There is little doubt that COVID-19 is having an unprecedented effect on society and all of our lives.
As we progress through the stages of a global pandemic and embark into The New Normal, we’ve examined the emerging shifts in consumer behaviour that brands should be aware of.
With lockdown costing the UK economy £2.4bn a day, consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis.
Joe Staton at GFK reports: “Despite record grocery sales and recent peaks for purchases of freezers, TVs and home-office equipment as people prepared for long periods in the home, the major purchase index is down 50 points – a stark picture for some parts of the retail market.” With the property market frozen and milestone events such as weddings, baptisms and honeymoons cancelled due to lockdown legislation, there’s an effective cap on large expenditure, accompanied by an increasing number of people concerned about significant personal financial loss as a result.
We’re seeing a resurgence of ‘The Lipstick Effect’ witnessed in 2008, with consumers switching to smaller purchases that provide a feel-good hit in the wake of economic uncertainty. According to Sky News, wine sales in the UK have risen sharply and confectionery brands seem set to retain their ‘recession-proof’ status in the face of COVID-19. However our search for feel-good extends beyond alcohol and sugar as we look to navigate the challenges of isolation and uncertainty caused by lockdown.
“Though we may instinctively see self-isolation as an opportunity for abstinence, psychologists suggest that we’re predisposed to make indulgent purchases. People are hitting ‘add to cart’ on products that boost their self-esteem and conﬁrm their identity when others aren’t around to fulﬁl this need.”
Canvas8 Pandemic Culture Report, March 2020.
This sentiment is echoed by social-listening agency Discover.ai, whose research has uncovered that people are seeking ways to fill life with fun, joyful experiences and are cherishing small, precious moments to help them cope with stressful situations. UK CBD brand Paso are doing just that, using their daily emailers to give consumers ‘a daily dose of fun’, rounding up light-hearted content to bring a smile to faces rather than focusing on direct sales messages.
So with milestone purchases off the cards for the foreseeable future, micro-moments of simple and affordable pleasure seem set to take their place.
Crisis reveals character. Amongst the turmoil of COVID-19, there has been ample opportunity for brands and businesses to step up and do their bit, showing that ‘brand purpose’ can be more than just marketing fluff and that brands must practice what they preach.
Combine this with the positive transformation of the environment we’re seeing through reduced human transportation, and there’s a stronger belief that genuine commitment to wholesale change is needed to really make a difference.
All eyes will be on how brands behave and back up their claims, with particular scrutiny on their own business practices. Global beauty retail giants Sephora have recently hit the headlines for publicly vowing to protect their employees in line with their community-centric values, then unceremoniously laying off a proportion of their US workforce via a one-way conference call a week later.
Conversely, Dyson have been widely applauded for switching their manufacturing capability over to ventilators, supporting the NHS and protecting jobs in one move. Similarly, Burberry and Barbour have switched their production to Personal Protective Equipment to help fulfil the NHS shortfall. EE are giving unlimited data to all NHS staff under the headline ‘We’re Here to Serve You’, and while this might be a simple gesture it serves as a great example for other brands on how to take purposeful action with a genuine and appropriate tone.
According to trend-forecasters Canvas8, it’s a case of survival of the flexible and ‘business leaders should look at their people, infrastructure, product and marketing with fresh eyes, and put them to work in innovative and unconventional ways.’ As we transition into The New Normal, brands and businesses who can adapt and support in tangible and relevant ways are likely to emerge stronger than those who do not.
In densely populated cities it’s common to be constantly surrounded by people but not know your neighbours. Likewise in the densely populated online world we’re supposed to have more ways than ever to connect, yet report feeling our most disconnected. As we enter an extended period of enforced isolation due to lockdown, we’re witnessing a shift in what it means to be connected and seeing attitudes towards community evolve.
Over 750,000 people signed up to the NHS Volunteer Responder initiative within 48 hours, offering their time and support to neighbours in need. Although supply appears to be outstripping demand in this instance, the sign-up rate indicates the importance of community is writ large in the public consciousness.
We are also increasingly using our spending power with community in mind. According to Canvas8’s Pandemic Culture Report ‘modern consumers, thanks to globalisation, gig workers, and a ﬁne-tuned delivery infrastructure, have developed exacting expectations for being able to access whatever they want, whenever they want it.’ However, in a time where grocery delivery slots are highly prized items and Amazon Prime is no longer next-day, we’re rallying to support our local economies and finding inventive ways to keep our communities afloat.
James Thompson, a farmer in Wye, has hit headlines for giving away his wheat crops to be turned into flour, whilst Bristol’s 404 (Not Found) Shop has been created to deliver local produce to Bristol residents, allowing them to support community favourites in responsible ways amidst social distancing restrictions.
On a national scale, brewers have led the way with community engagement. While its bricks-and-mortar pubs might be closed, BrewDog have opened more than 100 online locals, giving people the chance to enjoy a beer together. Of the initiative, BrewDog co-founder James Watt said:
“Community has always been at the absolute core of what we do. And the role that community and great beer play in our society is now more important than ever.”
Camden Town Brewery has followed suit, hosting weekly pub quizzes via Instagram live to raise money for Hospitality Action.
So as community looms large in consumer consciousness, there’s no better time for brands to check in with their own consumer communities, facilitating conversations and forging important connections that will last long into The New Normal.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak wellness had reached new peaks. The category has seen exponential growth over the past few years as people increasingly seek ways to not only look better but to feel better, restoring a sense of calm in their busy lives.
In late 2019, it was forecast that the number of people looking for anti-anxiety products such as CBD, anti-anxiety bracelets and weighted blankets would grow by 24% in the next 12 months (Spate/Google search data). However this number is likely to increase further as we’re faced with mass uncertainty, rolling news cycles, isolation and a lack of control over our daily lives - all of which are known anxiety triggers. In response to this mounting anxiety, many are looking for ways to take back control, focusing on building the mental and physical resilience needed to emerge into The New Normal with renewed strength and optimism.
Health and wellness brands are reacting quickly, finding relevant ways to support resilience-building. In response to COVID-19, meditation app Headspace have released a series of free guided meditations called ‘Weathering the Storm’ designed to help individuals find space and kindness for themselves and others whilst in lockdown.
London-based sportswear brand LNDR has turned their Instagram page over to at-home workouts, dietary advice and support in building healthy daily routines, all intended to help people feel healthier, more optimistic and more resilient according to their Founding Director Joanna Turner.
Indeed the link between physical and mental health in helping to build resilience has never seen such importance, with Joe Wicks’ daily YouTube workouts pulling in over two million viewers a day and UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirming that ‘[the UK Government] have included exercise as one of the things that you can leave your house to do because exercise is good for our physical and our mental health’.
So as our quest for calm evolves into a mission to build resilience, brands who can support consumers in building and bolstering themselves will be the ones who emerge into The New Normal as beacons of brightness.
REINFORCE AND BUILD RITUALS
In the face of uncertainty, nothing is as reassuring as routine or more treasured than a ritual. Established brands should remind consumers of the latent rituals associated with their brand and products to build feel-good familiarity and offer reassurance. New entrants and innovators should seek ways to help consumers build new, simple everyday rituals that promote positivity and optimism.
BE SIMPLE AND DELIBERATE
As we learnt from Boris Johnson’s initial address to the UK, now is not the time to be open-ended, vague or complex. Brands that make deliberate actions, communicate succinctly and promote simple pleasures will be most reassuring in a world dominated by uncertainty. Take care not to contribute to information overload and if in doubt, say less.
ACT NOW, THINK NEXT
Take a leaf out of the Daniel Kahneman classic by ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. There is little doubt that a brand’s actions now will shape its future, so make sure you’re leaving a meaningful mark on the world rather than the stain of short-term profiteering. Whilst a crisis-response might be needed in the here and now, brands who integrate pandemic learnings into their long-term purpose will retain hearts and minds.
Crisis can very quickly reveal our weaknesses, but it can also highlight our strengths. Use unprecedented times positively by reviewing your brand’s own strengths and weaknesses. Take stock, refocus and project forward with positivity, just as your consumers are doing.