The Great Reset: How COVID-19 Reestablishes the Muscle Memory of Consumption

Covid 14

This article first appeared on Adweek.

Prior to Covid-19, no event had materially changed visitation to brick and mortar businesses for more than 70 years. With shelter-in-place nearing two months in certain states, the muscle memory of consumption (habits) in the physical world has been replaced by significant upticks in e-commerce, restaurant delivery, and curbside pick-up. The CTO of Shopify, an e-commerce platform for online stores, tweeted in mid-April that they were seeing “Black Friday level traffic every day.”

Despite government restrictions, there is a strong undercurrent to consume in the “real world” again. Looking at retail visitation in the US before and during COVID-19, data shows a sharp decline in mid-March, but a gradual rise in overall visits as the weeks pass, even though shelter-in-place guidance has not changed. This pent-up demand combined with the loss of muscle memory in physical world consumption creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build and influence new patterns of behavior; I’ve taken to referring to this as “The Great Reset.”

The Great Reset

The Great Reset is the concept that store visits will return to normal levels over time, but the beneficiaries of these store visits will not be the same. Muscle memory is built through repetition and breaks down in the absence of it, creating the perfect environment for a Great Reset in how consumers visit restaurants, retailers, and events. Whereas businesses might spend tens of millions of dollars to gain a few points of market share in a quarter or year in normal times, every business is starting over at similar positions as habits and preferences are remade. When we look back at this time it will look like the early days of the internet, where a company like Amazon could sell books challenging billion-dollar companies like Barnes and Noble and Borders Books.

CPG-brands like Mondelez aren’t cutting marketing budgets, rather they are reportedly reallocating to where market share gains can be made. “This is a moment to really, what I would call, attack the market in the second half,” said CEO Dirk Van de Put. CPG brands have already seen a bounce in purchasing thanks to the uptick in grocery store and warehouse visits during this crisis. As nonessential businesses start to open, the retailers and restaurants that are first to market with advertising are the ones that are going to be making the largest market share gains when compared to pre-pandemic. Muscle memory of the body takes 2 to 4 weeks to set, and muscle memory tied to consumption is not far behind.

These muscle memories are being rebuilt now in Georgia, one of the first states to begin to reopen. Foot traffic to restaurants returned to more than 75% of “normal levels” within a week of dine-in service opening, showcasing both consumers’ drive to go out in the physical world as well as the speed at which things will change. Georgia provides a preview into the narrow window marketers will have to capture consumer attention and market share.

How can marketers plan around the Great Reset?

As the Great Reset unfolds, businesses only get one shot to capture the opportunity to move market share across days and weeks instead of quarters and years. As businesses open their doors, understanding consumers’ patterns of behavior to reach the right people is critical in retraining their muscle memory of consumption, and those prepared to capture their attention will be best positioned to succeed. Restaurants and retailers, for example, may look to re-engage formerly active customers, or reach lapsed consumers whose muscle memory has yet to be reset.

The economic impact of COVID-19 will include a legacy of store closures and bankruptcies. These businesses represent billions of dollars in revenue, which will be up for grabs. The ability to identify and engage newly available customers creates a one-time opportunity to capture dollars that have yet to be assigned to other retailers, both online and offline.

Offline attribution, a tool for measuring ad effectiveness in driving store visits, will be another critical component for marketers adjusting to the Great Reset as time directly translates to market share. Pre COVID-19, advertisers focused on store visit attribution for lift, which represents incremental foot traffic. Immediately post-COVID-19, marketers should also monitor conversation rate and cost per store visit. The reason is that muscle memory doesn’t exist, thus every customer post COVID-19 is a new customer. As the Great Reset starts to rebuild into muscle memory for consumption, that is when advertisers should focus more on cost per incremental visit (lift).

When COVID-19 passes, papers will be written about its impact on society, as it has forever changed the way we interact with the physical world. In that same vein, we’ll look back at this time as a seminal moment in location analytics, where tactics that weren’t even imagined at the start of the year become common practice in the years to come.

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