Today, most decision makers in marketing, communications and branding have their minds full of topics related to the Covid-19 crisis. What role should I take during the crisis? How should we change our market approach to stay relevant? However, there’s also the time after the crisis, and my curiosity and professional duty compels me to understand how that will be different.

The outbreak will inevitably influence our customer decision journeys, going forward. The associated societal restrictions are already triggering and accelerating a number of shifts in human behaviour – which will change these journeys forever. In this article, I’ll be exploring what changes I see and how I expect these will impact the communication and branding world, especially where customer decision journeys and branding are concerned.

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I want to know the origin of my food and products

Covid-19 originated in China on a marketplace. Going forward, it appears as if we will want to know where products came from. No longer will we think it’s a good idea to eat food at the lowest price, without knowing where it originated. We’ll want to know where it was produced, how far away, and we will require transparency from suppliers along the whole supply chain. Already, companies are starting to offer services to monitor the supply chain, cradle to cradle. Our client DNVGL is a good example. As a result, sourcing (too) far away will no longer be a great idea, as it’ll be against the principles of sustainability. In February this year, when I was chairing the Page Society Conference in Abu Dhabi, our theme was ‘The changing paradigm of corporate citizenship’ – all around ESG (Environmental, Social and Governmental) reporting and sustainability and making the world a better place – and whilst Covid-19 was already in China, we couldn’t have foreseen the extreme relevance of the subject.

“Sourcing (too) far away will no longer be a great idea, as it'll be against the principles of sustainability.”

We’ll have too much office space

Whilst companies have been fitting out new offices on the assumption of 60-70% of the space they needed previously, the crisis is teaching us that this percentage has been too high. Whilst forced to work remotely, people understand that there is no need to be going to the office everyday by default, and physical office space can be further reduced. Let’s assume that the new need for workspace would be not 60-70%, but rather 40% of what was used before, which would mean a potential reduction of required office space by another 30-40% from where we are now. The moment companies and property owners realise this in full, they will also understand the current overcapacity of office space, and the impact on the value of the properties. Equally, this will attract more attention for the concept of home-office branding and virtual bonding within the company.

The end of hyper- connectedness and JIT (Just-in-time)

The world has become accustomed and educated with the concept of everything being connected. This crisis has exposed the downside to this. Not in digital spheres, but certainly in physical terms. Traveling so much, so cheaply and so easily, and using the lowest price products from far away, will be a thing of the past. Just-in-time has been the default methodology to enable low stocks, short delivery times and high efficiencies. To our pain we’ve seen that the downside of this efficient model is that, when disrupted, it breaks and stops the flow. Travelling is another area where we’ll be much more considerate then before, do we really need to be physically present, or is that a nice-to-have and could we do more using video-calling?

We’ll buy from home

Being forced to work remotely, we’re already seeing a boost in online purchasing in the Western world. As this has become increasingly convenient (and safer!), I don’t expect that we’ll be fully returning to buying things offline. We’ll be buying online, and we’ll be doing that mostly from home. The Big Four are waiting for us there: Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook. There are in-app purchasing possibilities everywhere. The Big Four are the ones in our houses and facilitating online buying. With Google Assistant, Apple Home and Amazon Alexa, they offer voice-controlled interfaces. In the future, we’ll increasingly be using these to order products and services. By dominating the user interaction interface, these companies get a massive hold on the purchase process in the customer journey model, more on this in the next section.

“The Big Four are waiting for us online: Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.”

How the communications and branding world will change

Let’s have a look at the traditional customer decision journey. Over recent years performance marketing has risen tremendously, to support behaviour around Purchase decisions. With the rise of online buying, this market has quickly become mature. There is a vast array of tools available to optimise the process around Purchase. We’ve seen times where, when done right, the activities around Purchase would dominate anything that a brand could have achieved in Awareness and Consideration.

A brand owner’s impact in the customer journey radically changes

At Purchase, voice-controlled devices in the home will play an increasing role, especially in business-to-consumer markets. As a brand owner, unless your brand is generic (e.g. Kleenex), voice interfaces will cause you to lose your influence in the Purchase phase of the customer journey. I wrote an article about this phenomenon two years ago. As a result, brand owners will have their key opportunity for differentiation in the Awareness and Consideration phases, much more than ever before, as their opportunity in the Purchase phase will be diminished by the power of the Big Four and their dominance of the voice-interface.

ESG will have mainstream attention from buyers

Whereas ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) topics were previously of interest to only the minority of buyers, I predict that following the Covid-19 crisis they will be of mainstream interest. We’ll be entering an era where ESG and sustainability topics are no longer nice-to-haves, they’ll become table stakes in conducting good business. Customers will want to know the origin of products and services, their environmental impact, and in line with this they’ll want to know what brands stand for and how they are “contributing” to society. No longer will great advertising, great products, or low prices suffice to create awareness and preference. Buyers will demand transparency in what they’re buying, as never again will they want to be unable to follow the supply chain, or be surprised negatively about the origins of their purchase. One can imagine, that if combined with the insight that people will buy more online than ever, answering the question of transparency in supply chains becomes an even greater issue. After all, an offline shopping experience with a well-known brand always gives more credibility to the attached ecosystem of suppliers and vendors.

Recommendations

Ideally the situation will soon start to improve and the societal restrictions can be relaxed, but the way I see it business-as-usual will not resume after the crisis. As soon as we find some kind of stability on the Covid-19 front, we’ll need to focus on mastering the brand-related business challenges that lie ahead. My recommendation is for brands to assess the implications of the aforementioned changes. When we want to know the origin of products (especially food) and the societal contributions of brands, when we need less office space, when we question physical hyper-connectedness and we’re buying more online and via voice-interfaces… brands will have to think about what this means for them and it is unlikely that the influence of these changes will be low.

“Brands will have to think about what these changes mean for them and it is unlikely that the influence will be low.”

Those brands wanting to come out of this crisis stronger and ready for the future will need to reconsider their positioning, where necessary pivot to better meet strategic and audience needs, and then work on effectively, efficiently, and sustainably bringing that positioning to life across all touchpoints and channels. The new paradigm for brand governance is all about orchestrating a coherent brand experience across many channels and touchpoints – a task that has become extremely multi-faceted and requires more planning and preparation than ever before.

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