14 May

The R Number

Written by Freddie Fox, Agency Selection Manager.

What does the future have in store and how might brands adapt in the face of new opportunities and challenges that social distancing brings?

Earlier this month, Professor Chris Whitty gave the clearest indication yet that – whilst infection and death rates appear to be slowing – in the short to medium term, coronavirus is here to stay. Speaking at one of the government’s daily briefings, Whitty highlighted: “This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear, so we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally… for the foreseeable future.”

As some businesses begin to re-open gradually – starting with construction and manufacturing this week – it seems that the R number (the expected number of cases directly generated by one case) will form the basis of our response. Until a vaccine is found or highly effective drugs are developed, we will need to adopt measures that ensure R remains below 1. In other words, one person infected with the disease will infect less than one other person. When this happens, a disease gradually declines.

Some form of social distancing looks like an inevitability for the next year, at least. So, what changes might we see when lockdown is lifted? Which industries will flourish? Which trends established in the last few weeks are set to continue?

Predicting the future is difficult, but here are five thoughts on how the pandemic will impact our lives – and the lives of brands – in the months and years to come.

1)            A rise in domestic travel and leisure activities

In the short to medium term, it is likely that we will see an increased demand for travel and holidays within the UK. With international borders closed and countries like Australia and New Zealand planning for restrictions to be in place for at least three months, it will be some time before international travel resumes at anything like the rate we saw last year. Assuming current measures are lifted sufficiently, those with annual leave booked for later in the year will most likely opt for a ‘staycation’. Coastal spots will be attractive destinations for families who have been cooped up during weeks of lockdown. For those staying even closer to home, many of whom will have had children off school for months, trips to attractions such as theme parks will be popular (expect limits on crowds to begin with, though, as well as measures to improve hygiene and sanitation).

There is an opportunity here for brands that can make the most of a boom in domestic holidays and travel. Depending on restrictions, coastal and seaside hotels seem well-placed to bounce-back strongly, as do more adventurous (and isolated) options such as yurts, cabins and camping sites. Expect growth for brands selling sporting and leisure equipment, too.

2)            Changes to hospitality venues

Prior to Sunday’s announcement, Wetherspoons had signalled that they expected their pubs to open next month. While some hospitality venues may be able to open in July, we still don’t know for certain. What we do know is that, when these venues open their doors again, things will not go to back to the way they were before.

Pubs and clubs packed to the rafters are not on the cards for the foreseeable. It seems certain that they will have to limit and restrict mingling between different households. As a result – for this summer at least – don’t expect to see much queuing at the bar. Table service – with surface cleaning in between – will be a frequent occurrence and, perhaps, the only means of reopening these venues.

How will pubs and restaurants adapt to the challenge? The move to e-commerce offerings such as home delivery and take-aways seems the most obvious route. Customers are likely to be required to sit further away from each other, lessening the amount of customers at any one time and reducing revenues. Venues that can offer additional services to bring their customers value, will outperform their competitors.

3)            An increased use of contactless & voice activation technology

Before the coronavirus outbreak, we were already witnessing the demise of cash. In the month leading up to lockdown in the UK, Tesco opened up its first cashless store in central London and it seems that the pandemic is only speeding up the cash-free revolution. As the lockdown measures came into force, the contactless limit was increased to £45 to help customers limit their interaction with potentially infected surfaces and retail staff. This was not a change wholly brought about by the coronavirus, though. The increase was already under review, a process expedited by the outbreak. Whether or not this is fuelled by pandemic fears, this trend is likely to continue into the future.

Don’t expect the limits on interaction to stop at contactless payment increases either. In the months and years to come, we will surely witness an increase in voice activation technology to open doors, operate lifts and even order our morning coffees. With 80% of infectious diseases transmitted through touching contaminated surfaces, future office designs will almost certainly account for infection concerns. The design for the headquarters of the Bee’ah waste management company in Sharjah by Zaha Hadid Architects is an example of this. ‘Contactless pathways’ enable employees to minimise the amount of times they are required to touch common surfaces.

Some brands are ahead of the curve when it comes to using voice in their digital marketing, but there will be a renewed opportunity to do so in the coming months and years. Adding ‘skills’ to voice activation devices such as Alexa will allow customers to order items with a simple command.

4)            The continued live-streaming of events

Vaccines, effective drugs, testing, tracking and tracing will – eventually – enable groups of fans to gather in stadiums once again, albeit with possible adaptations to seating. In the long term, demand to watch sport and attend concerts is unlikely to diminish. Until then, we will see increased demand in the live-streaming of events held behind closed doors. Before, a digital offering – whether this be through highlights or subscription packages – was an after-thought to premier league football clubs who already receive millions of pounds in matchday ticket revenue each season. If deals can be struck with broadcasters, we will see live-streaming of games as an alternative to buying tickets to watch matches at a stadium now and in the future.

Likewise, music venues and theatres – in danger of collapse from closure and capacity changes – will explore live-streaming to wider audiences. The launch of National Theatre At Home – a free service streaming world-class theatre into people’s homes during the lockdown – has seen great success. As technology improves and theatregoers crave the latest shows, we may see this model change to charge subscription packages or on a ticket-by-ticket basis (the National Theatre are currently accepting donations for lockdown shows). Even when venues reopen, surely there will be a market for those who wish to watch excellent content from the comfort (and safety) of their own homes?

Brands that are reactive to the virtual world will be able to attract new fans – whether or not their stadia and festival venues are full.


5)            A surge in demand for remote consultations

Many classes and consultations have been cancelled in the last two months. From yoga and pilates sessions, to physiotherapy and dental appointments. Whilst there will always be occasions where a face-to-face meeting cannot be effectively replaced by a screen, many have found the move online to be a successful one. Hotpod Yoga is just one example of an offline business that has taken its classes online, providing customers with a chance to continue sessions with their regular instructors. Whilst online classes are not new, they have – so far – represented a small portion of the yoga market and this looks set to change with online solutions increasing their market share.

Brands that have the technological capabilities to deliver an authentic and user-friendly experience can tap into demand for activities that can be completed remotely. Home and flexible working are almost certainly here to stay. Many brands have had to increase (or even create) their digital offering in recent weeks and this is only set to continue.