The events of 2020 have shown that trying to predict trends can be very tricky – at the start of this year, the coronavirus was still (in most people’s minds) a localised health problem in one city in China.
Four months later, and the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. Billions of people are living under lockdown, and the way of life we considered normal may have changed forever.
As politicians, doctors and business leaders start planning for life after lockdown (which will eventually happen, however far off it may seem at present), trend analysts are starting to ask new questions.
How is consumer behaviour changing? And how will marketeers need to respond? The first data is starting to emerge on life under lockdown, and it’s showing some fascinating developments.
The importance of health and home
Research has shown that – understandably – people’s main concerns at present are focused on health and financial matters. In both instances, there are two levels of this: people are worried about their own health and their families and friends, and about the global spread of COVID-19. When it comes to money, people are worried about salary cuts and retrenchments, and about the state of the economy.
Because of lockdown, huge numbers of people (from learners to professionals) are spending much more time at home. These two factors – new and potentially overwhelming worries, and a renewed focus on home – are driving changes in consumer behaviour.
What we do when we’re stuck inside
Now that people can’t go out, working from (and being entertained at) home are priorities. This means that people are spending much more time online, and consuming far more content. This is either “lean forward” content (work Zoom calls and coronavirus updates) or “lean back” content (streaming series, family Zoom calls and online gaming).
There is also more content being created, as people look to find new ways to express themselves remotely.
Even though in some countries only “essential” goods may be purchased, online shopping has grown still further in popularity. Contactless deliveries are seen as much safer alternatives to standing in queues in stores.
With restaurants closed, cooking is seeing a resurgence. No cinemas means more streaming. And without the constant distraction of new purchases, people are (re)discovering yoga, arts and crafts, virtual dating and other forms of safe, home-based entertainment.
While spending in some categories (especially food, household and personal care products) has increased, many people have reined in their discretionary spending due to fears about their personal finances. Clothing sales in particular have collapsed.
The post-corona consumer
If these trends endure, then we will be marketing to consumers with a different set of priorities. That is, consumers who are much more risk-averse, and who see home as a safe place and the outside world as more menacing.
We’ll be talking to people who go out less, shop online more, and who are more careful with their money. People who prioritise health and safety over almost any other consideration. At the same time, consumers have a stronger sense of community, newfound respect for healthcare and essential services and a greater level of trust for governments over private enterprise (for example, 61% of South Africans believe that the government will deal with the pandemic, compared to a 52% confidence rating in private industries).
Marketing after COVID-19
Of course, there may be no such thing as a post-corona world. This virus is likely to be with us for months if not years before effective vaccines and treatments are available. Like all crises, this new normal will be both a challenge and an opportunity for marketeers.
It’s likely that people will respond most positively to empathy: brand messages that acknowledge the difficulties that they are facing, and that offer practical help (from discounts to click and collect services).
Showing that you care will be vital – but it must be sincere. Consumers are likely to be very unforgiving of companies who are perceived to be profiteering, or who don’t appear to prioritise the safety of their customers and employees.
To be effective and positively received, marketing messages will need to be helpful, understanding and cautiously optimistic. Post-corona, people are likely to be less interested in luxury goods, celebrities and travel, and more interested in marketing that taps into their feelings about home, family and togetherness.