Demographers say that aside from an apocalyptic event, demography is destiny. A global pandemic can be considered an apocalyptic event. Covid-19 did not just eliminate the lives of millions worldwide. In developed nations, Covid-19 upended or fast-tracked existing trends that have now changed the landscape of dozens of categories. The effect on brand-businesses has been immediate, profound and mind-blowing.
At the core of these tumultuous changes is the idea that people want brands to satisfy contradictory needs. The days of trade-offs are over.
It used to be that brands could survive by doing one thing very well. And, although, there are proponents of mono-positioning thinking, the days of one brand-one benefit are long gone. Now, we expect brands to satisfy two conflicting needs at the same time. Covid-19 killed the idea of either/or: post-pandemic, we wanted the best of both and Covid-19 handed it to us on a silver platter.
The pandemic made us feel uncertain. When life is uncertain, difficult choices feel more challenging. Making a trade-off – even a simple one -requires too much personal justification for not enough benefit. Rather than having to choose or accept a lesser solution – a solution that is only good enough, post-coronavirus, we seek the maximization of contrary needs. We do not want either/or; we want both. Optimizing contradictory needs into a relevant, differentiated, trustworthy paradox is now defining many aspects of our everyday lives. Entire categories of business are delivering paradoxical experiences. This delivery of two conflicting ideas at the same time is an outcome of the pandemic’s massive uncertainty… and a game-changer for brands.
It is true that many of these categories were evolving prior to Covid-19. The evolutions were seen as trends. These changes are no longer trends. These changes are entrenched.
The forces of Covid-19 affected categories and their brand-businesses in ways beyond health and wellness. Just to name a few, the pandemic:
- Changed the way we view entertainment,
- Changed the way we buy and sell cars,
- Changed the way and where of work,
- Changed the way we approach doctor visits,
- Changed the way we learn and educate,
- Changed the way we exercise,
- Changed the way we shop for groceries, and
1. Before Covid-19, we went to theaters to see the new movies. At home, we could stream with Netflix and watch original series and existing movies, but not always the blockbusters. During Covid-19, we were able to watch movies in their first run directly at home. New streaming channels arrived. We were able to expand our viewing across multiple streaming brands with extraordinary film libraries. Now, we have the best of both. Theaters are open and we can watch new movies via streaming. Our choices are not theater or home viewing. We have the best of both.
2. Before coronavirus lockdowns, we purchased cars at dealerships. Yes, Carvana was taking customers. But, it was just the beginning. During the pandemic, public transportation was mostly shunned. Many people opted for buying a car. But, going to a dealership was fraught with fears about Covid-19 exposure. Online auto purchasing became normal. Post-pandemic, car buyers and sellers actually can have the best of both worlds. There is the option of going to a dealership or there is the option of having Carvana deliver and pickup without the dealership. Carvana has made the process easier, more convenient and eliminated the distaste that many have when it comes to buying or selling a car. Since Carvana’s inception, there are now numerous online automotive experiences like Carvana, including ones from dealerships. As for the dealerships, these exist to sell new models. You can only buy a new Ford electric F150 Lightning at a Ford dealership.
3. Prior to coronavirus, it was rare to have people working remotely. Covid-19 changed this. Post-coronavirus, working remotely is commonplace. And, employees are balking at returning to the office. Coronavirus lock-downs demonstrated that productivity is not especially linked to being in the office.
Elon Musk aside, hybrid scheduling is the new normal, unless you work in hospitality or in a factory or some other serviced role such as in a car dealership or a doctor’s office. A day does not go by without some consultancy or business press writer commenting on how the basic concept of the office has changed. Many employees are opting for 3-day in the office work weeks while others are sticking to 100% remote work. Employers are being creative in how they wish to entice employees back to the office. The New York Times wrote extensively about employers who are bending over backwards to make office workers happy. Employees who do not have to be on site, now can have both work at work and work at home options. For example, this September, Airbnb will be instituting a policy allowing its 6,200 employees to work for up to three months a year from any of Airbnb’s 170 countries and regions of operation.
According to Colleen Ammerman at director of Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School, a larger issue stemming from the change in how we work is “… rethinking what it means to be on a leadership track, what it means to be a high performer and get away from that being associated with being in the office all hours.” Worker stereotypes are changing.
4. Technology has made telemedicine a reality for many people. That doctor’s office visit does not have to happen unless there is a real need for such an experience. For example, special tests and blood draws require in person visits. But, finding out the results of those tests do not. The availability of home testing is growing. Many medical centers and doctors’ groups have online websites where patients can log in to see their tests, their visit summaries, their appointments and their medications. It is all very transparent. Patients can now decide whether it is worth the trip to have a doctor visit.
5. Putting aside the travails and loneliness of elementary-through-high school remote learning, technology allowed classes to continue. Educators were able to sort out the benefits and negatives of schooling at home. Many schools have used that learning to create hybrid education plans. At universities, there was creativity, for example, in how to generate MBA networking when in-person networking became impossible. Brands like Coursera, mass open online courses, increased in popularity. As with the other categories, education, learning and libraries benefited from both online and in-person teaching. Students and educators have options and do not have to trade off.
According to one international educational study on the role of cloud-based video in education, “Despite returning to in-person learning, many institutions successfully implemented hybrid solutions…. 98% of institutions have students taking at least one hybrid course this academic year with 58% responding that over half the student body will have at least one course that is both in-class and online. 95% of schools will have some students that are receiving a fully remote education.”
6. When gyms closed, in-home fitness expanded meteorically. Brands such as NordicTrack, and Bowflex which have been around for some time and Peloton, a relative newcomer, saw incredible increases in activity. Even though gyms are now open, coronavirus showed the benefits of working out at home or through an app. Peloton Outdoor provides training for running and walking, no studio or home needed, just the great outdoors.
A tour through You Tube indicates that several fitness centers are combining in-person and virtual for workouts. As with education, video can be very engrossing. Although instructors enjoy the feeling of training rooms of engaged individuals, instructors are also conscious of their physical health, especially since individual status of exercisers is unknown. Hybrid solutions balance the needs of exercisers with the needs of their trainers and coaches.
7. Grocery delivery was available before our virus lockdowns. But, it was the pandemic that turned in-store shoppers into online shoppers and delivery devotees. It is a habit for many that is here to stay, especially for people with full-time jobs. Instacart, Amazon Prime and others became life savers for those who dared not venture outside and into a store. The grocery stores also entered the fray. As did dairies. In Seattle, WA, a local dairy delivers milk, eggs, butter and other dairy products as well as items from a local bakery such as croissants to a tin box place outside your door. Additionally, the delivery companies have now branched out into same-day delivery of more than just groceries… regardless of order size.
As complicated as these changes are for brand-businesses, these changes are creating brand value. In today’s social, economic, political, institutional, personal and business environment, finding solutions to address contradictory has helped to create and build value for customers, shareholders, employees and other stakeholders. Forcing customers to make either/or decisions is yesterday’s behavior. People want the optimization of conflicting benefits. Winners will be brands that satisfy paradoxical benefits.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Light, Author of The Paradox Planet: Creating Brand Experiences For The Age Of I
At The Blake Project we are helping clients from around the world, in all stages of development, redefine and articulate what makes them competitive at critical moments of change through strategy workshops and consulting engagements. Please email us for more.
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