On 11 March 2020, the WHO declared “pandemic” the Coronavirus: after just over a year, the contextual situation has not yet improved completely and, during these months, companies engaged in every sector and activity have inevitably had to change the way they do business. If in some cases there were benefits and opportunities for growth, for other industries the situation is dramatic: in any case, a response was needed and Google has studied the search data to identify which of these changes are destined to become permanent.

The 4 post-pandemic changes that will remain permanent

The results of this study are presented in the article signed by Zharmer Hardimon, in which it is first recognized that all sectors have had to rethink their approach to marketing during the pandemic: Although it is likely that business will resume some degree of normality when the pandemic is over, there are at least 4 consumer-friendly changes that will not be forgotten and are precisely intended to become permanent.

4 modifiche della pandemia che saranno permanenti

These are the following:

  • Use of real-time monitoring information to quickly respond to consumers.
  • rganization of virtual events.
  • Smart working.
  • Offering consumers cheaper ways to buy online.

Changes in progress and way to adapt

In the last year, “as the whole world wavered from the effects of a pandemic, many companies have been in a constant struggle to understand how – and even if – they had to go on with their daily activities“, writes Hardimon.

Some sectors, such as travel, have suffered stunning upheavals, while others, such as online retail, have seen an opportunity for growth.

Regardless of the industry, however, it was necessary to “consider the right marketing approach“, and Google tried to “take a look at last year to see some of the biggest changes and pins that will remain”.

Tectonic changes in consumer habits

Consumer habits have evolved (and continue to do so) at a frenetic pace during the pandemic, forcing companies to improve in real-time information monitoring and data response.

At the start of lockdowns around the world, people tried to get what they needed where they could; with completely closed stores or exhausted basic necessities (how can I not remember the empty shelves and the presses to grab pasta and hand sanitizer?) have turned to the search on Google to find answers.

Well-established trends in Search

This has produced some significant effects: research interest related to retail and local shopping has increased globally in the early months and users use Google to find out which companies have items in stock before venturing into a store. Examples are the search increments for “who has” and “in stock” – increased by over 8,000% year-on-year in the United States – or the search interest for “can you freeze” in the United Kingdom and “home delivery” (“livraison à domicile”) in France.

Users seek alternatives, savings and other ways to shop

We should not forget the real problem of economic anxiety: according to a Kantar study in March 2020, in the G-7 countries 71% of people said that their personal income had or would have been affected by coronavirus, and the highest perceptions were those of Italy (85%), the United States (75%) and Canada (75%). At the same time, a BCG report found that people anticipating changes in their spending habits expected to save more (29%) and spend less (27%) on non-essential items, such as fashion and luxuries.

Grafico sull'impatto della crisi economica

More generally, people have tried to gain control of what they could during periods of uncertainty: searches for “online learning” have increased by 400% since parents have sought inspiration, solutions and comfort, while with gyms closed, Fitness app searches have increased by 200% year-on-year.

Another trend was the search for ways to cultivate connections in a world where we found ourselves cut off from our old lives: searches that included the phrase “with online friends” increased by 300% year on year and, from November to January, “watch party” searches (e.g., “youtube watch party” or “private watch party”) are up 400% year-on-year compared to the same time period.

A quick answer to changes in consumer habits

To better respond to rapid changes in consumer behavior, brands have created real-time insight tracking, insights within their organizations, and established new processes to act quickly based on their discoveries.

According to Google, this new reality will ensure brands to be positioned so to lead with insights.

Events become, and stay, virtual

The Cannes Film Festival, the advertising week, the Google Search On, the fashion industry that moved the catwalks to Youtube: 2020 saw the unprecedented cancellation of major events and conferences in every industry and event marketing teams were forced to rethink everything.

While “digital events” seemed the easy answer, not all types of events lent themselves well to being hosted in a virtual environment and “many organizers wanted their virtual events to be live, or as much as possible live”: so, with every company that considered live streaming, potential participants suffered from an overload of live streaming, also because many of them “were already spending most of their working days at home, glued to virtual meetings”.

The pandemic forced us to cancel all events in person, and so the marketing teams turned to virtual events: according to Google, although the events in person “will definitely return, will look different“, because “people will think twice before traveling, when they can easily access from their living room”. This means that the events will have to be customized to offer an exceptional experience and that it really stands out, so as to attract back live participants.

Work moved home

Online research data and purchasing habits suggest that the trend towards smart working began before the pandemic, social distancing and lockdowns, because people showed a growing desire to spend more time doing “what brings joy, pleasure or comfort” and less time to do things like commuting or other “sitting in traffic” activities.

The house was becoming “the logistics headquarters for busy people who were trying to make better use of their time”; now that entire teams are working remotely for an indefinite period of time, “companies have found themselves looking for ways to maintain a sense of community and to promote inclusion”.

According to Google, the office work model has probably changed forever, changing consumer habits and workplace cultures. For companies, this means finding ways to meet people’s most basic needs and taking measures to promote a more resilient workforce.

Online shopping is the norm now

E-commerce took off during the pandemic and many people turned to online shopping for the first time in their life for necessity, while others have simply increased the level of dependence and trust towards this mode.

Google pointed out that e-commerce had been growing steadily ever since before, but in 2020 there was a significant increase in the number of people willing to buy groceries, clothes and even cars online. In the first six months of 2020, for example, almost 10% of cars were sold online, compared to the 1% share of cars sold online throughout 2018.

Companies with physical locations have aimed to create an e-commerce and offer additional options in person, such as home delivery and withdrawal from the sidewalk: as the article says, “what a buyer wants is help”, whether it’s buying a car or trying to figure out who has a disinfectant. And when people “actively seek that help in the digital realm, it becomes easier for companies to use tools to read signals about intent and implement the right marketing plans” to support them.

As with other pivots, even the new and more comfortable online shopping habits “will not be forgotten after the pandemic”, and therefore programs such as withdrawal from the sidewalk or personal shopper will remain the norm.

Rethink readiness

The agility needed to rotate and the resilience learned from survival “led to focus on the basics”, writes Zharmer Hardimon in his conclusions: “Brands that have doubled information, stayed agile through automation and made data-based decisions” have managed “not only to survive in the last year, but to thrive”.

Emerging from the pandemic, companies have “more data and consumer signals, are better able to act on them and can meet a higher standard to do all this in a more responsible way than ever”.

However, interruptions and uncertainty remain, making it necessary for companies to rethink readiness: in looking “In the coming year, we should all work to reinvent methods to better meet consumer demand, even if it fluctuates and even if it remains volatile”.


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