Interview with Jeremy Hollow, MD, Listen + Learn Research

Jeremy Hollow is the Founder and MD of Listen + Learn Research. He shared with me his thoughts on how the pandemic may change how we interact with each other, our work and our suppliers.

‘It’s made the hybrid model a reality’

The biggest change has been around the nature of work – the pandemic will definitely have a long-term effect on people.

There’s always been a large tranche of people saying that ‘work equals office’. But it’s not in the office anymore and businesses are still as productive.

The concerns have gone, and it’s made the hybrid model a reality. The genie is out of the bottle.

The whole way we work, both physically and what it means in terms of where we are, who we are, how we get there, is very interesting.

That’s going to have a profound impact on much of society. Where we construct buildings, where we congregate resources and schooling for example.

Cities may become urban centres, rather than work centres or commuting centres. And that’s going to affect how we shop. Where previously I might have bought 90% of my goods in a store, now maybe I’ll only buy 10%.

‘Always revert to the easiest ways of doing something’

The severity of the pandemic and the nature of lockdown has brought about a different type of spirit in people.

While there are many negative behaviours around how we currently use technology to work remotely – the cat’s out the bag. It’s easier, for a lot of people, to work from home. The lock-down proved the point that it can be done and it’s become the new default way of working.

Working from home will become much more normalized. The relationships we expect to have with work colleagues have changed and will continue to change.

People will always revert to the easiest ways of doing something. It’s going to be increasingly hard to justify foreign business trips or travel to meetings.

‘Technology is being stimulated by the pandemic’

There’s been an emotional change. We’re recognizing what it is about human interaction that’s so important. What’s the best way that we can have fulfilling lives. Narrowing down what it’s about being with someone that makes it feel so special.

People have long enjoyed the social element of work and shopping. We get a lot of energy from being with other people. The need to socialize is one of the big drivers that will shape things in the future.

We’ll need to work out how to re-create this interaction. There could be a technological answer – making video more tele-present. Developing this technology has been stimulated by the pandemic.

‘It’s allowed producers to start talking directly to consumers’

Social media has allowed us to connect with very niche groups of interest.

This isn’t necessarily new, but it’s been hastened by the pandemic, because we’ve had fewer choices available. We’ve been forced to use digital channels in new ways and this is becoming more of a default option than we might realize.

For example, in the first wave of the pandemic supply chains were really fractured and retail chains were paralyzed. Instagram enabled people to build direct relationships with their suppliers – the technology was the enabler for leapfrogging over supply chains.

It’s allowed producers to increasingly talk directly to consumers, whereas beforehand this might be intermediated through a retail chain.

‘People shifted their behaviour towards subscription models’

Delivery and subscription models have become much more popular as a result of the pandemic. Being unable to get to the shops, people shifted their behaviour. As a result, existing brands start flipping to subscription services.

And when you start using one subscription model and see how easy it was, you will do it again. It’s an interesting trend, definitely hastened by the pandemic.

We’ve also seen small-batch and craft goods becoming more popular. They can start building stronger relationships with people who have more time people at home to search for these things.

Overall, there’s been a paradigm shift in how we buy. We will start to see more direct-to-consumer relationships as a result of the pandemic. Rather than through retailers, aggregators or distributors.

We can take that and extrapolate out – asking what else can we make easier.

‘We increasingly take the retailer out of the equation’

We’ve seen a fracturing of larger businesses – making it much harder for a customer to find the best route through. You’ve got to spend hours on the phone to your bank for example – you didn’t have that before.

Their systems are so disconnected – and it’s become more alienating. Which is the direct opposite to the more local relationships we have. These are more rewarding, as we increasingly take the retailer out of the equation.

For example, if you have Instagram TV and social channels, coupled with a delivery model, you no longer need a farmer’s market. And this delivery model means that you can start to scale up a lot more effectively.

‘A point of inflexion – we’ve re-evaluated our choices’

Scarcity also makes us re-evaluate many of our mundane choices.

The pandemic has denied us access to things we bought by default. An obvious example is toilet paper. We needed to think again about what we buy and where we buy it.

It’s been a point of inflexion – we’ve re-evaluated our choices. It’s opened us up to a wider consideration set, where previously there was a default. This was a big part of the pandemic.

These new default actions work best for low-interest categories. There’s a driver that makes you re-evaluate your initial decision, but then you will default to an easy standard behaviour. As soon as you decide, you don’t want to re-evaluate it again – it’s not interesting enough.

If it’s more than a default then it’s like a hobby – you have enough interest to put more effort in.

‘The threat to personal liberty is too strong’

People may want to make the link between the pandemic and the climate crisis. But they’re very different things.

The pandemic has an immediate cause and effect – it’s very strong and very close. While climate change is much broader – the cause and effect are easier to ignore. It’s more disputed and it feels like there’s plenty of time.

That’s the big problem, we’re waiting until it’s too late – waiting for the evidence to be irrefutable. In the meantime, if the threat to personal liberty is too strong people will fight back against it.

With Covid, it’s really obvious what I can do as an individual. But the level of complexity is exponentially larger with climate change, so the inertia is a lot stronger. People can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in the UK.

There aren’t enough easy options for solving climate change. And as individuals, we feel powerless.

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