One of the big questions on everyone's mind today is whether the “re-opening” will be a success, will the economy recover, will there be a spike in positive COVID-19 cases – or something else entirely.
None of us – not Dr. Fauci, not the Trump Administration, not Congress, not local health department experts – knows with any degree of certainty what will be as the summer plays out. For all the right reasons, we're holding our collective breath, waiting to see how various states and business leaders handle themselves now, and for the next several weeks.
But I can tell you this – based on our newest COVID-19 study fielded May 12-14 – there's a great deal of fear about resuming many regular activities – whether it's going to the mall, attending religious services, hanging out at a bar, or going to a concert or sporting event. In fact, most people view these once routine behaviors as downright risky.
So, what's it going to take for the average consumer to overcome their fears and re-enter the consumer space? That's the question that millions of Americans are asking themselves and each other.
It is clear to me – from our own research and from studying the myriad studies being released daily – we're now in the second inning of the virus. The first, of course, was “The Lockdown.” Now, we've entered the “Re-Opening,” and there are just as many unknowns to overcome.
During a presentation last week about the May PPM ratings (which will be released starting today), Nielsen identified a growing percentage who they classify as “ready-to-go.” These are the people champing at the bit, often wanting their old lives back. They now are in the majority (54%), up significantly from Nielsen's last survey back in April.
Nielsen points out this “ready to go” group is – by and large – excited to resume normal activities. Generally, these adults index considerably higher on a variety of consumption categories:
No doubt about it – these are encouraging findings; just the type of data radio sellers will want to show their advertisers.
We addressed this same issue in our recent COVID-19 follow-up study (5/12-14) among core radio fans. And it might help complete the picture of readiness versus fear. Our study asked our 16,000+ respondents rate 25 different activities on two different scales – interest (regardless of safety) and perceived risk.
Based on this data, we created the grid you see below. The “layups” spending areas are in the upper-left quadrant – activities generating the most interest with the least amount of risk:
The activities most likely to bounce back include grocery/pharmacy shopping, visiting a doctor or dentist, going to a public beach or park, or using a hair salon.
Then there's the crowded grid that's in the bottom right – activities of less interest with more perceived risk. And there are a lot of categories in this quadrant that need to prove themselves to consumers before the economy returns to some semblance of “normal.” Especially the “riskiest” activity of them all – getting on board a cruise ship.
A close-up on that “quadrant 4” reveals a wide array of business sectors (casinos, amusement parks, movie theaters) as well as lifestyle activities (religious services, sending the kids to school) where consumers express less interest and a considerably higher degree of risk.
Or should we call it what it is?
This is the quadrant where the recession will be won – or lost. It is clearly the most populated of the four, representing opportunity, but also major challenges. It's where the travel and entertainment industries mostly reside. Public transportation and shared mobility services (Uber, Lyft) will struggle until consumers feel reassured about their safety.
Even once routine items like enjoying a Whopper at a fast food restaurant, grabbing a drink with friends, or hitting the gym before work are in this square of fear.
The aforementioned activities – attending a religious service and sending the kids back to school, whether they're in kindergarten or starting their freshmen year in college, are represented here.
So, how can local businesses and organizations address this palpable fear, with local clients to overcome them, and help businesses get back on their feet? The answer isn't specifically in the Nielsen or Jacobs Media data. But a smart interpretation would be that retailers, institutions, and organization need to convince consumers about steps they've taken to ensure safety – and then encourage “social community spread” – that is, recommending them on Facebook, TripAdvisor, and other entities.
What might that look like?
I have a public library – the Baldwin Library – just down my block. Of course, it's been closed since March, and it's a neighborhood gathering spot, not just for students, but for multi-generations of local residents. Every time I walk by the library, I wonder when it will re-open, thinking it could be a local symbol of the recovery.
Last week, the Baldwin Library sent me their plan – an impressively detailed 6-phase “re-opening” plan. It is well thought out, and extremely well presented. Each phase is clearly branded and color-coded.
You might think this is overkill, especially for a non-profit civic institution. But keep this in mind, as I consider which businesses and organizations I will begin to visit over the coming weeks as Michigan re-opens. I already feel a sense of safety about the library. Not only do I know their staff will be well-trained in their policies, but I have to believe other neighborhood citizens like me will be respectful of their policies and procedures. And yes, I have shared this with friends and family – and now with you here on this blog – another indication their plan is working.
The fact is, I'm more likely to stop into the Baldwin Library this week than I am to go back to a favorite restaurant, my dry cleaners, or my barber shop – until they make it crystal clear they've considered both customer and employee safety. I'm not suggesting Baldwin's multi-phased program works for every business, but it is a tangible sign they've thought it through, and are concerned about their community – and me.
Radio marketers can help their clients achieve this same goal – but it will require more than just buying a schedule and hoping the “Come on back” message resonates with consumers. As our grid shows, many of the things we once did without an iota of thought will now require planning, safety checks, assurances, and smart marketing.
And it starts with how radio broadcasters approach this next phase of COVID-19. Will salespeople simply take orders, throwing in bonus spots, and satisfying clients with live reads and appearances from street teamers and members of the airstaff? Advertisers will ask for these perks, and while it may be tempting to rubber-stamp these “value added” requests (after all, there's plenty of inventory and we all want the recovery to come quickly), simply going back to “normal” very likely won't be successful. And you can make the case it's irresponsible.
Radio stations – whether they are mom & pops in small town America or part of Wall Street's public companies in major markets – are going to have to ask themselves some of the same questions those Baldwin Librarians considered. How can we make it safe for our customers? How can we monitor our progress? How can we ensure our employees' safety?
Note that in that precarious grid in our chart above, one of the symbols is a radio station-sponsored event (pictured at right). It actually elicits interest, but it is also in the same quadrant as going to a casino, shopping at the mall, or getting on an airplane. And keep in mind, our respondents are core fans of their P1 stations – and even they express a level of skepticism about whether it's safe to return to one of your events.
Success will require more than just a simple on-air invite – stations are going to have to work harder to assure their fans it's OK to stop by a car dealership, visit the mall, or stop in for a drink at a neighborhood restaurant or bar.
Stations owe that to their clients. It won't be enough if a store buys a schedule for June, only to have a handful of people show up. Or worse, they do show up, and the store is eventually tagged with being the start of a “cluster” of positive tests.
Stations owe it to their staffers. Simply selling a “live read” to a client that hasn't done their safety due diligence ultimately reflects poorly on both talent and the station itself. When your most prominent personality says “Come join me” or “I shop there – you should, too” – that's an implicit message that if it's safe for me, it's safe for you.
But is it?
Street teamers and interns (if in fact, they return this summer) will also need reassurances the station has their health and welfare in mind. It will be important not just that the station has clear and thoughtful policies, but that its advertisers also take the necessary precautions to make sure the youngest members of radio station staffs are being provided for.
This critically important “Re-Opening” phase isn't just about lifting restrictions. That's the easy part. Safety, assurance, confidence, and consideration will be the keywords in making sure this next chapter is a positive one, and the beginning of a recovery, both for local businesses and the radio industry.
It's essential we don't end up thinking of the third inning of this pandemic as “The Relapse.”