How to Resonate Better with Consumers During COVID-19


Kristy Roldan

Director, Account Service


Disruptions to daily life brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have set consumer emotions on a roller coaster. Financial uncertainty, changes to work and school schedules, restrictions on free time as well as concern about the spread and effects of the virus itself are just some of the myriad considerations that are now a central focus in consumers’ lives, individually and collectively.

Heightened emotions at this time are shifting consumer behavior, brand interactions and buying. MDRG has created a COVID-19 dashboard tracker to better capture and examine the changing ways consumers are interacting with their environment.

By becoming more aware of real-time consumer insights, brands can tailor their operations and messaging to resonate with consumers. Failure to do so may result in a backlash that could create lasting damage into the future.

A new set of emotions driving actions

Using system 1 research methods including Online Metaphor Elicitation exercises, we were able to capture subconscious emotions consumers struggle to express with words only. By selecting images that indicated the purchase that had the most positive impact on their feelings since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to get a clearer sense of the emotions driving consumer perception and behavior today.

We learned that right now, consumers are:

  • Trying to maintain control, even as they worry about the impact re-opening businesses will have on health. As restrictions begin to relax, the vast majority of consumers continue to practice social distancing, indicating consumers are hesitant to return to business as usual.
  • Focused on buying essentials, including products like gloves, cleaning supplies and masks they never before considered “essential.” In times of scarcity, the basics can become the most important purchase.
  • Buying items to fend off boredom as a way of filling time and trying to return to a sense of personal normalcy. This is reflected in rising purchases of downloadable media, hobby materials and personal care items.
  • Seeking purpose by buying products or participating in activities that make them feel useful to their communities or families, such as buy-a-mask/give-a-mask programs or donating to food banks or other non-profit organizations.

Do’s and Don’ts for Brands

Right now, it’s vital for brands to adopt a nimble response to these emerging consumer insights. Brands have traditionally been tasked with balancing consumer expectations against their own brand strategy. COVID-19 has introduced a new element to the mix: day-to-day realities affecting consumers’ lives in immediate and unpredictable ways.

Here are some ways brands should tailor their actions to better align with consumers today:

  • DO enact changes to your customer interaction models to promote customer safety. Examples include making online sales easier, posting safety guidelines signage in stores, providing free masks at the door, designating waiting areas/lines that promote social distancing, disinfecting high-touch areas more frequently, and more.
  • DON’T adopt generic messaging. Consumers have been saturated with somber, “We’re all in this together” messaging. Echoing this message now will be perceived by consumers as insincere, generic and gimmicky. Instead, communications must be specific, tactical and relatable.
  • DO adjust messaging to address the realities of your customers’ day-to-day lives. Implement solution-driven messaging delivering a tangible benefit for consumers. Messages such as “We’ll be here when you’re ready,” and “We know your budget is tight right now, so we’re…” are more likely to increase brand affinity.
  • DO generate offers that help customers financially or otherwise. National auto insurance leader State Farm was among the first insurers to return a $2 billion dividend to their auto insurance customers, a move that garnered positive reception.
  • DO implement more innovation in your business model. Disruptor brands like Hello Fresh, UberEats and Instacart have seen surges in demand as consumers rush to adapt to stay-at-home orders or coronavirus-related mandates with little advance notice. Consider the short- and long-term changes affecting your customers’ daily lives and how your brand can be of greater assistance.
  • DON’T advertise for advertising’s sake. If you are unable to position your brand to provide a solution, consider pausing for a moment until consumers are closer to this end of this period of uncertainty.

There is currently no end in sight to the ways COVID-19 will impact daily life. Consumer feelings and expectations will continue to evolve as they begin to adapt to a “new normal.” The best way for brands to achieve success is to continue listening and remain flexible and adapt to rapidly shifting customer needs and desires during changing times.

To learn more about how consumers are reacting to the new normal, follow the MDRG COVID-19 dashboard tracker or talk to our team of consumer insights experts.

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