Once lockdown is lifted and social-distancing restrictions ease, will business quickly get back to normal? Or will we see a profound shift in buying patterns and customer preferences? Here are six changes in consumer behaviour as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that marketing professionals should be aware of.
1. Being a better you
Without question, lockdown has impacted the customer mindset. Whether clapping for the NHS and supporting it in other ways, setting ambitious fitness goals or taking up home baking, changing circumstances have inspired millions to take varying forms of positive action.
Marketing and insights consultancy Rare has used qualitative and quantitative research to monitor consumer behaviour during the pandemic. According to chief executive Ben Paske, all households that filled in a research diary mentioned watching free online tutorials and learning software skills as ways of being productive.
Social distancing has unleashed a wave of self-improvement and skill-building has become a form of entertainment in its own right. “We’re seeing people trying to use their time in lockdown to become the best possible versions of themselves, whether that’s through learning a new skill, exercising more, trying meditation and so on,” says TUI UK and Ireland CMO Katie McAlister.
She also makes the point that celebrity stories feel a bit “too light hearted and frivolous” for the circumstances and that guilt around luxury purchases may outweigh their joy. However, consumers still crave quality and it may be a case of quality over frivolity in an era conditioned by what really matters, such as the contribution of key workers to society.
2. In it together, but differently
Although we’ve all gone through lockdown together, people have been affected in significantly different ways. Some are saving money they can’t spend on holidays or restaurants, whereas others have lost their entire livelihoods, yet are having to pay more on groceries and utilities.
As MediaCom Europe, Middle East and Africa chief strategy officer Steve Gladdis explains, lockdown experience depends on your financial situation, home environment, whether you have outside space, whether you live alone and, if not, how you feel about the people you share your home with.
Market research agency BuzzBack has used findings from online qualitative research to group people into four different consumer segments: new normal, people who’ve taken the situation in their stride and aren’t overly emotional about having to adjust; bittersweet, whose lives have become more challenging, but who can see a bright side and acknowledge the positive changes in their new routine; struggling, who have found it hard to adjust, are anxious and not coping well; and nothing new, where things haven’t changed that much.
CMOs need to think about these different segments and address them accordingly. Empathy is critical. All brands should come across as supportive towards customer mindset at various stages while remembering it may shift quickly.
3. Purpose with teeth
Brand purpose has been a hot topic for years, but the COVID-19 lockdown has undoubtedly pushed down the accelerator.
Day to day, values must correlate with customer experience. That’s particularly true in the business-to-business (B2B) sector where, in addition to offering fantastic products with real value, service excellence and deep customer relationships, businesses will need to demonstrate an understanding of their wider role in society as we rebuild in the wake of lockdown.
“Brand leaders and marketers have an important role to play in ensuring this is not just about warm words, but concrete actions,” says Claire Gosnell, global head of brand, communications and marketing at international law firm Clifford Chance. “Navigating this uncertain and nuanced landscape will be complex. Customers, regulators, employees and the public will hold organisations to a different standard. B2B brands that overclaim and underdeliver will soon be found out.”
CMOs should seek to create new points of connection that are authentic and human. That doesn’t necessarily mean a rush back, for example, to face-to-face events as some of the ground gained by digital won’t be lost. What matters is tone, content and a more personalised customer and client approach, allied with purpose that stands up to scrutiny.
4. New normal versus old routines
Whether we’ll see a new normal with significant changes to consumer behaviour or people will be anxious to return to previous routines and habits as quickly as possible is up for debate. Most likely, the truth will lie somewhere in-between.
“There is a strong possibility that the increased feeling of community and wanting to take care of the vulnerable is maintained. But consumers’ tendency to maintain their core beliefs and to return to what they know best should not be underestimated,” says Philip Almond, executive director of fundraising and marketing for Cancer Research UK.
All brands should review their tone and approach ready for the post-lockdown era. In terms of tapping into the customer mindset, TSB CMO Peter Markey believes there must be a “clear balance” between reminding consumers of the current situation and showing a future, more aspirational view of the world.
But fear is also a factor. Research in China shows some differences from pre-virus behaviour; taxis and food delivery for home consumption have increased in popularity and, according to Ipsos, two thirds of Chinese consumers who don’t have a car would like to buy one in the next six months. Maybe COVID-19 won’t prove good for the environment after all.
5. Social distancing amplifies bucket-list ticks
Inevitably, the pandemic has led us all to consider our mortality. A growing sense of the passing sands of time has infiltrated psyches during lockdown and this, coupled with thwarted desires to get out and achieve things, has a bearing on the customer mindset.
“I expect a rise in people seeking experiences over possessions as we are freed from lockdown,” says Raj Kumar, Aviva Group brand and reputation director. “People want to tick off bucket-list items, even if they are more wary of travel and infections.”
In the meantime, as Ipsos outlines in its report on COVID-19 and behaviour change, brands can look to help people make good use of the time they spend at home and to drive internalisation of new habits by helping them feel positive about the way time is spent. Campaigns aimed at the individual, their personal growth, wellbeing, passions and hobbies are likely to resonate well with post-pandemic consumers.
During lockdown, people have been valuing what they miss, such as physical contact with friends and family, and dreaming about what they haven’t yet been able to do. More than ever, there’s awareness that life is short and we should focus on what matters.
6. TV, video and social media boost
Lockdown has been a nightmare for the out-of-home advertising sector, In contrast, the captive eyeballs of the housebound have focused on TV, video-streaming and social media.
According to the Kantar Global COVID-19 Barometer, at-home media consumption has grown significantly in lockdown, particularly among younger audiences. The greatest increase is for online video on platforms such as YouTube. Some 72 per cent of Generation Z and 69 per cent of millennials say they use it more, compared with 52 per cent overall.
Meanwhile, Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board figures point to a 24 per cent rise in TV viewing volume since lockdown began. Nick Hirst, executive strategy director at ad agency adam&eveDDB, believes the emotional power and reassuring effect of TV advertising will provide great opportunities for brands in the coming months, particularly those tapping into the altered customer mindset by showing how they help society and look after their people.
“Going dark damages brands and market share slowly but surely, like switching off the engines of a 747 at 30,000 feet,” says Hirst. “But it’s heartening to know, if you do advertise, consumers won’t hate you for it. The trick is going to be to keep a very close eye on shifting attitudes, to ‘read the room’ and act appropriately.”