Don’t Fear the “New Normal”

September 1, 2020 – You’ve probably heard it a lot lately:  things will never be the same…we won’t sit in arenas, we won’t travel, we won’t congregate, physical contact between humans will become a distant memory.  If you think the second wave will be bad, wait until the third! Could the new normal really involve constant isolation with a sprinkling of hazmat suit protected socialization?

The simple answer is no.  In fact, the new normal will look very familiar, because it will be the same as the old normal, just a little more digital. We state this with confidence based on three driving factors:  human ingenuity, our need for social interaction, and the pulling forward of established digital trends.

Never before has there been a concerted global effort to resolve a shared problem.  At least 23 companies are well advanced on drug trials in search for a COVID-19 vaccine.  And knowledge sharing has resulted in more successful medical outcomes for patients based on improved treatment methodologies. Governments are fast-tracking phased approvals and production lines designed to produce billions of preventative doses are already under construction. And from a testing perspective, expect to see over one hundred million 15 minute, easily administered rapid kits available late this year as Abbott Labs just revealed its game changing product.[1] Human ingenuity cannot be underestimated…this virus will summit to our collective force and victory will be achieved at some point in 2021.

Regardless, and in the meantime, we need social interaction.  Since the dawn of time, people have craved the comfort and camaraderie provided by others.  As impressive as the rise of Zoom has been, burnout and rebellion have already kicked in.  Just as an overly Botoxed face hides meaningful muscular cues, so does the 2D multi-windowed façade of video communication. Simply put, people need and want to meet in person when possible and convenient.  And guess what?  We can! And we are starting to safely.  The numbers from a recent World Health Organization backed study at McMaster University are reassuring.[2] When crossing paths with an infected person, there is only a 1.5% chance of transmission when six feet apart. And, there is only a 3% chance of virus transmission when less than six feet apart where both parties are wearing a mask. So let’s wear masks, stay at least six feet apart and interact…especially while the climate remains accommodative.

Human ingenuity plus our need to connect with others has resulted in unexpected surprises:  closed streets lined with well spaced dining tables, the resurgence of drive-ins, parking lot concerts, drive through food truck experiences and art exhibitions, outdoor viewing parties and the simpler things including park visits, picnics and bonding with neighbours.  And in the world of Experiential Marketing™, our world, it has never been a better time to be creative.  Because even with a mask and at six feet, one-on-one marketing has never been more powerful or meaningful if done right.

Regarding the “new normal”…yes, it will be a little more digital.  This macro trend was well established pre-COVID and no doubt the pandemic has led to its acceleration. No XM plan should exist without a digital component.  The planning and programs we are creating for clients today are certainly more digital in nature, be they contests, promotions, branded content or the leveraging of sponsorship rights in new and interactive ways.  But at the same time, there are physical KPIs that will always be in favour such as “liquid on lips” for beverage companies, “bums in seats” for the auto industry and samples distributed for CPGs. The in-person conversations that surround those engagements are impactful. Although Digital Experiential Marketing™ will continue to gain in importance over time (we’ve dedicated a new division to it) its physical counterpart is bouncing back and will return with even greater gusto in the new year.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2020/08/27/abbott-labs-rapid-5-covid-19-test-may-fill-in-testing-gaps-for-millions-in-the-us/#4427dbfc12d9
[2] https://www.livescience.com/face-masks-eye-protection-covid-19-prevention.html