If like me, you went through the pain of empty supermarket shelves and having to buy brands you wouldn’t normally, you probably also questioned what might become of brands who aren’t as readily available anymore, or shops, who cannot open and have no online presence.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed our shopping habits, and it is entirely possible that once this pandemic subsides, new shopping habits and brand preferences will stick. Behavioural science teaches us that new habits are formed after approximately 60 days, however, there’s a lot of truth in the saying ‘old habits die hard’. The fate of brands, therefore, will inevitably depend on product availability, shopping ability, retail access and crises duration. Another contributing fact of course will be consumer spending power, as those who now have a reduced income, are forced to re-evaluate priorities when it comes to shopping.
To help navigate these unprecedented times, we’re here to provide brands a roadmap to help you better understand the behavioural changes of your consumers due to COVID-19 and understand what you should be doing now, to help your brand emerge from the pandemic successfully.
I found Steven Taylor’s book “The Psychology of Pandemics”, fascinating, (prophetically published only last year!), which provides great insight into how pandemics effect human behaviour The book quotes Shultz et al, 2008, who said that in the next pandemic “the psychological footprint will likely be larger than the medical footprint”. The book refers to these as “pandemic-related stressors” and reminds us of the many emotions and concerns people are facing now, including, worry, loneliness and confusion.
Keeping up to date with consumers moods and habits during and post-pandemic is absolutely essential for brands. Combining these insights with an understanding of the known psychological effects of pandemics provides a great blueprint for what brands should be doing moving forward.
Naturally, supply chain issues must be addressed to ensure products are readily available, but beyond that, brands should have consumer sentiment top of mind, and ensure they are taking 5 key steps now to aid success, post pandemic. I call these steps the BRICK code – Building, Reassuring, Innovating, Communicating, and demonstrating Kindness.
Now is the perfect time to be building a clear marketing plan focused on strengthening brand perceptions. Using knowledge and consumer research to understand shopper moods will pay significant dividends in this endeavour, providing guidance re the brand’s optimal areas of focus.
During this period of uncertainty, people need reassurance. Safety and sanitisation are obvious areas of focus, but don’t forget other news, like stock availability, delivery, ingredients and employee retention. Shoppers are likely to feel more comforted by the brands they grew up with and be more averse to the risks involved in trying new things or using products which may be perceived as less effective. If you’re a big brand, use this to your advantage and ensure marketing materials, content, packaging etc. focus on reassurance and remind shoppers why they love your brand. Consider activating feelings of ‘nostalgia’, one of DRIVERS OF INFLUENCE. If you’re a small brand, focus on creating a distinctive message on reassurance. Remember that many people are, and will continue to be financially stretched, paying even closer attention to price when it comes to decision making, so value for money must be well demonstrated.
In the face of growing competition pre-pandemic, brands have been focused on innovation. Now is the perfect time to ramp up these efforts. When thinking about new products, and improving current propositions, consider habits that have been formed during the pandemic and the way in which consumer behaviour and value sets are likely to change afterwards.
Speak to your consumers, e.g. through adverts and dialogue, both on social media and via more direct modes, like e-mail. Currently, consumers are inundated with rapid fire, generic and repetitive correspondence, so ensure yours is distinctive and relevant. Impact may be achieved by joining forces with a relevant retailer to address shopper concerns and remind them of your brand. There is also opportunity to communicate both via eCommerce and in-store via packaging and POSM.
For example, during a qualitative study I recently conducted, a respondent described an email received from a popular pharmacy in the UK, which discussed how to remove eyelashes, acrylic nails and take care of hair. This may seem trivial, but to her and others, it was a highly relevant piece of communication, as these were things that many women were concerned about in the early days of the pandemic when salons were forced to shut down.
Though Taylor warns that civil unrest can occur in pandemic situations, and that has proven to be true in some areas of the world, he also reminds us that prosocial acts are common. At PRS IN VIVO, our behavioural framework identifies ‘reciprocity’ as a key DRIVER OF INFLUENCE and teaches us that consumers can be influenced to ‘give back’ when they feel that something has been done for them or others. During this period, I’ve seen impressive acts of generosity from companies since the outbreak and this kindness can be leveraged to help brands. Financial donations are naturally important, but the impact of kind acts can be increased, by making it brand relevant, raising consumer awareness and demonstrating its positive impact. This encourages positive dialogue and your brand is likely to be remembered for these acts well into the future. For example:
- Unilever and P&G (and others) have adapted manufacturing lines to produce much needed hand sanitiser for healthcare organisations
- Armani adapted their factory to sew medical wear
- A number of brands found ways to keep people entertained at home (e.g. Brewdog created virtual drinking sessions and Adidas offered free home workouts)
As we look ahead to returning to a level of normality, let’s remember that as marketers, brand managers and insights professionals, this is an exciting time for us. Exploring consumer behaviour is fascinating and we have an opportunity to make a difference.
Use the tips above to help your brand emerge from this period successfully.
At PRS IN VIVO, we have been working with clients, utilising social listening and immersive mobile ethnography to gain a deep understanding of shopper sentiment and behaviour during COVID-19. To learn more about keeping your brand relevant during this time and gaining a deep understanding of how the pandemic has affected your consumers, contact us at email@example.com.
Yasmin Ramikie is a Qualitative Director at PRS IN VIVO specialising in international behavioural shopper insights for a wide range of clients. She’s passionate about understanding people and likes nothing more than using her empathetic nature to get up close and personal with shoppers.