain ground (the customers!) and put themselves the best position to capture the flag (customer loyalty).
This is why it is essential that you not only invest in engaging with existing and prospective customers but plan an aggressive marketing campaign that can be executed at short notice.
What can you do to make it work for you?
There’s a saying that’s I consider to be a little cliché, but accurate: “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail”. I’m sure you’ve seen it on a boardroom wall somewhere, accompanied by a picture of a soaring eagle or some other ‘motivational’ image…but there’s a lot to be said for it. If your business is unable to trade, then you need to be planning for when it is able to. Use this opportunity to get your plan in place, get prepared to execute it and when the time is right you’ll be ready to pounce.
Capture The Flag
The game has already begun, it’s time to make your advance forward and gain ground. It’s up to you to execute some of your own positive habits to give your business the best chance of survival and success post COVID-19. To summarise, we recommend you adopt the following strategy:
- Keep your current customers engaged with regular (and appropriate) communications across multiple channels. Agitate the problem and build desire. Remind them why you are the best at what you do, and what a great experience you provide. If you can spare a budget for ad spend, then do so. Investing in keeping your business in front of as many people as possible is a wise move.
- Mitigate the loss of loyal customers and those who have ‘broken the habit’ by staying front-of-mind, positioning yourself as the caring, responsible business that you are, and treat your customers well in uncertain times. How you treat your customers and staff now will be how you are remembered in 3 or 6 months time.
- Be prepared. Get your recovery plan in place, make it aggressive and bold. Be prepared to invest in advertisements and get in front of as many of your target audience members as possible, in as short of a time as possible. Develop offers and provide them with the cue/trigger to undertake the action/behaviour so they can receive the benefit/reward that your business provides. Use the adversity you are presented with, as an opportunity to win loyal, habit-driven customers, and put yourself in a better position than you were before any of this happened.
If you’d like us to help you do this, or to ask any questions about the article above & business in general, please get in touch.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and myself or one of the team will be happy to help.