5 consumer trends that will endure after Covid-19, and what they mean for marketers
The coronavirus pandemic has yet to even peak in the U.S., yet many consumers have already changed their behavior in ways that will have lasting implications for brands. Typically, it takes about 66 days for someone to acquire a new habit and continue doing it when not coerced, according to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London.
With the changes, there is both danger and opportunity for marketers.
“When there are serious changes in lifestyle and life circumstances, there is a fairly dramatic change in preference for brands that consumers use, and their perceptions about those brands,” says Peter Noel Murray, who runs his own consumer psychology practice in New York. As the crisis continues, many brands are accelerating their good deed initiatives—but experts say consumers will also expect such actions to continue long after coronavirus.
“Now is the time for brand action, [it’s] not about words,” says Marsden. As they plan for the future, brands might do well to consider the following trends, which experts expect to outlive COVID-19.
Time-tested brands will shine
As consumers change to adopt new behaviors and habits, they’re sticking by the brands they’ve long trusted to get them through and beyond the crisis. The change from “novel and trendy” to “tried and true” was outlined on a recent call by Evercore research analysts, who said it will be difficult for new brands to launch in this environment.
“We’re not open to new things—we go from a gain mentality to a maintain mentality, which is important for a lot of the brands to realize,” says Simon Moore, CEO of Innovation Bubble, a behavioral science company. “Brands that think, ‘I’ll start marketing a new product or a new service’—that’s not going to work.” He says brands should use this time to do their homework around their user experience and remove irritants and other stresses that might turn off already anxious customers.
Unlike established companies, new brands have also not had the opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional basis and build a foundation for navigating this time of uncertainty.
“The older brands that have been around a long time and have the benefit of traditional print and TV advertising have built the emotional brand equity up over generations, and they have an advantage,” says Murray.
DIY gains ground
Consumers are using their time at home to learn new skills, like baking, cooking and sewing, and those abilities are not expected to disappear when the virus does. Yeast purchases are skyrocketing as people turn to baking bread as a way to feed their families and reduce anxiety through the therapeutic act of kneading. Many shoppers across the country report depleted baking aisle shelves, though the section is not quite as empty as the toilet paper aisle. Nielsen found that sales of yeast were up nearly 650 percent for the week ended March 21 compared with the year-earlier period.
Popular cooking and e-commerce site Food52 says its site traffic in recent weeks—up 36 percent for the last two weeks of March compared to the first half of the month—has been on par with the week leading up to Thanksgiving, the company’s biggest week of the year. Early on in the pandemic, Food52 pivoted to more content and recipes to support its now home-based community, according to a spokeswoman. Unsurprisingly, one of the site’s leading articles is around the yeast shortage and contains tips on making sourdough starters from scratch. U.S. dollar sales of small home appliances, like electric pasta makers and juicers, rose 8 percent for the week ending March 14, compared with the year-earlier period, according to research firm NPD Group.
“You’re seeing more people being more self- reliant,” says Marsden.
With the closure of beauty salons, consumers are also getting used to doing their own hair. Nielsen reported an uptick near 20 percent in sales of hair color kits for the week ended March 21; direct-to-consumer brand Madison Reed says it has seen a rise in demand as customers do their own hair dyeing. Traffic to the brand’s site has quadrupled in recent weeks, and the company is ramping up its customer service lines and online tutorials as a result, says Mary O’Connell, VP of communications and content.
Comfort with digital offerings
As media and research companies adjust from live events to virtual ones, so are consumers adjusting to digitizing their behavior. Some demographics, like older consumers, may have been previously uncomfortable with buying groceries or other goods online, but the coronavirus has forced them to get comfortable. Once they fall into the new routine, and get used to the ease of delivery at their door, such shoppers may be hard-pressed to return to brick-and-mortar, experts say.
Nearly 40 percent of current online grocery shoppers made a first online grocery purchase in March, according to a study by SmartCommerce, an ecommerce platform for consumer packaged- goods brands.
“People are forced to do new things and that’s going to accelerate the digital transformation,” says Marsden.
In addition, more doctors and other medical providers have been offering camera sessions online as a way to see their patients who have non-emergency situations. Experts expect such virtual telemedicine to continue as a trend. In addition, consumers are also turning to digital banking to manage their finances when they can’t visit a bank branch. While many banks still maintain a robust brick-and-mortar presence, that could change as they view such real estate as redundant and obsolete, Marsden says.
Flexible work arrangements
Many expect the current situation of so many Americans working from their homes will lead to a dramatic shift into more flexible work arrangements as employers realize it’s not necessary to have everyone in an office to get things done.
Some office workers may continue the move toward more remote offices. Employers “might benefit because employees are spending less time to travel and have more time to work—they’ll be less stressed,” says Moore. Workers will also have more control to manage their roles as parents and caregivers if they’re able to work from home. In a recent poll of 500 adults, between 40 and 50 percent of respondents said they will go back to their previous routines, including work, school, recreation and entertainment, according to an AcuPOLL survey commissioned by Cincinnati seed stage investor CincyTech.
At the same time, the pace of doing business has already changed drastically, according to several marketing executives. Calls are replacing meetings in some cases, and many have deadlines to avoid unnecessary time wasting. Marketers and their agencies are learning to be more nimble and quick in decision-making.
“People are stripping out all the non-essentials and learning that you can move quickly—there’s no massive repercussions of not having 32 governance meetings and 50,000 emails,” says Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and PR officer at Ally Financial. “You can make decisions on the spot and go because everyone’s doing these things out of necessity.”
Safety wins over privacy
While consumers have grown more protective of their privacy and personal data in recent years, experts say that is changing during the current crisis. Many are deferring to the government and those in leadership positions to keep them safe, even if it means giving up on their own privacy in the process.
“This has serious implications from an advertising perspective,” says Marsden, noting how tech giants such as Facebook and Google have been painted in a negative light previously as companies that will steal personal data and information and use it against consumers. “They’re perceived as being the bad boys, but now if this lingers on, we may move toward more of a surveillance state,” Marsden adds. “People are willing to trade our freedoms for safety.”
Contributing: Jack Neff
Correction: CincyTech is a seed stage investor. This fact was misstated in an earlier version of this article.