As the world transitions back to normality, many leaders wonder what the new normal will look like. According to Mattie Stepanek, “Even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now.” The self-described poet, peacemaker and philosopher wrote seven best sellers before dying at the age of 13 from a rare disorder.

For many brands and companies, survival is their top priority. However, with predictions of the coming of a second wave of COVID-19, and possibly permanent changes in the way many consumers will be shopping, some changes will be necessary to not only survive but also thrive over the coming years.

Near Term

What restaurants, retailers and other places where many people gather already know is that safe distancing will be here indefinitely. Surveys revealed that most consumers were concerned about their health and safety as places they used to frequent reopen.

Those same surveys showed that brand recognition and empathy for safety were important to consumers. Despite that, Frontier Airlines initially decided to give passengers the option of paying extra to sit in an aisle or window seat and have the middle seat vacant on their next flight. The carrier quickly rescinded that option after receiving numerous complaints.

Local over imported products also rose in favorability during the pandemic and many observers also believe much of this will continue. Some brands may need to reanalyze and rethink their supply chains.

Longer Term

Brands that haven’t yet done so will need to consider the lessons earned and keep in mind that the future will not be what it used to be. They’ll need to take the lessons learned to also plan a strategy ahead in case of the next pandemic or other sort of crisis.

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Three digital stars shined brighter during the pandemic – automation, digital commerce and telemedicine. All shared a contact free relationship that will likely continue in popularity and chosen whenever consumers have an option.  As reported in earlier articles, ecommerce accelerated during the pandemic and many consumers will likely continue to rely on it in the future.

Until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, virtual interaction between patients and healthcare providers is expected to remain strong. America’s biggest telemedicine service, Teladoc Health, said it’s adding thousands of doctors to its network. The firm said it recorded a 50% increase in service alone for the week ending March 20.

Government Intervention

Although it’s beyond most brands’ control, consumers have embraced more government intervention in times of crisis. Brands will also need to have plans to manage in such periods.

Heightened Scrutiny

The trillions of dollars doled out by the federal government to assist taxpayers, business, and others will have to be repaid and could result in higher taxes and/or less services in the future. An earlier article discussed a CEO survey showing that they acknowledged a corporate role in being socially responsible. Brand behavior will be even more closely watched.

Behavioral Changes

The travel and hospitality industries are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Even as things reopen, they may have to endure social distancing and health issues and regulations longer than other industries.

Add to that, attitudes by the younger generations who had heretofore never lived through a major crisis. Their anxiety about safety will likely be added to ongoing concerns about consumer privacy which brands still need to shepherd and pay attention to.

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The overall message for CMOS, to paraphrase Stepanek, is that the future Is beginning right now.

Leadership Going Forward

For some companies, it may take a few more weeks or months before most, if not all, of its employees return to work at their offices. At others, changes may be made that permit employees who had reported to the office daily, to work remotely for safety or a better work/life balance. Whatever the case is, more employees may likely be working remotely.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.