Last year, the world collectively experienced displacement. How (and where) we do so many things changed, leaving us feeling disconnected from familiar comforts, big and small. While efforts to eliminate Covid-19 continue, organizations should find new ways to communicate with people and deliver brand experiences at a distance, in a different spatial and social context.
When millions of people worldwide started working from home during lockdown, formerly intimate spaces took on a new professional function.
What does collective displacement look like? Think working from your home instead of your office, shopping online instead of at your favorite store, streaming a yoga class instead of heading to your local studio, and hovering over your children as they watch their teachers online instead of in a classroom.
The global pandemic has displaced how and where we work, learn, shop and play—and even where we live. We've broken this collective displacement into three categories: place, activity and communal displacement. Place displacement includes the shift from office work to working remotely, as well as moving to a new home (whether you're working there or not.)
Relocation was a common global theme in 2020, with more people leaving densely packed cities from Paris1 to Manilla2 for less crowded environs in the countryside. Emerging hand-in-hand with place displacement, activity displacement is simply about the change in how people do things.
Almost overnight, school lessons, doctors’ appointments and even weddings were online. And last but not least, community displacement changed the make-up of the people around us. Communal gatherings—like concerts and sporting events—were replaced with solo acts or small groups gathered in households, in pods or virtually.
Collective displacement has had a monumental impact on people’s behaviors, and many companies must now face the fact that the customers they knew so well have changed.
Activity displacement describes the many tasks we've relocated or adjusted so we can still do them safely.
It will take new solutions for companies to deliver experiences away from the physical spaces where customers and brands previously interacted. And with an innovation mindset, it’s possible to do so safely. A powerful example is the virtual store launched from Shanghai luxury art mall K11, which enables people to tour and purchase from 46 different stores via WeChat.3
As companies explore new brand experiences, there are immediate challenges to consider. First, brands must understand how information-gathering has changed. Those that relied on exposure stemming from customers' long-established behavior patterns — namely, people physically traveling from place to place—need to look at ways to become more visible.
Second, brands must address the fact that shopping has atomized into many micro moments spread throughout the day and across devices. Social media will be the prompt for many of these moments, and it will likely influence whether or not people buy.
Third, they must replicate or replace physical touch using digital. In some cases, investing in detailed copy will help give people what they need to make a decision.
Finally, brands must look for ways to deliver joy through immersive approaches. Recreating out-of-home experiences in the home with new devices, for instance, lets brands bring a bit of magic to the normal ecommerce platform.
Collective displacement has changed people’s behaviors dramatically. Many companies must now deal with the fact that the customers they knew have dramatically changed.
The customer you knew yesterday is not the same one you have now. Continue to study the context of your customer base, because it will likely remain unstable for some time to come.
Businesses have a role to play in giving people hope. Consider your brand’s tone of voice in the context of what’s happening right now. Choose a hopeful tone and messaging in all your communications and mix in local context.
Reimagine how you could deliver valuable physical experience like texture, access to advice and the shelf experience. How can you encourage exploration and offer inspiration in new ways?