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What If Nobody Wants Your Brand?

Sometime in March 2020, the customers all went away. A new virus, heretofore unknown to man, was spreading rapidly across the world. And word about it was spreading as fast as the virus. But, being new, there was very little we could say about it so a great deal of misinformation was going around too. We knew very little about the origins of the virus, and nothing at all about how to prevent infections or cure the infected. All we knew was we could slow the pandemic’s spread if we all wore masks and stayed at least six feet away from one another. For most people, that meant staying home. No more eating out. No more shopping sprees. No more concerts or sporting events. Restaurants and entertainment venues were all shut down anyway. Only “essential” businesses were kept open but many of them saw demand evaporate as panicky customers sheltered in place to see what was going to happen next. Now, gradually, businesses are starting to reopen. But what if they sound the all clear even though the virus is still as deadly as ever? What if they open restaurants, concert halls and sports arenas? Will the customers ever come back?

Without a proven vaccine, cure or herd immunity, no one will feel safe to venture out. That means, for many types of businesses, demand will remain unsustainably low. Certainly, people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes or vast experience (over-65) will do as much of their shopping online as possible. They’ll avoid malls, restaurants and other communal experiences as much as they can. Even healthy young people will think twice about hitting the bars or going out to see some hot, new band if there’s a chance they can pick up an infection and bring it home to mom and dad. Now, perhaps because of the upcoming U.S. election, there is pressure to rush a vaccine to market. But, if they open things up with an unproven vaccine, they risk more outbreaks.

So I think we can agree it’s all one, big, hot, stinkin’ mess. But what does it mean for your brand? How can you deliver an exceptional customer experience if there are no customers willing to experience it? If your business requires a customer to be standing right in front of you, you could be in trouble. OK, I know. You’re already in trouble. What I mean is you could be in long-term trouble. Demand for your product may never come all the way back.

Restaurants may never be full again. There will be no such thing as arena rock because the few fans that will risk attending a concert won’t be able to fill more than a mid-size theater. Wedding planners will have to come up with a Zoom option. Convention centers will all have a difficult time attracting conventions. Conventions will have trouble registering attendees.
It appears the pandemic will affect the economy in three phases:

Phase 1 – The government-ordered shutdown. You’re not allowed to be in business.

Phase 2 – The “great”, staggered reopening. You’re back in business and enjoying a lot of bottled-up demand but many customers are still too afraid of infection to take you up on your offering.

Phase 3 – The all clear. The risk is over but, by now, many customers have established new lives and purchasing patterns that no longer include you.

If your brand requires a personal exchange or a communal experience of any kind, you have to determine if you can survive without the pre-COVID levels of demand. If you’re a concert promoter, for instance, can you book the same acts but now into smaller venues and still be profitable? Or is there way to move the experiences you deliver online. If it can’t be duplicated, perhaps it could be replaced with some new, improved online experience that delivers the same emotional benefit. Or maybe you could try something different. Be creative. Or you have to switch to some new enterprise.

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