Life Begins Return To Normalcy, But Here's Why Business Never Will

Life Begins Return To Normalcy, But Here's Why Business Never Will

Ryan Pirkle
Thought byRyan Pirkle
January 14, 2021
Image of light from accelerating vehicle on road

Pandemics have led to incredible innovations in society throughout history. Here's how COVID-19 will forever change our world and the way we do business.

This article was first published by Forbes and written by Ryan Pirkle, the Head of U.S Marketing for FFW. You can find the original article here

We've been waiting for this day for such a long time. Several Covid-19 vaccines with promising effectiveness rates are approved for distribution. We've waited to hug our family and friends, shake hands, return to our offices and our kids to their classrooms, and take a needed break from Zoom. This is the first step toward our lives returning to normal. But business is forever changed.

History shows us societal disruption accelerates technology adoption.

Throughout history, accelerations in innovation have resulted from events of mass societal disruption. The 1918 flu pandemic influenced the mass adoption of telephones. The Great Depression was a catalyst for the development of Social Security. The post-war age of prosperity bore modern advertising. The Cold War accelerated space exploration, which spurred vast strides in computing, telecommunications and consumer technologies.
The pandemic's impacts have been widespread, and to assume no major shifts in technological adoption from this major disruption is next to impossible.

Covid-19 has already redefined the way we do business.

The sweeping changes to the world of business and consumerism caused by this pandemic are already obvious. The technologies needed to foster a remote workforce have been available long before Covid-19. Yet companies still invested in high-cost, perk-filled office spaces. Why? Because it worked yesterday, so it must work today. Then it didn't.

Businesses were forced to close their offices and immediately pivot to a remote work environment. Though rapid shifts to remote work were largely seen as temporary, feared adverse effects haven't materialized, and many companies are recognizing the long-term benefits. REI, for example, completed a stunning new headquarters early this year. The pandemic hit before the company moved in. This summer, REI sold its brand new campus and shifted to a flexible remote work environment.

Remote work is just one factor on a spectrum of clear changes in business and consumer behavior. Across all factors, there's one common unifier: the immediate and increased reliance on technology forced by the inability to interact in person. Examples are everywhere. The rapid shift of conferences and events to virtual gatherings, classrooms shifting to online learning, car dealerships offering virtual test drives, online banking becoming a necessity, grocery delivery and online ordering.

This is a make-or-break moment for many companies.

How many businesses were prepared for this instant change? Almost none. Reflect back to March. What were your expectations of how long this would affect us? At the time, we had heard things like "two-week shelter-in-place" and "flatten the curve." Investing in a major pivot to digital customer engagement likely wasn't considered. This seemed a temporary disruption — a storm just needing to be weathered.

Nine months later, we know this clearly wasn't a temporary disruption from normalcy. After weathering the pandemic for this long, and news of a vaccine in our near future, it might seem there's little need to invest in digital experience. But I believe this is a dire misconception.
Pre-pandemic normalcy in business is history. Business and consumer behavior have forever changed. The increased adoption and reliance on digital experiences have accelerated. In an alternate universe, with no Covid-19, these digital adoption behaviors may have taken several or more years to happen "naturally." But the pandemic forced an almost-immediate shift to this trajectory. Technological progress will not "slide back" or stagnate. 

What does this mean for business?

It means now is the time to take action, to explore expanding the digital experience you provide to create an advantage for life after the pandemic. Ignoring history and waiting will only result in lagging even further behind the competition. Which direction will you take at this critical fork in the road? There are examples of both.

Quibi is a prime example of not pivoting your customer experience. The new streaming service offered short-form programming, optimized for mobile viewing, to capitalize on users' windows of idle time outside of the home, such as commuting on transit or time between classes or meetings. Despite clear indicators of a needed evolution in experience (everyone suddenly becoming homebound), the company maintained its pre-pandemic vision leading up to its April 2020 launch. The way I see it, the company could've made a simple pivot in how users could engage with its content by allowing them to cast programming to their home TV. Following the failure to pivot, among other factors, Quibi ceased operations.

One of our clients, a new network dedicated to gaming, pop culture and esports programming, serves as the opposite example. Before Covid-19, the company planned to launch a new website and construct multiple studios for original content. However, it immediately pivoted its strategy to navigate the pandemic's landscape shift. Seeing a clear need for at-home entertainment, it accelerated launch dates, and we helped the company launch its site a month before its original goal, capitalizing on the immediate audience behavior change.

What do marketers do now?

Every organization has unique customer touch points (both digital and human) and customer needs to fulfill. One positive aspect of this pandemic is that we are able to observe how our customers have shifted behavior by comparing customer experience touch point metrics from before the pandemic (before March) with current metrics. This is part of the initial conversation our team has with clients, and it can provide key insight based on demonstrated behavior into which aspects of a customer experience strategy to prioritize improvement.

This all may seem very daunting, which it can be. The easiest next step is to continue business the way you did yesterday and the day before. Many will choose this seemingly convenient option, which is exactly why it's dire to focus on improving your digital experience now. Perhaps the best place to start is to have an initial conversation with your digital agency, which should provide a knowledgeable, yet unbiased third-party perspective to guide your ideas and assessment of how to proceed.