For businesses hit hard by operating restrictions (or even shutdowns), concerns about staff safety, and the expense of new operational protocols, the end of the pandemic cannot come soon enough. But there is good news: While a specific day and time has not been placed on a calendar yet, it is becoming clear that this pandemic has an expiration date. According to published press accounts, at least two of three viable vaccines will be approved soon, and we could have "shots in arms" before the end of December. The roll-out will be gradual (health care workers first, then at-risk and frontline workers, then the general populace), but we have light at the end of the tunnel.
Companies that have been in "hunker down" mode (whether by choice or due to restrictions) should be planning for the day—perhaps in 2nd or early 3rd quarter—when they can open their doors more assertively to an excited, inoculated group of customers. This is big. We saw the impact of "pent-up demand" after the Great Recession, which was purely economic. This time around, you're going to see some consumers excited to get back out there, because the lock-down mindset of the pandemic aggravated the effects that were economic. Anyone who remembers being "grounded" can recall how liberated you felt once your sentence was over! Multiply that sentiment by millions of people.
Smart business leaders are planning for that day now, albeit with a flexible execution schedule. Put together the plan, and then stay tuned to news about vaccine distribution and its effect on your local infection rates. Get a jump on your competition when it becomes clear the world is ready to come back to your restaurant, office, store, or dealership. Meanwhile, it's important to think about all of the consumer habits that have been broken over the past 10 months, and the time people have had to forget about you. Memories fade, habits atrophy, and brand equity tends to decay. So in addition to having your grand re-opening plan ready, you should also get a conservative brand awareness plan underway very soon, as a means of reminding customers how much they miss you.
The end of pandemic-driven demand
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal provided an analysis of Best Buy's performance results, and at the same time, a thoughtful review about the road ahead. It should shock no one that the stores' sales have been strong; they were able to increase their e-commerce capacity at a time when more people were shopping from home. They had laptops and other products for people suddenly working from home. They offered tablets and other devices for kids that were suddenly going to school from home. And they provided gaming consoles for people who were looking for something to do (at home) after work and school. Each of these items are examples of pandemic-driven demand, and the company was rewarded for having the right products, delivered in the right ways, at the right time.
But the Best Buy analysis was wise to ask: What happens when most of that virus-inspired demand has been satisfied? Or, what happens when people realize there is finally an expiration date to the pandemic? (Let me repeat because it's such good news: Two of three viable vaccines will begin distribution soon; we will have "shots in arms" before the end of the month, according to published press accounts.)
The Novel Coronavirus has been unquestionably harsh. However, like the personal electronics category mentioned above, there are many business categories that have actually been helped by the mobility restrictions imposed by the pandemic. With people spending more time at home, there has been a burst of sales activity in home services like roofing, siding, windows, HVAC, pools, outdoor kitchens and patios, etc. (Affordable because many people simply re-allocated their travel and vacation budgets toward home improvement.) Because of supply chain disruptions and the laws of supply & demand, many car dealers are selling fewer cars, but at a higher profit. And money that may have gone to a movie theatre box office last year may have been re-directed toward a home theatre this year or additional streaming services this year.
As the pandemic fades, so will its effects of stimulating demand in many of these categories. That's nothing to worry about; it simply means that a greater portion of your advertising will need to return to its role of helping generate demand for the products and services you sell.