Covid-19 restrictions remain in place throughout most of the country and consumer behavior has adjusted accordingly. As researchers, our curiosity drove us to develop a nationwide study that focuses on consumer sentiment and how that sentiment is changing behavior.
We have been steadily monitoring the impact of the pandemic on consumer feelings and behavior since March using our Covid-19 Tracker and have shared recent findings in a webinar titled, “The New Consumer: Seeking Balance Amid Uncertainty.”
The study’s illuminating consumer insights demonstrate how businesses are tasked with adjusting their behavior to provide positive experiences to consumers, even during these challenging times.
Using online metaphor elicitation exercises, we surfaced consumers’ feelings regarding the pandemic and its impact on their lives. Pulling from a database of over five hundred pictures, respondents were asked to answer questions using images. We saw in the first few weeks of the pandemic a feeling of helplessness. Respondents selected images of fraught rope, handcuffs, and empty roads leading into a dark distance. For respondents, the unknown leads to feelings of anxiety and anger, ultimately laddering up to a deeper emotion: the desire for control.
Because the world has changed dramatically (at least for the foreseeable future), consumers realize it’s up to them to adapt. Things like replacing their daily trip to Starbucks with at-home gourmet coffee, visiting friends and family through Zoom instead of in person, and developing cooking skills instead of eating at restaurants all demonstrate adaptation to a new normal. This adaptation is about maintaining balance in the face of adversity.
So, what do these consumer insights mean for your brand?
Engaging content has long been important for brands. However, the entertainment factor has taken on added significance as consumers stay at home: after all, in-home entertainment is one of the few pleasures social distancing restrictions have not impacted.
“We’re all in this together”-type messages may have resonated with consumers at the beginning of the pandemic, but as life has settled into a new rhythm, consumers have once again returned to a desire for advertising that is genuine and authentic to the brand. Brands with a prolific content engine at their disposal have done a better job at remaining relevant and engaging during this time. For example, Burger King France published a guide to preparing a “quarantine Whopper” at home. This campaign demonstrated sensitivity to the current situation presented in a lighthearted manner.
Look for partnerships and opportunities for your brand to integrate into consumers’ homes and lifestyles. Because consumer shopping behaviors are no longer on “auto-pilot,” brands have the opportunity to connect with customers in new and creative ways. For many brands – especially those whose products or services are directly impacted by Covid-19 restrictions – these partnerships may be vital to weathering this situation successfully.
For example, outdoor gear company REI and home furnishing leader West Elm have launched a collaboration of lawn chairs, picnic blankets, and dinnerware, stating that, “Now more than ever, we appreciate the value of being at home, in the fresh air.” This partnership and messaging demonstrate these businesses understand the impact of current restrictions and are offering creative solutions.
Consumers are paying attention to the authenticity of brands and how a brand’s actions align with their messaging. Broad gestures of “togetherness” do little to positively influence brand affinity today.
Instead, consumers place a higher value on how a brand is quantifiably impacting a movement, be it responding to the realities of Covid-19 or demonstrating support of the Black community as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Actions speak louder than words and consumers are placing a higher value on brands who take bold action to affect change. Consumers will be looking beyond mere messaging and paying attention to what brands are actually doing to improve the situation for their employees, their customers, or society as a whole.
Demonstrating their commitment to the BLM movement, Netflix announced it would move 2% of its cash holdings to banks focusing on Black communities. Strategic business actions like these gain attention and respect from consumers more than empty promises in short-lived digital campaigns.
In this time of uncertainty, one thing is certain: we are still in the middle of the pandemic and some level of social upheaval will continue for the foreseeable future. However, the consumer insights we have derived from our studies show that consumers are willing to adapt.
This flexibility opens up new opportunities for brands to respond to marketplace realities while continuing to play a significant role in consumers’ lives. Now is not the time for brands to slow down. Instead, it’s the time to pay attention to consumers, remain nimble, and look for previously unconsidered ways to serve customers who need balance and control more than ever.