How to Create a Marketing Plan for the ‘New Normal’ from COVID-19

COVID-19 still exists, yet we are wise to be optimistic that our lives and business will improve as the rollout of the vaccines increase nationally and globally.  As business leaders and marketers, we realize it is naïve thinking to believe our world will return to that which we knew in pre-COVID times. COVID-19 has affected us all. What we can expect and must prepare for once this pandemic is under control or finally over, is the ‘new normal’ or ‘next normal’.  Understanding what our respective ‘new normal’ or ‘next normal’ looks like is necessary to developing an aligned marketing plan. Learning how to create a marketing plan for the ‘new normal’ from COVID-19 requires fresh thinking and a hybrid strategic approach.

Adapting Marketing to the ‘New Normal’

A ‘new normal’ is just that…NEW.  This leaves us no choice if we want to succeed in business but to adapt our marketing plans to the changes, challenges and opportunities derived from this new state of normalcy.  A 2020 article written by McKinsey & Company discusses how marketing as the link between businesses and customers plays such a pivotal role in managing during COVID-19 while planning for the future.

Creating a marketing plan for the ‘new normal’ from COVID-19 requires us to recognize that COVID-19 still exists and may likely persist for some time.  Yet, we must simultaneously account for the post-pandemic world and its impact on our business, industry, and marketing.

Understanding the Here and Now

Before giving further thought to the marketing plan, we must first devote attention to understanding what our audiences’ needs, attitudes, motivations, and behaviors look like today and also predict what they will look like after COVID-19.  Some of these areas will return to their pre-pandemic state with little change; others will be significantly different, and others will completely go away.

The McKinsey & Company Consumer Pulse Surveys conducted globally in mid-late September 2020 provides a visual snapshot of new behaviors that have been adopted by country since COVID-19, and the intention to continue these behaviors once COVID-19 has subsided. Whether your business is marketing to consumers or to businesses, we are ALL consumers and as such, we need to understand how behaviors have changed today and likely for tomorrow.

Asking the ‘Must Know’ Questions

There are two pressing questions we all need to attempt to answer.

  1. What is going to happen throughout this year?
  2. what is going to happen when COVID-19 finally ends?

Right now, we must adapt an open mindset and willingness to learn and discover the new answers to these questions before developing a marketing plan for what comes next. Our default to rely on traditional strategic thinking alone will not help us plan for the ‘new normal’.  Rather, an integrated approach combining conventional business strategy with the latest thinking is what we need today.

Marketing Planning for Today and Tomorrow

Planning for the ‘new normal’ means answering a few ‘critical success factor’ questions:

  • How does the business really make money?
  • This answer comes from closely examining revenue and profit to understand where the money made is really coming from.
  • Who actually drives the business?
    In other words, who do we really rely on for growing and sustaining the business? This answer allows us to specifically define our most important stakeholders/audiences.
  • What will these most important stakeholders/audiences now look like?
    Describe what you believe their behaviors, attitudes, motivations and needs will look like throughout the year and after the pandemic finally ends.

Marketing Shifts to Shifting Behaviors

We realize that COVID-19 will eventually end. Yet, its lengthy duration has changed what might have been just temporary needs, attitudes and behaviors into shifted behaviors. Again, recognizing that some things will sustain and revert to pre-COVID times when the pandemic finally ends, it’s the others that we need to understand. The ones that have fundamentally changed, gone away completely, or have been replaced by accepted alternatives. These require us to learn and pivot accordingly.

Yes, it is our role as marketers and business leaders to figure out what behaviors, attitudes, motivations and needs now fall into each of the three categories. By doing this, we will be able to direct our resources to what really matters when developing our go-forward marketing plan.

Predicting How to Best Go Forward 

It is not easy to forecast how audiences’ behaviors, motivations, and attitudes have really changed from the pandemic. Challenging as it may be, we need to consider each carefully.

  • Behavior: Is the behavior an actual habit? Has it been disrupted?
    A behavior to become a habit must be repeated often enough to become embedded in one’s daily routines or rituals. If it is truly a habit, it becomes a behavior that is likely to sustain regardless of the pandemic effect. On the other hand, COVID-19 may have altered causing fundamental changes to certain behaviors or even halted other behaviors of your audiences. Think about the way healthcare visits are conducted via telehealth now, or the way many people ‘go’ to the gym now in their home, or the way people are buying groceries, etc…While these are examples of altered behaviors, we can equally consider behaviors that have sustained or have stopped entirely. Assessing whether the behavior is now sustained, altered, or halted is key to informing the go-forward marketing plan.
  • Motivation and Attitude.  Is there a significant benefit for the audience to continue this behavior?
    A behavior may be driven by mind-body-spirit-social-emotional rewards. While some behavior may be sustainable, COVID-19 may have caused a shift in the benefits so that today the behavior is and looks significantly different. Or, the behavior may no longer exist because the pandemic has caused the ‘price’ of the benefit to outweigh the gratification reducing or eliminating the motivation. Understanding if the benefit still exists is important to informing your new marketing plan.
  • Social Pressure. What is everyone else doing now? What is the ‘right’ thing to do?
    Driven by the ‘bandwagon bias’, we enjoy acceptance that comes from doing what everyone else is doing. COVID-19 has certainly created new socially accepted behaviors and attitudes. Some of these have not been affected by the pandemic, whereas others have significantly altered or stopped completely to ‘fit in’ today.
  • Acceptable Alternatives. Is there a better way now?
    If there is not, the former behavior is likely to continue. However, if new behavior can be easily adopted, individuals will do so. This does require viable alternatives or substitutes to be available. Perhaps new alternatives are better at meeting your audiences’ motivations and needs now, causing the pre-COVID-19 behavior to cease and desist.

Marketing Plans for the ‘New Normal’

Having carefully considered the real business drivers, the critical audiences and behaviors that really drive the business, now is the time to create the marketing plan for going forward.  It may be challenging to predict what will sustain, change, or no longer exist. Yet, as business leaders and marketers, we can only ‘do our very best’ to consider and plan for how to succeed.  By evaluating ‘what-if’ scenarios and adding in that which we learned and now know, we can develop a strong marketing plan for going forward.

Focusing on Marketing is a Must! 

The only certainties in life are change and uncertainty.  This has never held so true in the lives of marketers until faced with COVID-19. Moving forward, it is imperative for us to adopt a mindset of learning and discovering how our audiences have changed as a result of the pandemic.  By doing this, we are able to focus on what really matters, and let go of things that are no longer important. Developing a relevant marketing growth plan for the ‘new normal’ world of business and marketing this year and post COVID-19 is not an option…it’s a business imperative!

Need some help? Just let us know.

Marketing Matters based in Stamford, CT in Fairfield County serves healthcare organizations and providers including those offering senior living and care in CT, NY, NJ and throughout the US. We help clients across the marketing spectrum including gaining research and insights, strategizing, planning, marketing and communications, and of course, enabling sales to drive growth and success in today’s evolving market.  For questions or to learn more, contact us by phone at 203.329.7773 or online.