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Coming Out Of The Dark: Getting Back To Business After COVID-19

TEGNA | April 27, 2020

Shutdowns won’t last forever, and your business will need to adapt to changes when you’re able to reopen. Here are four things to consider.

‘Nothing lasts forever’ is a mantra for glass-half-full optimists everywhere. Both the best and the worst of times will dissolve into memories and lessons learned as we move through the experiences that life sends our way.

During these extraordinary times with businesses standing still in the shadow of a global pandemic, the same saying holds. The COVID-19 crisis will pass and we will be left with the task of finding our way back to a new normal as we restart our lives and businesses. Businesses especially will require fresh mindsets, new tools, and the iron-willed spirit of perseverance.

Here, we will give you four topics to consider as you begin planning for your business to return to regular operations and begin ushering in customers that are searching for their sense of normal once more.

1.) There is going to be a lot of pent-up demand

According to the American Psychological Association, Reactance Theory refers to a response triggered by the loss of behavioral freedom. In response to this loss, a person will experience an extreme desire to restore that freedom.

Put simply, if a person is denied the ability to do or partake in something, the desirability of that particular thing increases significantly. For example, if you are denied lemonade for a prolonged period of time, you will want nothing more than a tall, sweetly sour glass of lemonade floating over ice.

Americans will be thirsty for the ability to exercise their pre-COVID-19 freedoms, and you can count on the fact that they will be doing so in force when restrictions are lifted – well above what you have traditionally experienced during normal times.

What does this mean for your business?

Staff and stock accordingly. If you are a salon or barbershop, as local economies begin to re-engage, this is the time to consider adjusting your staffing levels to accommodate for a predictable increase in appointments and walk-ins.

If you are a restaurant or bar, know that people have likely grown tired of preparing food at home and are in need of a break, or just want to catch up with friends. Chances are they probably are in a hurry to get back to their favorite establishments.

Consider your inventory as well as your staffing levels in the front and back of the house. From car owners that are overdue for service appointments, to people that just want to go see a movie in a theater or enjoy date night – there will be a lot of demand waiting to be serviced in our economy. Make a plan and be ready to welcome back your customers.

2.) Fear and anxiety are not going to fade overnight

No matter when restrictions are lifted and we are free to resume a life closer to normal, the fear left by this pandemic will last for months, if not years, to come.

Nineteen years later, many Americans still carry around fear and anxiety surrounding the events of September 11th. Airports across the globe have made permanent changes to security measures, and some people have given up flying completely. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it took nearly three years before airline travel made its way back to ‘normal’ levels. People took an abundance of time and caution before they determined they were truly safe again.

What does this mean for you?

If you own or manage nearly any type of business, you may want to think twice before immediately removing or reducing any of the COVID-19 protective measures you put in place for your customers and staff, regardless of how the need for them may have been reduced to some degree.

Moreover, even as you do begin to ease back some of these measures, you may still want to be prepared to make special accommodations for customers and clients that request them. Requests for contactless services, isolated seating and the availability of items such as hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial wipes are not unreasonable to predict. Make your customers comfortable, and be aware that getting back to feeling safe again may take some time.

3.) There is knowledge to be gained from what you experienced

The interconnectivity of the American economy has been on full display throughout this unfortunate period in our nation’s history. American commerce is, in its most simple form, a spiderweb. If you pluck one thread, the vibrations will be felt through all of it.

Though so much of what you have likely experienced from these vibrations has been painful and difficult, take time to dig into what you have learned.

Before you reopen or go back to normal operations call a team meeting for your employees and managers that worked during this crisis. Ask them:

  • What did they learn from your customers?
  • What were their expectations of your business during times of difficulty?
  • What worked for your staff and customers and what didn’t?
  • How did the change in work hours and residual stress impact everyone?
  • Talk to your customers – what did they think of your response and how you adjusted to serve them during this period?
  • Are there temporary changes that they would like to see implemented permanently?

Everyone that touched your business during this time – from patrons and delivery drivers to vendors – is a potential source of new data that might surprise you or even challenge long-held beliefs.

Ask questions. Facilitate focus groups. Send out online surveys. What you learn can not only prepare you for the next crisis that may impact your business, but it may also provide you with insights that you can use to change your day-to-day operations.

Remember – losing time and revenue because of a crisis like COVID-19 is painful, but if you fail to find a way to learn and improve from it, you are allowing yourself and your business to lose twice.

4.) You need to update your marketing plan – now!

All of the issues raised above highlight the fact that your marketing plan and strategies prior to the pandemic are most likely in need of an adjustment. Your overall message needs to change throughout all of your channels from broadcast to digital to reflect where your business is at the moment and what you are doing to reopen and accommodate customers during this period.

Remember, many of your customers and clients are looking for safety and reassurances from your business – and it is essential for your marketing and communication plans to offer that to them. As you go through the exercise of recrafting your message, ask yourself:

  • What has changed in my business as a result of this crisis that my customers need to know?
  • What, if any, incentives do I need to run to entice hesitant customers back to my business?
  • What safety measures do I need to communicate to put my customers at ease?
  • How do I creatively tell the story of how we are rebounding from this crisis and helping the larger community?
  • How will I evolve/adjust my message over the next 12 months?

These are all points to keep in mind as you consult with your internal marketing team and external marketing partners and consultants. Consumer perceptions and behaviors have changed dramatically over the course of the last 3 months, your marketing efforts need to change to reflect them.

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