Experience Will Drive the New Normal Post-COVID-19

April 29, 2020

By David Shulman


With all the stress over COVID- 19, my daughter and I had a conversation last night regarding what the world will look like when things go “back to normal.” The bigger question being what the "new normal” will look like. What inventions and innovations will emerge during this time that will change our lives as we know it?

The biggest impact of the global quarantine will be not from the invention of new things, but instead the accelerated adoption of existing things. Humans are hard-wired to resist change and follow habits, but we are all being forced out of these very habits; it’s a tectonic shift that will reshape both customer experience and behavior.


Invention Doesn’t Drive Adoption

The world is littered with innovation that doesn’t get used. Online personal banking allows real-time access to your account balance, immediate transfer across accounts and many other aspects that save time and give you more control over your finances. Yet many people still use checkbooks. Health insurance companies offer medicine delivery programs that provide three-month refills at a significant discount, delivered directly to you. Yet most people still go to the pharmacy. Amazon Fresh offers home delivery of the items you want at the lowest prices. Yet the majority of people still go to the grocery store. There are so many more examples that make enormous sense when evaluated logically, yet are resisted.


People Resist Innovation Until They Experience It

If logic doesn’t drive use, what does? It’s experience, I assert, that changes our minds and drives new behaviors. Articles, advertisements and other communications may increase our awareness of new things, but it’s difficult to break norms and habits. Confucius put it best, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” True understanding only occurs from experience.


Evolution Requires Extinction

While evolution in biology implies tiny changes occurring over huge amounts of time, large events spur seismic changes that alter conditions entirely to allow new things to thrive. Major events have made way for new species to adapt. The same is true for customer experience. We’re witnessing the extinction of our old experiences, and it’s ushering in the radical adoption of existing innovations like telehealth and augmented reality training.

"So where does that leave us?" my daughter challenged me.


COVID-19 Is the Catalyst Driving Us to Embrace Existing Innovations

The most significant advances in technology are the ones that we use. As people adapt to new ways of socializing, working and learning, we are seeing mass adoption of innovations that will create lasting, positive changes in our world:

Simple and effective tools already exist to connect doctors and patients via video. These tools have been around for some time, yet with limited adoption. Now, social distancing has jump-started the use of these tools to interact. No one is going to get a root canal via video conference, but everything from diagnosing illness to visually inspecting a wound can now be done conveniently and safely from your home. This also means that medical professionals can see more patients at a lower cost, while reserving in-person visits for the most critical cases where they can provide even more personal attention.

Technology to conduct virtual meetings and facilitate remote working has been around for years. And most of us have hated it. The reasons are numerous, and many are valid. It hasn’t been until we were forced to find ways to conduct business remotely that we really embraced these tools and opened ourselves to making things like virtual meetings work. WPP CEO Mark Read recently remarked, "If I'd said a month ago that we could send 100k people to work from home and continue to run WPP you’d have said I was mad.” It’s worth noting, the technology hasn’t changed in recent days — the change has been in our cultural and behavioral habits that have driven effective use of remote working and collaboration tools.

Distance learning is another example of necessity driving adoption. Education must continue, yet schools are closed. This has driven entire communities to shift overnight from classroom to virtual classes. Sure, there are kinks to work out, but as I watch my daughter close her door, put on her headset and engage with her teacher and classmates, I’m getting a glimpse into a new world.

When the pandemic is over, will we stop visiting doctors, stop going to offices, stop traveling to clients, and stop attending live classes? Of course not. Major events like a pandemic are transformative because they can create an experience "extinction effect.” It generates new opportunities and inspires us to change how we live. People and companies that embrace these opportunities will drive lasting positive change.


Unlocking the Power of Experience

As marketers and advertisers, human needs and behavior should be at the center of the solutions we design. We can’t expect to convince users to do things they don’t do today unless it makes their lives better. Relying on traditional communications to tell a logical story will not necessarily change minds and behavior. If given the opportunity to engage a customer to try a new experience, make sure it’s easy, satisfying and positive - negative interactions will only lead to greater resistance, while a positive experience will build connection and loyalty.

While I’m excited to see entirely new inventions, I’m even more encouraged by how brands will adopt and build on existing innovations — changing for the better the ways that people interact. As Charles Darwin reminds us, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The most successful will adopt and embrace entirely new ways of interacting. And this will lead to new ways of working and living that will make an entirely “new normal.”

David Shulman is chief experience officer at VMLY&R, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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