The New Regular: Your Cheese Has Been Moved

Jim Blasingame

These are rough days on Main Street. Business owners are experiencing extreme stress and anxiety, unprecedented in cause, abruptness, velocity, and impact. 

Just now we’re dealing with a one-two punch to our lives and livings. The first blow was from a novel coronavirus pandemic and the second from the shutdown response to it. 

The shutdown punch – however necessary and politically-variable – has dealt a devastating financial blow to millions of small firms. And as the arc of the disease danger seems to be descending, business owners are increasingly struggling with an unprecedented internal conflict I’ve termed “Owner’s Choice”: Having to daily reassess the risk of a deadly disease against ongoing damage to their family’s financial future.  

It’s somewhat cathartic to allow that we – and our leaders – are not supposed to have all the answers in dealing with this novel adversity. But that sentiment is productive only if it helps focus our energy away from blame and toward whatever is next. 

From today forward, that “whatever is next” thing is what should be on the mind of every business owner. Specifically, do you believe there’s a chance that you’ll still be serving customers on January 1, 2021? Since you’re still with me, I’m going to take your answer to be, “Yes. I’m going to win by surviving.”

In focusing on what’s next for our win-by-surviving strategy, the book Who Moved My Cheese? comes to mind, by legendary business philosopher Dr. Spencer Johnson. Please allow me to connect the author’s dots to ours.

Johnson’s book stands out these days because of how it presents change: dramatic, abrupt, even existential. Sound familiar? He introduces us to four mouse characters who showed up every day at the same spot where they’d always found cheese to eat. Then one day – literally overnight – their cheese wasn’t there. Not a crumb. OMG! What happened next is our post-pandemic lesson.

Two of the characters continued their former cheese-acquisition practices and kept returning to the old spot, even though no cheese was ever found there again. You can imagine what happened to them. 

The other two immediately accepted that things had changed – cheese acquisition was never going to be the same. And so, they set off in search of the new place where cheese might be found. 

Notice that the last two characters didn’t go looking for new cheese. They looked for the new place where they could find cheese. Consequently, they survived because they adapted to change that first revealed itself as adversity. Oh, by the way, it turns out that the cheese in the new place was better than the old stuff. 

Dr. Johnson’s story has never been more relevant and powerful than today. Going forward – post-pandemic – there will be two kinds of businesses: 1) the kind that will fail because they’ll try to operate next December just like they did last December – in the old place; and 2) the kind that will survive and thrive, because they accept that their marketplace has been turned on its ear, causing new food-acquisition practices to be necessary.

There are two expectation questions you must ask yourself today about the future of your business: 

  1. Do I expect to be in business in 2021? You already answered that one. Remember? 
  2. What will post-pandemic customers expect from my business? Or, as Dr. Johnson might have put it, how/where will customers move my cheese? 

My catchy term for this new-cheese-in-a-new-location era is the “New Regular.” (From my perch, the concept of normal was ejected from our orbit around March 1, 2020.)

One of the cool things about Main Street capitalism is that there’s an almost infinite number of ways to do business – niches of niches. So, there’s neither room nor words to cover all the variations in our post-pandemic New Regular. But the good news is that, regardless of what customers purchased pre-pandemic, they’re still likely to need/want those things. As the expert on your niche, you know what those things are. 

However, the trail signs to your new cheese place will be less familiar, because of how customer expectations and behaviors will be altered by the pandemic experience. So, consider these New Regular breadcrumbs that, hopefully, will lead you to survival and beyond. 

  • Customer expectations for how you connect, communicate, and call on them will be different. Conform and comply – quickly.
  • How they expect you to deliver goods and services will be different. Make adjustments and charge for customization.
  • Marketing and advertising response behavior will be different. Testing will be essential.
  • Prospects and customers will have new technology and online expectations. Investment and training for these are non-negotiable.
  • Customers will favor companies that didn’t ghost them during the lockdown. Make contact today with thought-leadership and support. In most cases, selling comes later.
  • Businesses that demonstrated character, leadership, and values during the pandemic will be rewarded. Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the water, and in time it will come back to you.”
  • The post-pandemic personal safety behavior of customers will range from fearful to cautious. Be prepared in all interactions from meetings to delivery.
  • Emotions, feelings, and sensitivity will be more on the sleeve. This will be hardest for grizzled old operators, like me.

Over the next 12-18 months, these factors and others will transmogrify into the New Regular. If you continue to operate with pre-pandemic practices and strategies, you’ll find your cheese-acquisition efforts limited. You will become irrelevant.

But if you make necessary adjustments, based on New Regular customer expectations and behaviors, you’ll survive and thrive. 

And who knows? Maybe you’ll even find some new opportunities that could only exist post-pandemic. 

Write this on a rock … Post-pandemic customers have your cheese, and they’re moving it to a new place. Seek – find – survive. 

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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