Normal 2.0 - Preparing for a post-pandemic world

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Date: 17 December 2020

Marketing executives begin to plan their strategy for 2021

When you work in the field of marketing, you're always asking 'what's next?'. You need to be able to spot trends, predict the next big thing and adapt your strategy to the circumstances thrown up in your market and by the wider economy.

In 2020, the question of 'what's next?' became a little trickier for everyone to answer. It wasn't just in marketing that plans went out of the window – every industry was shaken by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the advent of the vaccine – with the first patients having already taken the jab in the UK – offers hope of a much brighter 2021. So, does that mean life will return to normal – and that next year will pan out exactly as 2020 would've done?

Struggling sectors boosted by virus news

There is some suggestion that those who have struggled this year will be able to recover in the next 12 months. IG, for example, has analysed the way the markets have performed during the pandemic. It demonstrated how the sectors that struggled the most between March and October – energy, financials and real estate – were the ones to have enjoyed the biggest uplift as a result of the vaccine news. Investors clearly think the vaccine can help such sectors shake off their pandemic problems.

Morgan Stanley has also estimated growth across developed and emerging markets. It predicts the world economy will dip 3.5% this year before growth of 6.4% and 4.4% in 2021 and 2022 respectively. In the UK, the fall is expected to be 11.4%, with 5.3% and 5.5% growth on the horizon. A growing economy should unlock marketing spend after a tough year in 2020.

Things aren't going to be the same

A return to growth doesn't necessarily equate to a return to the way things were. The experience of 2020 has proven, once and for all, that home working is both possible and also, in many sectors, productive. While some people will gradually return to offices, not everyone will. Global giants such as Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Fujitsu are offering permanent options for staff to work from home. Cushman & Wakefield believes it could take five years for the number of employees working in offices to return to pre-pandemic levels.

This is instructive for those working in marketing for two big reasons. Firstly, this is a sector where home working has become commonplace and so workers can expect to be carrying out campaigns in this way for the medium term. The '9 to 5' tradition has effectively died.

Secondly, it means that some consumer behaviour – commuting, shopping, video conferencing, gaming – might continue from 2020. Clearly things won't just carry on exactly as they are, but we can just ignore the last year and assume it was an aberration. Some of the impact of the pandemic merely exaggerated and accelerated trends that were happening anyway - and those changes might be long lasting. Campaigns that don't recognise the differences in the new normal will be destined to fail.

The transition to a post pandemic world

By the end, 2021 might well be the year of recovery. Initially, however, we'll be in a transition phase with a number of things to watch out for. These are:

  • Health or immunity passports. These are controversial but introducing such documents could allow those who have been vaccinated (or already recovered) to go about their lives more freely. This could be good news for the travel sector - and for big events such as business conferences or sporting engagements that thrive on crowds and could use such documents to safely return to capacity.
  • Brexit. The B word has rumbled on in the background and becomes a reality in 2021. All eyes will be on the early months of the year and any disruption to trade that may result. Regardless of the future relationship between Britain and the EU, it's likely to take a little time for this new reality to settle. Effective communication will be vital for businesses to ensure customers and contractors understand any changes.
  • Vaccine rollout. There are substantial challenges ahead for governments as they look to rollout the vaccine at scale. The speed of which this can safely happen will be significant in terms of getting the economy back on track.
  • Lockdown strategy. The government - and counterparts across the world - will face a tricky balancing act in how and when restrictions on behaviour are lifted. Experts fear that a failure to act right now could prompt a third wave of infections - and this might occur before a recovery can properly begin. No-one should be complacent and think the pandemic ends as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.

Marketers can approach 2021 with cautious optimism - but should also have their eyes open to fact that we'll need time to transition to a recovery and, even then, we're on the road to a new normal, not a reset.

Copyright © 2020 Article was made possible by site supporter Rachael Matthews

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