Despite the well-documented hiccups associated with distributing COVID-19 vaccines and getting them into peoples’ arms, it seems now only a matter of time before nations begin to gain the upper hand on the pandemic. New vaccine announcements certainly add to a sorely needed degree of hopeful confidence. This pandemic has certainly had a profound effect on the world psyche.
During the pandemic, marketers and branders switched to survival mode and desperately fought to keep their brands relevant, available, and selling. According to some estimates, 80% or more of us have been confined to our homes (with or without work) and have seen our lives transformed in ways we would not have thought possible just one year ago. Clearly, the pandemic has changed consumer behavior: A 2020 study shows that more than three-quarters of consumers shopped at stores—both physical and online—that were new to them, and more than half (54%) of consumers purchased brands that were new to them.
Now, many marketers and branders are starting to look to the future and wonder whether things will return to pre-COVID conditions, or whether, and if so to what extent, the pandemic has changed consumers’ brand behavior in lasting ways.
In what follows, we share what we see as the lasting trends in consumer behavior that will affect brand marketing going forward:
A Greater Emphasis on Health & Hygiene
Consumers are living through a crash-course on the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, as well as the risks associated with close contact with people outside of their daily “pod”. The lessons learned are not going to disappear in the short term. Pre-pandemic behaviors like doing what you want without thinking about it and “just-in-time” have changed to thinking first and “just-in-case”—not only for consumers but for brands, as well. Brands that take care to attend to extra hygiene to keep their customers safe and healthy will continue to appeal to consumers, as will marketing offers supporting the acquisition of extra brand supplies or services.
Acceleration of Digital Purchasing
A trend that pre-dates COVID has been put into overdrive by the pandemic, and the convenience of digitalization will continue unabated. Consumers have become comfortable buying online and picking up in/at stores to the point where we already have acronyms (BOPIS/BOPAS) for this new type of shopping. At Six Degrees, we see this trend continuing well past the pandemic, even in categories like groceries, where that type of shopping was in the single digits and struggling before the pandemic. It is now close to mainstream and likely to displace other nascent cashier-less concepts like the Amazon Go store.
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Flexibility & Adaptability
During the pandemic, brands that were flexible and continually adjusted their approach and support to customers and prospects survived. Consumers have, we believe, come to expect that from the brands to which they stay loyal. Specifically, brands that managed to provide their customers with what they wanted quickly and easily and communicated positively and supportively were appreciated. The pandemic threw everyone for a loop, and brands that could relate to consumers’ stresses were rewarded. This ability to carry on a dialog that extended beyond the business basics and demonstrated a shared appreciation for the uncharted waters we were all in, endeared themselves to their customers and prospects. For example, Levi’s helped motivate their customers with a daily live concert presented over the internet at 5:01 p.m., in homage to one of their sub-brands.
Having and Following an Ethos
There already was a pre-COVID trend, particularly among younger generations of consumers, to prefer brands that stand for and do more than whatever ostensible business they are in; brands that do the greater good with a secondary but real focus on humanistic, societal, or environmental purposes. After the deadly worldwide pandemic, we see the preference for responsible and connected caused-based brands continuing to grow over business-only brands. Integrity and authenticity will remain powerful elements for preferred brands as well.
Slowing Mobility & The Rise of 5G
The coronavirus stalled the apparent “shrinking” of our world by dramatically cutting physical travel and in-person interactions. Digital platforms picked up the slack, and by the time nation-states get the pandemic under substantial control, the rollout of 5G should be in full swing. As a result, brands will be able to stay in touch with customers over the internet like never before. With speeds 10x faster than 4G and with shorter latencies, the already growing move to mobile devices will accelerate as 5G comes online, giving video marketing a significant shot in the arm and finally realizing the promise of augmented reality (AR). Those brands that embrace this early will not only survive but flourish.