Anticipating The Next Normal With The Pandemic Persona

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Tony Zambito

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Back to normal.

The new normal.

We have seen these expressions quite a lot in the last few weeks.  We are in an unexpected era of uncertainty.  We are never ever going to go back to normal as we knew it.  Nor can we predict a new normal. Not with any certainty at least.

What we can expect is that there will be a next normal.  We, as a nation, have experienced disruptive crises and overcame them.  For instance, after 9/11, our lives changed and new norms emerged.

Where does this leave our understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect human behavior in the context of business commerce, consumerism, and cultural participation?  I believe the ability to anticipate as related to this question will mean the difference between survival and ceasing to exist for many businesses and cultural institutions.

The capricious nature of the pandemic makes it extremely difficult to anticipate.  Because of this fact, we will be dealing with the capriciousness of buyers, consumers, and patrons until the next normal becomes clearer.  Without such understanding, however, it will be challenging to identify a path forward in timelines of one to two years and up to five years.

How can we then gain an ability to anticipate and put forth plans for the near and long-term?

One approach is to initiate and understand deeply the emergence of the “Pandemic Persona.”  In my recent article, How Buyer Behavior Will Change Amid COVID-19, here is how I introduced initial thoughts on the Pandemic Persona:

Since founding the concept of buyer personas for B2B in 2001, there has never been a greater need for a new type of persona.  Businesses will need to understand the “Pandemic Persona” in the context of business and commerce.  New goals, thinking, situations, and more will begin to emerge over the next few months and years.  To think that buyers will just go back to “normal” is unrealistic.  Forward thinking companies will get ahead of this evolving development.

Let us explore and expand on this a bit.

What we do know now is that buyers, consumers, and patrons will be continuously evaluating the choices they make.  Continuously because until there is an outright cure or vaccine, we are going to see multiple waves of COVID-19 outbreaks over the next year.  Maybe longer.  Affecting how people think and behave each time there is a wave of COVID-19 sprouting up in cities across the country and the globe. 

What must business leaders and cultural institutions gain a deeper understanding of in order to understand the Pandemic Persona?   

3 Areas Of Focused Insights for Pandemic Persona

There are 3 primary categories for leaders to consider.  Each represents a targeted focus on critical insights.

1 – Pandemic Persona Must Be Goal-Based

Foundational to all personas is they are based on the deep understanding of the underlying goals that motivate, sometimes obviously and often not so obviously, people to make the choices they do.  There are many different types of goals as has been researched on goal-based theories in the past few decades.  What is certain now is that there will be seismic shifts in people’s goals.  Whether they are buyers, consumers, or patrons.  Such shifts will drastically affect how they will perceive and make choices respective to many areas such as buying, patronage, or participation. 

2 – Pandemic Persona Must Understand Sentiments

Many business, consumer, and cultural organizations are struggling with how to communicate and engage with their buyers, customers, and patrons as a result of the pandemic.  Developing content in this environment has never been harder.  We have often seen that “tone” is important in times of a crisis.  Each type of organization will need to gain a deeper understanding of the thinking and sentiments people are creating as they experience the pandemic.  This is a collective view of mental models, attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and etc. that people will filter their goals and choices through.  You can bet these are changing frequently and yet they are often unarticulated with any degree of precision.  Thus, the insights-driven use of qualitative in-depth interviewing becomes important. 

3 – Pandemic Persona Must Monitor Scenarios

An essential pillar of user personas and buyer personas has been the ability to incorporate scenarios and scenario planning.  With the ability to anticipate severely hampered, the use of this pillar is now critical.  There are two sides of the same coin when it comes to scenarios.  On one-side, we must understand the situations that people are currently experiencing.  On the other side, we must be able to anticipate likely scenarios people will see themselves in the future.  You cannot do this without true authentic goal-based and sentiment-based personas.  This is the only method that can give a reasonable shot at gaining an ability to anticipate how people will eventually change and come out of a pandemic.

What Is The Call To Action?

Companies and organizations are either having an unintended spiked increase in business, sitting on the sidelines, retrenching to survive, or making contingency plans to reopen.  Wherever you are, the need to understand and monitor representative Pandemic Personas becomes one important call to action over the next two years.  Here is one suggested way this call to action can happen:

I invite 5-10 organizations in each of three categories to participate in insights-based research on the Pandemic Persona.  The main categories include Business-to-Business companies, Consumer-based companies, and Cultural institutions.  Participating in 8 consecutive quarters of researching, identifying, assessing insights, and monitoring the Pandemic Persona. 

What is the outcome? Participating organizations will have the ability to anticipate the next normal.  To adapt to the goals, sentiments, and scenarios of the Pandemic Persona.  Will it be 100% perfect?  Nothing can be in the state we find ourselves.  However, it will be the type of forward-thinking response we desperately need right now.

(For many businesses and leaders today, uncertainty regarding the future will hover over all of us for the coming months and years. If this type of participation sounds right to you, then please schedule time.  I am offering 30-minute free consultations to help in learning more about a unique approach for future planning. You can schedule here: SOHELPFUL WITH TONY)