We are almost six months into this pandemic, and many marketers are reading, writing, and answering loads of questions about the return to brand “normalcy”.  Personally, I haven’t heard the same response given to that question in the many webinars, zoom presentations, and podcasts in which I’ve either participated or tuned in.

Most thought leaders agree, that there is a four-phased approach to “re-opening” brands. The four phases include Response, Recovery, Restoration, and Revitalize.  A quick recap of each:

1.) Phase 1 – Response

Brands focused on safety, gratitude, and reassurance. “We are all in this together” was heard around the world.  And for healthcare organizations, it was all about the “heroes.”

2.) Phase 2 – Recovery

Again, new safety protocols were ‘front and center’ and brands were actively changing operations to meet the needs of a very scared public. From home delivery to curbside pick-up, every organization had to rethink their product and service delivery.  In healthcare, existing services such as telehealth and online communications, took on new interest and meaning.

3.) Phase 3 – Restoration

This is the phase most brand planners believe we are in now. There’s a major push toward “back to business” and revenue generation to make up for lost sales and income.  Healthcare organizations are very vocal about encouraging consumers and patients to get the care they need and not to put off important procedures.

4.) Phase 4 – Revitalization

No matter where you think we are on the “re-opening” plan, I’m sure you’d agree we are nowhere near this phase. We’ll know it when we see a return to long-term positioning strategies and the “why”.  Right now, we’re still in the who, what, when, where, and how strategies.

According to Klein & Partners (Wave 3) ongoing tracking study conducted throughout the pandemic, most consumers would agree that we are in Phase 3.  In their opinion, we are in the middle of the curve and still a few months out for activities to “return to normal'”  In fact, according to many respondents, they believe some social behaviors will never return to normal.

The online study also suggests that, for hospitals and other health organizations, their actions (in Phase 1 and 2) have created new, positive feelings towards their brands (20%, Wave 3).  One area in which hospitals and health systems are not scoring well, according to the study, is leveraging their online presence (social media and website).  Approximately 10%, or less in the case of social media, visit these sites and only 3% find them most useful.  Where are people turning?  The CDC website and other government sources.  Really, a lost opportunity!

My Thoughts . . .

My thought is that most healthcare organizations are using these highly valuable tools. They are used to reinforce the same safety protocols that are offered in every retail, restaurant, and other service establishment – and not providing new, relevant content!  As a result, the consumers are tuning out and turning elsewhere.

Therefore, as we enter into Phase 4 Revitalization, brands will need to take more than COVID into account.  With the thunder of the perfect storm centers around other cultural issues such as marches, protests, riots, politics, race relations – to name a few!  Brands have to reflect these issues to be timely, relevant and meaningful.

Back to the question at hand. Can your brand ever return to “normal?”  Keep this in mind;  great brands always adapt to the current culture and are highly relevant in people’s lives.  They are never stagnant and constantly evolve.  The brands never “return” to anything; they always create something new.

That said, your brand should not attempt to return to where it was.  Instead, it needs to reshape and reconnect with your customer base in exciting ways that meet them where they are now – emotionally, physically, and economically.  So don’t worry about going back, only focus on going forward in innovative, fresh ways.  As Whoopi Goldberg (among others) is quoted as saying, “normal is only a setting on a washing machine.”  It’s time to create a new cycle that gives your brand strategy a clean and fresh start.

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