Monday, March 30, 2020

Post COVID-19 Personal Space and Interactions: How Will We Change?

This week, I gave the following assignment to my Digital Marketing Class at NYU:

Now we are forbidden Personal Distance (physically) and Social Distance is more than 6 feet-
Please answer:
How will that affect future interactions?
Can the internet be an adequate substitute for Personal Distance?
After Corona, Will the internet become a hiding place to avoid physical personal distance OR will people forever long for and cherish it?

The above questions were based on the chapter in David Meerman Scott’s book, “Fanocracy” entitled, “Get Closer Than Usual.”

Wow. That’s a nonstarter now. Even though the book was written before the COVID-19 Pandemic, it still has tremendous validity now in terms of raising questions about three important issues that will face marketers (AND people in general) after the Pandemic has passed and things are back to normal:

1.Will we ever be the same? How will we handle the different levels of person-to-person interaction, one-on-one and in crowds or public situations? Will there be a temporary shyness/reluctance and then go back to Pre-COVID-19 habits? OR, will we be changed forever?
2. Now and in future, can the internet be an adequate substitute for Personal Distance? IF yes, how?
3. After Corona, will the internet become a comfortable hiding place to avoid close physical interaction? OR will people realize how valuable personal contact is and cherish it more?

This is, of course, all speculation but something we should spend some time thinking about- as marketers and as people who will be faced with those questions sooner or later.

I have to liken this event to the asteroid that struck Chicxulub in Mexico some 66 million years ago and resulted in the death of the dinosaurs, and most of the living creatures on Earth at the time: 11 to 50 miles across, it produced climatic changes that invalidated life as it was.

The Black Swan; The Unknown Unknown; the S**t happens with a vengeance that takes us by total surprise, so we can only think about survival. Aftereffects Unknown. The only Known Known is that we who live through it will never, ever be the same again.

First, we need some education, which Scott give us, on the psychological nature of human beings’ distance from each other. Four Categories were coined by David T. Hall, in terms of distance from person to person or person to people, from the outside in:
1. “Public Distance”- More than 12 feet away; lacks precise interactions, just public;
2. “Social Distance”- 4-12 feet away- a stranger
3. “Personal Distance”- 1.5-4 feet away- Family and Friends
4. “Intimate Distance”- 1.5 feet away; lover, family (AKA In Your Face)
Previously, we could manage these distances as dictated by our emotions, mood, marketing or entertainment objective.

But, everything is changed now- While we appreciated Personal Distance from a performer or a speaker in the past, and we experienced either Personal or Intimate Distance as observers or audience, how soon, if ever, will we do that again?

Just as the creatures that survived Chicxulub, we are marked.

So that’s my take; now my own answers to the questions. (Don’t send this to my students:):

Will we ever be the same? How will we handle the different levels of person-to-person interaction, one-on-one and in crowds or public situations? Will there be a temporary shyness/reluctance and then go back to Pre-COVID-19 habits? OR, will we be changed forever? 
This will never wear off in the normal lifetime of the survivors; older people will want to protect themselves, and the younger, more impressionable, will be marked. While we will slowly reconvene to concerts, baseball games, etc. we will always look at them with different eyes. No more Woodstocks. What is more, governments will look to control mass gatherings to avoid potential problems.

Now and in future, can the internet be an adequate substitute for Personal Distance? IF yes, how? NO, the Internet will never be a total substitute for Personal Distance; as David Meerman Scott says, that is how we are hardwired. BUT, marketers and people will strive to find new and engaging ways to communicate so that people will be happy with virtual personal interaction. What is more, Omnichannel will be a virtual drug fix for customers: Wow, I can control the amount of virtual and personal interaction in my life. TELL ME: What will you think about before entering a crowded bar in the next one, two years or more?

After Corona, will the internet become a comfortable hiding place to avoid close physical interaction? OR will people realize how valuable personal contact is and cherish it more? 
Even if not a hiding place, the internet will be a social and commercial sanctuary, embedded in our minds as a medium that can serve us as well as protect us. So, even if not a hiding place, it will be a comfort place for us. First priority for shopping- the percentage of retail attributed to internet will spike in the short run, maintain its growth longer term. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ecommerce percentage of retail jump to 25% in the short term (now about 15%)

We will never be the same.

Any person, company or family that does not acknowledge the imperative to observe and change is due for disappointment, or worse.

But here’s the Good News: This Pandemic erases all global distinctions between us. So people anywhere in the world have to embrace the fact that we, despite nationalistic jargon to the contrary, we are all in the same space. Hopefully, it will take a big bite out of Ethnocentrism. That is what we longed for all these years; also will separate those who believe this with those who want to f**k over people they consider less critical than themselves.

The bottom line is how we will change, emotionally and rationally, as a result of what we have had to endure. It is said that shocks to the system are what change us; please let me know if you agree with my speculation above; even if you don’t, tell me what you think will happen Post COVID-19.

David grew to love Grateful Dead, as I did the Rolling Stones. That said, we should all find direction in Bob Dylan; whom I consider the poet laureate of our generations.

So, as inspiration, Let’s hook up with Bob Dylan’s work:

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'

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