I’ve relished working with physical retail and travel brands over the years for many reasons. One of the strongest and simplest reasons is that these brands largely exist to enhance that most precious aspect of our lives: our leisure time.
After all, these are the brands that build the spaces and experiences that delight, entertain and rejuvenate us. More often than not, it’s within these spaces and on these journeys that we create treasured memories with the people that mean the most to us. Whether that’s simply catching a movie with friends (inevitably followed by engaging in a heated debate about it in the pub), a special occasion meal at that hot new restaurant or planning this year’s well-earned and much-needed family holiday.
And so it follows that for a sector that aims to bring people together in shared spaces and experiences, and that depends on such physical metrics as high footfall, sold seats and strong occupancy rates, the impact of the necessary Covid-19 lockdown has been both immediate and devastating.
Now, however, with the easing of restrictions in play across many countries in Europe, and broad speculation as to what will be announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on May 7th regards the UK lockdown, our attention is starting to turn to what happens next.
For those trying to navigate what a ‘slow and steady’ emergence from the strictest measures may mean for comms in the physical retail and leisure space, here are three ‘starter for 10’ factors to consider:
Think about your audience’s mindset
Despite early days lockdown thinking that we’d all suffer from ‘fatigue’ and be keen to rush back to patterns of pre-Covid 19 life as soon as restrictions were lifted, current research suggests differently. Lockdown ‘rebels’ aside, it seems the public is concerned about a return to normality too soon and fears a second wave of the virus. A recent poll from Ipsos Mori shows that even if the government does relax rules, 60% of people would be uncomfortable about going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport.
Brands running physical spaces and experiences will need to reassure potential return visitors that they are taking all necessary health and safety measures and build these messages and proof points into their post-lockdown communications. Players in the hospitality industry, for example, have started to announce measures such as extending the amount of time in between stays to allow for more robust hygiene practices. For more food for thought on audience mindsets post-Covid 19, read Kate Gomes’ recent blog post.
Embrace the opportunity to adopt digital innovation (beyond a temporary measure)
During lockdown, we’ve seen multiple brands successfully innovate to create online versions of their physical offers. Galleries and museums have enhanced their virtual tour capabilities, as well as engaging their audiences on social media to recreate artworks at home. Theatres, most notably the National, and cinema chains have offered live streaming options. Even travel and tourism is increasingly looking to the provision of innovative and fresh virtual experiences with which to delight consumers in a post-pandemic world. Look no further than the Faroe Islands’ remote tourism project for a taste of when real-world destinations meet digital channels.
Restrictions may be about to ease, but the ‘new normal’ will dictate that many of the behaviours we’ve adopted during the lockdown period will last, especially around our consumption of online entertainment and ‘visits’. In a world now even more familiar, comfortable and appreciative of technology, innovating in this space may prove an important future-proofing strategy for physical retail and leisure brands going forward.
Do the right thing
What we’ve seen through the pandemic is a sharpening of our collective conscience and a keen interest in who’s doing enough… and who isn’t. In early lockdown, twitter accounts like Britain’s Saints and Sinners sprang up to hold corporate feet to the fire. And the public is taking note. Post-lockdown, closer scrutiny on corporate behaviour is likely to persist. From the fair and generous treatment of employees that worked through the crisis in our stores, warehouses and supply chains to a brand’s efforts to serve its communities suffering societal impacts post-pandemic, audiences will be joining the dots to check for authenticity and consistency more than ever. This will provide the impetus and opportunity for businesses operating in the physical retail and leisure sector to revisit their purpose afresh and mean something tangible to their local audiences and staff.