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How COVID will change consumers and how brands can align with them

“The new normal”: a term I think we have all grown to hate. Hate is a harsh word, but from some of the reactions I have gotten in meetings in 2020, I would say it may be a fair label.

But the term exists for a reason. Our life, as we knew it, has turned on its head. And marketers and brands alike tried to talk to their clients about how the world will look post-COVID.

Now that we know COVID is here to stay a bit longer than we thought, it has bought us some time to collect enough data to get an overview of how consumer perceptions and behaviours have changed throughout this period.

COVID may be a thing of the past by the end of 2021 (vaccine dependent), but will consumers go back to their past lives? Let’s look at some of the data and give you an idea of what may transpire.

DATA for good.

If you have not watched “The Social Dilemma” yet, do yourself a favour and give it a viewing, but try not to take all the doom and gloom that comes with it. Social media and data can be exceptionally beneficial to us humans. If you have been drawn into the outrage - on social media - by a group of people who believe that “The Government is stealing all my data!” via the COVID tracking app; you are probably misinformed.

A trend has appeared, globally, where internet users appear willing to suspend their usual concerns with personal data to assist contact tracing software. Facebook was even experimenting with paying users for data, which in the long run can change our mindset and bring us closer to fair monetization of personal data. With enough transparency and education, data can be your ally in times like these and moving into the future.

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Exclusively excluded

Calling all influencers.. calling all influencers! It’s easy to hop on the bandwagon and bash celebrities and influences during times like these. There were even articles stating that, “Hollywood is dead”. The pandemic was new, we had some wild ideas.

Let’s be honest, it must be difficult for people to show off Gucci watches and BMW’s when thousands were losing their livelihoods at the same time. The virus does not discriminate. We are all equally affected in one way or another.

Initial data collected out of Italy and parts of Asia tells us that consumers will be less likely to want to stand out from the crowd, with a focus on solidarity within the collective.

Brands may want to focus on values that try to escalate their consumers above the pack. Emphasize practicality over exclusivity, where possible, over the coming months.

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Life in the slow lane

With the opportunity for a lot of us to work from home and with movement limited we tend to have immediate access to screens, pretty much all the time. One way we have filled this time is to stream and stream some more.

Ongoing COVID survey data, performed by GlobalWebIndex, did eventually show a drop in online media usage after the initial spike in a number of countries. This shows that consumers may be moving to a stage where they are trying to pursue offline pursuits. A large number of people in my personal network have found new passions in cooking and reading again, and have limited hours they are allowed to use their phones. COVID highlighted this dependency on screens for them, and more than likely to you as well.

Brands should consider how to engage and support consumers wanting to look away from screens. Good examples of this are Mcdonalds and Kraft Heinz with their branded jigsaw puzzles.

Reduced Horizons

International travel has ground to an absolute halt. Because of that we have somewhat been forced to focus on our immediate environment. From the bespoke COVID research conducted by GlobalWebIndex in the first few months of the pandemic, we noticed consumers have become more and more conscious of their countries’ performance and well-being during the crisis. Flags on balconies, from images on CNN and Sky News, became cliché and conversations about global lockdown comparisons became a hot topic when our beer had been taken from us.

Brands can tap into feelings of national pride and solidarity. For airlines (I’m looking at you, SAA) a focus on domestic travel isn’t only practical, but also a meaningful way of connecting consumers who have a personal stake in the recovery of their nation.

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We can all agree that COVID-19 has probably shaped society differently for the rest of our lives. Brands need to adjust quickly. While most small businesses were forced to adapt very quickly (have a look at the Shopify share price from January to now), larger, more “traditional” retailers and brands were not immune. With consumer insights readily available and becoming more accessible and affordable, change can be implemented swiftly, backed by the right data. The question is: “Can you afford not to change?”

By Ryan Brunyee