Creating A Roadmap For Tomorrow

As COVID-19 continues to affect countries around the world, it’s impossible to tell when life will return to “normal”. (Whether or not we want to return to normal is yet another question.) Many speculate we’ll likely see a new reality arise from all this that will find us physically distancing from each other into 2022. There’s also the very real possibility of recurring instances of isolation in attempts to quell the spread as the virus peaks in waves throughout the coming flu seasons.

With no way of predicting exactly what’s next, one thing is certain. Old ways of thinking aren’t going to cut it in a new Post-COVID world.

With COVID-19 originating in China, the rest of the world is looking to Asian countries as manifestations of their future. Whereas here in North America many speculate we’re likely at, or reaching, the peak of the pandemic, many Asian countries have already resumed or are beginning to resume life outside their homes. We can already see how office life can’t go back to “normal” as Asia returns to retrofitted offices that are better prepared to deal with a post-COVID world. With the very real possibility that organizations might see portions of their talent returning to office space while others resume working from home, what happens to all our current workspaces? With many companies embracing remote work, will offices even be necessary in a post-COVID world?

Branding & Company Culture: Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Prior to COVID-19, as we were exploring the future of brands and work, there were very clear indications that organizations were beginning to recognize the importance of leadership over management; and planet, purpose and people over profit. Younger generations were calling for more authenticity, transparency, equity, collaboration, and empathy from the organizations they worked for and bought from. Unfortunately in some ways, these salient qualities became popular buzzwords that could be easily plugged into internal and external brand communications as some organizations played with these ideals, not knowing exactly how to embody them in their deeply ingrained practices.

As we continue to cocoon ourselves in our homes, consumers and company talent alike, are finding themselves with more time on their hands. This time is offering them the stillness that allows for contemplation of what they really want from the world and the systems around them. Considering that many households are currently living with unemployment or the stress that comes with facing precarious employment, they’re not spending now as they used to and it could be some time before they dig into their pockets again. How can brands communicate now to ensure they remain top of mind when people return to what is likely a minimized version of their established spending habits?

Today’s brands need to remain human in a world in which we are so sorely lacking human connection.

The problem with traditional marketing is that it leans heavily on communicating to sell more and make more money. But as consumers have less to spend, they’re beginning to look at how much they resonate as a human being living in a precarious time with the brands they interact with. This goes beyond the product or service a business offers. In today’s world, consumers are choosing local businesses while they question global supply chains. They’re supporting organizations whose values match their own. They’re favouring companies that treat their employees like people who matter. And they’re buying from businesses that demonstrate a dedication to planetary health, community wellbeing, and the desire for a better future. Today’s consumer doesn’t want to be sold to. They want to connect.

The Problem With Short-Term Thinking In A COVID World

For many, the first week or two of COVID lockdown was punctuated by endless emails from every brand ever encountered and how they were supporting their customers and clients through this tough time. Lockdowns were pretty swift and overwhelming when they were implemented so it’s no wonder that brands were quick to respond.

While some of those messages were welcomed (you certainly want to know what your options are at your local lending institution when your finances are in question) in times like this, long-term thinking is just as important as responding to current circumstances. And there’s a big difference between responding and reacting. By responding to current circumstances, we’re leaning into what’s happening while learning and pivoting. When we’re reacting, we’re working on impulse and likely mired by short-term thinking. Short-term thinking doesn’t open itself to the possibilities and opportunities we need to embrace to move our people, communities and economies towards a better future.

So What’s Next?

A Futurist is someone who’s wired to see multiple possibilities for the future. When we build possible future alternatives, we explore worst-case and best-case scenarios and we also look at what might happen if nothing changes. Considering how much our world has already been altered, we can see where new opportunities lie to shift our thinking about our existing systems and frameworks. Countries are considering the implementation of UBI. Communities are congregating in droves online to workout together. Education systems have shifted to virtual learning. Global borders have been shuttered. Companies have shifted business online – many of which never considered that was possible. Many jobs will be handed over to robots.

By asking the right questions, we open up to possibilities. The choices we make and the changes we embrace based on those infinite opportunities are creating a roadmap to our imagined futures.

With people spending more time indoors, how does that change traditional outdoor advertising? How can brands ensure consumer loyalty within a highly virtualized world? Will we be tethered to technology that keeps us up-to-date on local conditions pertaining to infection rates and collect data about our whereabouts? Will that same technology be harnessed to sell us products and services? What kinds of products and services will be needed in a world defined by less human connection and more interaction with robots? How can brands use their products and services as forces for good in an uncertain world?

Creating a better future depends entirely on the choices we make today as we begin to question, deconstruct and transform the systems and frameworks we have in place for a better tomorrow.