The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. From remote work expectations to the spread of the pandemic puppy and sourdough baking, the way people live, work and spend their free time has evolved. While most of the changes have resulted in more flexibility in daily schedules and time spent with family and friends (work-life balance at its best), the physical business world is still exploring the edges of this new space.
The coming years will prove to be some of the most revolutionary years in modern corporate history. As we enter the post-pandemic landscape, a redefinition of community, shared experiences and common spaces will inevitably take place in neighborhoods across the country. How different industries adapt to changing consumer spending and worker demands will have far-reaching long-term effects on the economy and business trends.
With inflation rumors and recession fears dominating headlines, in-person events resurfacing, and new expectations for employees and employers, how will post-pandemic branding fit with our new understanding of our place in the world?
Adapting to changing consumer behavior during economic uncertainty
Many companies were forced to move their products and services to an online distribution model, heralding the emergence of e-commerce as the retail mode of the future. During COVID-19, e-commerce sales increased by 55%, an astronomical amount. And while e-commerce is definitely here to stay, physical stores have seen an unexpected surge in customer numbers over the past year. Bookstores seemed to be on their last legs after a national decline in 2010. However, not only has e-book and physical book readership increased during lockdown orders, but since the return of in-person shopping, Barnes and Noble has witnessed its first expansion in years. According to a recent article by NPRturnover at the bookseller grew by more than 4% in 2022. The chain plans to open more stores across the country, including the largest-ever store in Virginia.
Sure, some companies may be hesitant to reinvest in new physical locations after the losses they suffered in 2020. They are right to be cautious, especially as many aspects of the retail economy are still in flux. However, due to a resurgence in foot traffic in community areas, returning to shops has never looked more inviting.
The next few years are an exciting time of inventing and exploring as brands emerge from the pandemic with new ideas to position themselves in the marketplace. Businesses need to seize this opportunity to be innovative and inventive, looking for exciting new ways to attract customers and create communities.
A recession does not mean failure for all brands. A turbulent economy can be an opportunity for an ambitious and creative company. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is a famous saying for a reason: when brands are forced to adapt, they often innovate. A pioneering spirit and a willingness to evolve are just one of the many values companies must adopt in times of economic uncertainty.
Brand strategies in a post-pandemic world
In that spirit, look at a recession and consider expanding your brand’s marketing budget. Studies have shown that investing in marketing during economic city centers increases profits and revenue later on. Don’t push against the grain, demanding consumers return to previous spending patterns; moving with the consumer, demonstrating flexibility and a desire to change with changing trends.
As in-person events and brick-and-mortar storefronts return, leaders will still need to adapt when interacting with consumers and building their customer base. Occupier co-founder Matt Giffune says the pandemic has redefined the meaning of community. “As decentralized offices and remote working become the new standard, people are replacing lunches with colleagues in favor of activities closer to home,” he says. “Morning spin classes, lunch with old friends, and downtown shopping at hip specialty stores are making a comeback.”
Giffune also says consumers have spoken out about their desire for connection, human-centered experiences and convenience. “Brick-and-mortar retail is ideally suited to meet those needs,” he explains. “Commercial real estate strategy is closely intertwined with successfully delivering people-centric experiences.”
He adds that as the office is no longer the focal point of everyday life, leaders need to look for other ways to build community, whether it’s through outside events or flexibility in how employees spend their work weeks . “Given the increase in people working from home, especially in non-metropolitan areas, physical storefronts have seen a strong resurgence,” adds Giffune. “But just opening a store and hoping for customers is not a good strategy these days. People crave experiences, and retailers that focus on the customer experience and community building will benefit the most.”
Data-driven real estate and community building decisions
As business leaders grapple with this new reality, Giffune says they will be wise to consider their data when making decisions. “For example, if a company has a workforce that only comes to the office three days a week, what real estate decision can be made to foster a sense of community for employees?” he adds. “Say a retailer sees shifts in demographics in certain regions. How can they combine real estate portfolio and market data with consumer data to identify the optimal locations?”
Due to these extensive, company-wide changes, companies must ask themselves how they can increase customer visits to brick-and-mortar stores and make them want to return again and again, ensuring long-term success and delivering on their real estate investments . The answer to customer loyalty is building a sense of community.
Giffune Offers Blue Stone Avenue as an example. “From its inception, it was a fixture in the neighborhood – somewhere people could feel part of something and enjoy the highest quality food and drink with friends,” he says. “By branding the chain as a staple of the community, it can attract the work-at-home crowd looking for a hangout, not just a flat white.”
As companies solidify their values for the future, numerous business and employment trends will influence what leaders need to consider when creating brand expectations. Entrepreneurial leadership must remain sharp and willing to invest in reinvention, respond creatively to consumer demands and consider more fluid models of organization and hierarchy.
In this exciting time of post-pandemic change, companies have a unique opportunity to reinvent their brands. By investing in their local communities and building relationships with customers, companies can weather the coming economic turbulence and become more agile, innovative and successful than ever.