Recovery planning: The changing consumer amid COVID-19 and into the future

How consumers shop is evolving.  Excess demand for products means consumers have no choice but to order from anywhere that has stock – throwing loyalty out of the window. And to reach an at home consumer, businesses are having to think creatively to find new ways to use technology to solve life’s problems.

Both of these scenarios may mean that consumers prefer these alternatives and not return. We have witnessed these behavioural changes in the past:

In 2014 when London Underground was shut for 2 days, commuters had to find other options to get to work, however thousands never returned to taking the tube, having found alternatives that were cheaper, faster or more comfortable.

A recent report by New Market Advisor’s described that there were 6 factors that lead to lasting behaviour change.  In our opinion these are great guiding principles for marketers to understand how these changes may impact their business and their marketing efforts today and into the future

  1. Core Motivations change

Let’s take Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into consideration. When in a crisis the prioritisation of these needs change in the short term – but they soon fall back into their original place – as soon as we accomplish the new ways of achieving each stage, we move to the next .

At the beginning of any crisis as humans we go back to basics – we ask ourselves how we can meet our basic needs – we re-evaluate and re-discover how we feed ourselves and keep ourselves safe. As consumers we suddenly place less importance on self-esteem and self-actualisation – this is a short term reaction. Basic needs of food and safety take priority and we can see that during coronavirus with shortages of supply in food and essential goods.

As time passes we move through the pyramid as we figure out the new ways in which to satisfy our needs. Those brands that satisfied the old ways of doing things may not be relevant or available anymore – as consumers we have to go back to the drawing board. For example – Safety – our new need to purchase protective equipment, purchase hand sanitisers and keep grandparents safe from our children are all new ways of living. Love and belonging – our new need to connect with friends and families virtually to make up for lost face to face meetings. These are all ways in which our motivations have changed that has led to an adaptation in how and what we consume.

  1. New approaches are appealing

We start discovering new ways of doing things. New technologies are used to accomplish previous tasks, new shops discovered on our hunt for supply of goods to meet our needs. Consumers start experimenting when they wouldn’t usually and many may find these new ways outperform the old and never go back.

  1. Inertia Ends

Inertia – the resistance to change, to continue doing the same thing just because that’s what we have always done before. Self-isolation is a great inertia breaker. For example – an elderly couple who used to visit their local shops to do a daily shop have now been forced online to complete a weekly shop. Or alternatively the local shops changing the way they do business and bringing their products to the doorstep of the consumer through community apps and schemes. Changing these habits may mean they never go back to normal.

  1. Only for it to resume afterwards

As we said changing behaviours become new habits and we may then be reluctant to return to the old ways. New brands discovered may lead to old brands forgotten.

  1. Critical mass is achieved

Behavioural changes will remain if there is a critical mass making the shift. Meet-ups that used to happen face to face may find they connect with more people online and continue with their weekly hangouts or zoom calls. Netflix parties that allow consumers to watch programs together may mean this is a new way to Netflix. Netflix and party has a good ring to it!

  1. Infrastructure locks in change

Turning the spare room into a home office or a gym means we now have the equipment to perform our tasks at home. The explosion of online technology to service global connection on any level means that we spend more of our time gathering online for work or pleasure. The availability of this infrastructure to allow us to continue with the changed behaviour often leads to this behaviour sticking.

These changes are not fundamental, the hierarchy of needs remains the same in the long run. The changes are little shifts in the way we do things – but together they make a difference to the consumer. They give the consumer more choice in the ways they can fulfil their needs. They will however make a difference to a brand that is not aware of these shifts, that doesn’t keep moving forward with technological adaptions, that doesn’t keep engaging with the once loyal customer forced to shop elsewhere and that doesn’t keep an eye on the innovative brands that are agile enough to adapt their product offer to meet new needs.

As a brand today as you navigate the crisis in the short term and look forward to the long, a solid strategic plan is essential.

This piece is taken from COVID-19: Marketer’s Survival Guide. Part Two  – Download the full guide now.

Meet the author

Komal Helyer

VP Marketing

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