In this post, I shared thoughts on the macro-level changes we can expect to see as a result of COVID-19. In this one I’m zooming in on changes that directly affect the work that we do as communicators. This crisis has in a short time changed a lot about our behaviour. Some of those changes will have lasting impact on how people interact with each other and with the ways they engage with companies. Here are some thoughts on how the stakeholder decision journey, especially for customers, will change. Again, I welcome comments.

We’ll buy from home

Being forced to spend more time at home, we’re already seeing a boost in online purchasing in the Western world. As this has become increasingly convenient (and more secure!), I don't expect that we'll just return to buying things offline once restrictions are lifted and physical retail outlets are reopened. We'll be buying online, and we'll be doing that mostly from home, where Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are waiting for us with an intuitive and frictionless purchase experience. In the future, we'll increasingly be using in-home, voice-controlled interfaces such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Home 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.

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 better understand where products have come 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 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 My Story project for food sector). As a result, sourcing (too) far away will no longer be a great idea for long-term success.

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

Let's also have a look at the traditional customer decision journey:

graphical illustration of traditional customer decision journey

 Over recent years performance marketing has evolved tremendously to support behaviour around Purchase decisions. With the rise of online buying, this practice has quickly matured and there is now a vast array of tools available to optimise the process around Purchase. We've seen instances where, when done right, the activities around Purchase would dominate any results that a brand could have achieved in Awareness and Consideration. Page itself has acknowledged this evolution with its introduction of what it calls “CommTech,” which describes how communications will use a data insights and digital tools to design stakeholder journeys, and continually optimize those journeys through testing and experimentation. 

As mentioned above, voice-controlled devices in the home will play an increasing role at Purchase, especially in a B2C setting. Unless your brand is generic (e.g. Kleenex), the power of Google, Amazon and Apple and their dominance of the voice-interface mean that brand owners will have even less opportunity for differentiation in the Purchase phase of the customer journey. I wrote about this phenomenon two years ago -

ESG on the forefront and the purpose of “purpose” will change permanently

In February this year, when I was chairing the Page 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. Whilst COVID-19 was already in China, we couldn't have foreseen the extreme relevance of the subject.

Whereas ESG topics were previously of interest to only a minority of buyers, I predict that following the COVID-19 crisis they will become 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. 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 well as wanting to know the origin of products and services, customers will want to understand their environmental impact, what brands stand for and how they are “contributing” to society. 

One can imagine that if combined with the insight that people will buy more online than previously, answering the question of transparency in supply chains becomes an even greater issue. After all, an offline shopping experience with a well-known retail brand always makes (made?) up for any lack of credibility within the attached ecosystem of suppliers and producers.

Ultimately, ‘purpose’ or ‘corporate character’ already has gotten more personal and it will continue to as it now works to protect individual humanity and provide solutions for community issues. Brands have to become more human in order to resonate with their customers. We witness a shift to more tangible and immediate needs like support for employees, basic healthcare, safety, and supply chain. The more aspirational issues like climate change, clean water, and education won’t go away.

I will be the first to admit this list is not exhaustive, and changes will become clearer with time. In the meanwhile, I hope this helps as we think through how we will adapt to a “new normal.”