(This article was written by Bernhard Schroeder and appeared on forbes.com.)
It’s very rare that markets and consumers are all shifted in real time together. Normally, trends begin slowly, starting in a few industries and in micro segments of the population and then they grow over time. With the pandemic, there have been wholesale shifts in consumer behavior, which are rapidly driving new trends across multiple industries. Not to make the pandemic sound like a good thing but this is a perfect storm for people who want to start companies or small businesses that can pivot to provide new products and services based on these accelerated trends.
In the 25 years of marketing and entrepreneurship, I have never seen this massive a shift in consumer behavior all at one time. It’s unprecedented. However, it does create opportunity for those who want to leverage these rapidly accelerated trends. While all trends are not equal, I believe most of these trends are here to stay. Here are several of them below that you might be able to leverage into a startup company.
Live Streaming eCommerce. Just before the pandemic started, I had a startup team contact me from Asia about advising them on their live streaming ecommerce platform. I knew little about live streaming ecommerce, so I did some research. Live streaming ecommerce in China, for example, is exploding. The Amazon equivalent in China is Alibaba and their live streaming e-commerce platform Taobao generated more than $15 billion in sales in just 2019.The pandemic will fuel the live streaming ecommerce market to grow even bigger and faster than it has over the past few years.
Virtual Companions. This one is fascinating as quite a few companies in the late 90’s were funded to provide virtual worlds where people could meet and hangout through their personal avatars. These startups never really took off. But as people today easily move about in social media and dating sites, they have become accustomed to online as an acceptable medium so their expectations have evolved, and some people will start to seek out virtual personalities online. If Peloton can have a virtual “real” trainer push you faster on your ride, then you are probably open to other online experiences and perhaps even virtual experts, coaches and friends.
Self-Improvement. While quite a few people will argue about the pandemic-related shutdowns affecting colleges, workplaces and a myriad of other venues, people have more rapidly accepted online video for education, meetings, sales calls, etc. The next catalyst in this “self-isolation” world is self-improvement through online platforms. Whether that’s for education, certification, cooking or even mental health issues, there are a variety of opportunities for startups or small businesses.
Virtual Experiences. How do you go to a conference or a trade show event if you, well, can’t go? If you can’t do Coachella live, or U2 cannot tour, how do you shift your business model? We have probably heard about some employees doing virtual “happy hours” as a way if staying connected at their company. That’s fine but it will wear thin quickly. The real opportunity is to somehow provide the experience and connectively of former live events to a virtual one that actually can sustain itself over time, even after the end of the pandemic. 3D and virtual platforms will probably come to professional sports and events more rapidly but who will provide the business solutions that allow people to meet, converse and do business in a way that does not involve Zoom?
Mental Wellness. The pandemic is not the only thing causing people mental anguish although the effects of isolation are already being felt. Even before it triggered a global public health crisis and raised fears of a deep economic slump, quite a few people were facing other issues that could impact their mental health: always-on social media competition, lack of confidence, not enough affordable housing, climate and energy issues, career concerns and so on. Future platforms and services that can help improve people’s mental wellbeing and overall health will be welcomed with open arms.