When we finally get a chance to get back to business, there's going to be a lot of noise and bluster and a lot of frenzied competition as everyone in town rushes to get back into the game. For some time, in every market, you can expect insane promotions, BOGO bargains, and super sales, where even "free" won't be cheap enough. You'll hear every possible rationalization for panicky price reductions, and justifications galore for gigantic giveaways: the need to dump stale inventory, grab additional market share, and lock in long-term relationships. But it's a bunch of old and tired news from folks with nothing new to offer. And, as we've all learned, no one becomes successful in the past.
Don't be in a hurry to follow the pack, and don't spend a lot of time looking backwards. You need to forget the competition, forget the old ways you did business, and focus on the future. It's very easy to get caught up in the suction of the wave, be over-anxious to get started doing something after all this time, and to quickly join the race to the bottom, but it's a stupid strategy. Before you rush into the fray, you need to make sure that you're headed in the right direction, because speed and a rapid response won't help you if you're not.
The rules of the game have changed much more dramatically than anyone realizes. The faster you focus on the new expectations and demands of your customers, the more successful you'll be. In the post-pandemic world, price is going to be far less important to smart consumers than any number of other considerations. And smart customers are the ones you want to own. Price isn't the same as value, and value is the name of the game. When you chase price in a downward spiral, you aren't just seeking a floor, you're actually setting a mental ceiling on what your customers will ever be willing to pay for your product or service. And we've all learned that if the price is a dream, the product, service, and support are often nightmares.
The most important thing that you can do for yourself, your sanity, and your business is to slow down. We are entering a long, slow "L" of a recovery--notwithstanding the BS we hear daily from Washington and the gyrations of the stock market--and you'll have plenty of time to do things right. You're going to need to rethink and streamline your basic approach to your business and also figure out how to retrieve, reinvigorate, and reassure your customers.
So, if price isn't prime, what is on your customers' minds and what are the new critical considerations that you'll need to take into account as you rebuild your business? You should do your own inquiries--not stupid email surveys, but one-on-one consumer conversations--to find out some of the specifics relating to your own clients and your particular marketplace. But here's what you can expect from your customers (and from your employees as well) at a macro level:
1. Speed Kills--Better to Go Slow and Steady
As I mentioned above, being in a hurry isn't going to help, but even more importantly, since we've all had the world's longest timeout, you're going to find that everyone's going to be moving a little more slowly, that every decision is going to take a little longer, and that we're all a little more patient than we used to be.
What's really going to matter isn't how quickly you do things; it's going to be all about how well you do them. Take, for example, having your car checked out at the dealership, since it's basically been sitting around for a couple of months. What's the only thing worse than having the tune-up take two days? You guessed it--having to return to the dealership because they rushed the tune-up and forgot to do something critical. So, tell your people not to worry about speed and to get things right the first time. Safety, solidity, and security are much more important than speed.
2. The Virus Made Most of Us Sick of Too Much Stuff
Streamlining and simplifying your offerings is going to be important. Life today is a lot less about wide choices and much more about careful curation. We no longer want a million selections; we'd just as soon have you do the heavy lifting and show us the best options.
Quality, not quantity. Attention and care, not scale. We all have too damn much stuff, and our virus-forced incarceration reinforced that message in two important ways: a) spending a bunch of time at home surrounded and crowded by things you can't imagine why you ever bought or when you'll ever use is pretty eye-opening; and b) we all now have a much better sense of what's really essential to us and our families and what we're perfectly happy to live without.
Conspicuous consumption isn't something anyone, even Kardashian morons, is going to be bragging about any time soon when people are dying, and millions of others are wondering how they and their families are going to survive. Target your efforts toward smart, safe, careful, and considerate customers and you'll do fine.
3. Focus on Concrete Connections and Precise Personalization
One of the other things we learned is just how massive the digital media onslaught of useless utterings really is. How much complete crap we're subjected to every day, and what an absolute time-suck it is. We're overwhelmed with noise, clutter, and things that preoccupy us for no good reason, rather than helping us to focus on things of import which meaningfully connect and bind us to others. And we can't seem to turn it off.
It's not that easy to avoid the daily glut of garbage. And, just to be clear, beating that "unsubscribe" button to death does bupkes. If it's not a pathetic placebo, then--and probably worse--it's a signal to the scumbags pushing out all this pap that there's an arguably sentient being on the other end and therefore they should quickly double down on their crappy emails. Who knows, there might just be an accidental and inadvertent click forthcoming, which they can then sell to some equally stupid advertiser.
Your challenge is to cut through the clutter and deliver a serious, solid, and sincere experience to each customer, as well as real and specific value. Focus on your active and interested audience and not random and arbitrary traffic. Aim for intimate and deep connections to key clients and consumers and rebuild on top of those. Fake personalization (recommendation engines and the like) aren't going to convince anyone with a brain that you care about them or their concerns. Use data-enabled and enhanced sales and service people and not algorithms to get the job done. Machines require much less of us emotionally and that lack of empathy always shows up over time. In a world dominated by machines, the best companies still work with their hands, heads, and hearts.
Coming out of the pandemic, customers will increasingly understand that more of almost anything isn't necessarily better, and that the world isn't going to take care of itself. They'll be concerned about matters that are material and which are directly relevant to their own lives and families rather than constant fluff and fantasy. They want to be cared for, but, more importantly, cared about by the businesses they frequent and support.
Sir Isaac Newton said, for every action there's an equal (in magnitude) and opposite (in direction) reaction. The time has finally come to hope that--at least as to the grownups among us--we will emerge from our collective social-media induced stupor and the virus/summer doldrums and start to take back some portion of our time and apply it more productively. Businesses need to do the same thing.
We've all been given a chance to reset our goals and refocus our vision, a huge new opportunity, and a one-time window on new, important, and meaningful ways to value, commit, and spend our energies, which we can't afford to waste or squander. Businesses that create new paths, products, and services, and offer simple solutions to assist us all in this realignment and reassessment, will be critical to helping consumers make timely and smart choices and decisions. Those are the companies that will successfully set themselves apart from the crowd and move us forward to the future.
When foolish people tell you that "it's not personal, it's just business," they don't understand that today, every business needs to be personal.