There is a lot of hype finding its way into print about just how the post-pandemic economy of 2020 will mirror that of the previous devastating pandemic of 1918. The span of more than one hundred years apart hasn’t dampened the bevy of prognosticators’ enthusiasm for predicting a post-COVID-19 recovery that will be similar to the 1920s. A decade into the arrival of the 20th century, the public was emerging into a historic period of social and economic expansion. Devastated by a deadly worldwide flu epidemic in 1917 and 1918, survivors were ready to emerge into a new decade of the promise of technological advantages and a “let-your-hair-down and party hardy” attitude. While the mania of the 1920s likely reshaped an entire culture, anticipating a similar result in 2021 may be a bit of a stretch; or is it?
“Right now, we are experiencing the artificial intelligence revolution and this revolution will accelerate the pace of technological change to levels that we have not seen before,” predicts Max Fraser, a history professor at the University of Miami. “The change that is coming will dwarf the 1920s.” But when you live in a world almost completely focused on the past, it often can be difficult to identify dissimilarities of the “here and now” that will determine just how similar today will be from yesterday. The 1920 technology breakthroughs were all-encompassing, general-purpose advances that changed the very fundamentals of society. The advances in tech of 2021, while impressive and awe-striking, are less likely to be as impactful and as significant to the lives of the masses. “History is more or less the bunk,” said Henry Ford in 1916. “It is tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.”
As marketers, we are all aware of the significance history can play on modern commercial campaigns. After all, nostalgia and consumers’ desire to return to simpler periods of the past are at the base of many modern product success stories. But those feelings of past-utopian memories are taken out of context in a period that included significant less-favorable experiences. Despite that reality, an entrepreneur’s most required trait for membership into the profession is a positive outlook and an unwavering sense of optimism for the future. It’s not that we don’t want to be less optimistic, we simply are not wired to be anything less than optimistic.
The promise of greatly improved fortunes in 2021 is likely to be the result of what is different about this post-pandemic period, than what is similar about the recovery of a hundred years ago. Massive government relief programs this past year and the lock-in of a pre-existing, frantic community of consumers have resulted in a $2 trillion consumer nest egg. Carola Frydman, a professor of finance at Northwestern University predicts, “We’re going to see demand from that.” Already consumers are inching toward the starting line awaiting the crack of the starter’s pistol to begin the race to a renewed reality.
The progression forward in recovery will certainly be impacted by social and geopolitical actions that will, at times, determine the speed and depth of the recovery. Anticipating the undiscovered trends and inexperienced reactions to the changing market environment will demand close attention as the fog of 2020 begins to lift. In this dynamic period, the adherence to the fundamentals of modern marketing tactics and strategy may prove to be more prudent than following the advice of those clamoring about the past. Agility and the ability to adapt will be a critical fundamental for brands to navigate the uncertainty and the unknowns ahead.
The best marketing strategies in the post-pandemic recovery of 2021 will still begin and end with the consumer at the center. Targeted and focused content that is genuine, authentic, and personal remains paramount to any campaign. Listening to the customer precedes message creation and one-on-one conversations trump mass-oriented communication. Brands still must compete at a highly focused level with messages that are relevant to individual market segments.
Preparation will be the key to identifying and implementing the most effective solutions to the most challenging problems and being prepared begins with a marketing strategy that looks to the future, not to the past.