My colleague Brendan McHenry, SVP, sales and strategy, at Healthline Media, made an interesting observation during our Ad Age live event on April 22: With all our Zoom-ing during the past year we’ve gotten an unfiltered look into our co-workers’ lives. We see each other’s kitchens, loved ones (furry and non) and the ordinary mess of our everyday. Brendan noted that this 360-degree view of our shared humanity was uncomfortable at first, but has produced the magnificent result of strengthening our bonds and infusing more authenticity and empathy into our working lives.
And he asked the question: As marketers, are we ready to look into consumers’ lives with the same degree of honesty?
The veil is off
Consumer research has always been an important input into marketing, but this moment feels different. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed truths about what matters most to us and how we adapt to change—collectively and individually—in ways that we did not expect. At this moment of vulnerability and change, it is imperative that marketers listen to their consumers with depth, rigor and openness to unexpected insights. And that means marketers will have to work within the complexity, volatility and competing narratives of today’s consumer.
Paradoxes and contradictions
At Healthline Media, we’re committed to understanding consumers’ complex journey to health and well-being. Recently, we conducted a research project that gave us unique insight into the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected consumers. We first fielded this study in February 2020 just before COVID-19 began to impact consumers’ attitudes and behaviors. A second wave, conducted in December 2020, allowed us to isolate the impact of the pandemic on consumer attitudes, health behaviors and barriers to well-being. Our final report, titled “In Health We Trust,” is a rich view into people’s perspectives on health and well-being; I encourage you to review it here.
Robust insights aside, what surprised me were new paradoxes we uncovered in people’s attitudes and viewpoints. More surprising was the way people are living with—and even taking pride in—the contradictions of their lives today. Here are some unexpected truths we discovered about how the pandemic affected consumers, and how marketers can respond with authenticity.
- People want to keep the agency over their health they found during COVID-19, for example through home remedies and digital tools, and their trust in doctors has grown significantly. Expect a more empowered, curious and engaged patient to return to the doctor’s office.
- People are focusing on healthy eating, exercising and other behaviors for a healthy future, but also want to live life in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest. Meet consumers where they are, and redefine “the good life” to include healthy behaviors and a healthy dose of joy.
- While the pandemic increased stress, anxiety and depression levels across the board, most people are also feeling really good about their resilience and strength through those hard months, and are proud for having “made it.” To connect with consumers authentically, tap into their pride and newfound self-awareness.
- The pandemic trained us to recognize and appreciate that small changes like breathing exercises or regular walks can mean a great deal. The impact of those small changes on well-being and happiness was significant. Recognize and appreciate that.
- In an ironic twist, our research revealed that relationships with family and friends are the main source of stress in most people’s lives, and also the top priority for the vast majority. There’s so much fertile fodder here for brand positioning.
Ultimately, what this reinforces is that we humans are wonderfully complex, and the impact of the pandemic has affected us in myriad ways.
Marketers, do you dare look in?
As a lifelong consumer-insights professional, I feel that this is a unique moment of transition—and even vulnerability—for the people I hear from in my research. Marketers who commit to deep consumer-insights work at this time have the unprecedented opportunity to forge new, authentic and holistic connections with consumers if we’re willing to take a deep, honest look at their lives in all dimensions.
Executing against these insights, however, will require marketers to (1) acknowledge the complexities that the past year has brought to consumers’ lives and mindset; (2) continue to learn through strategic, two-way collaboration with your insights, analytics and media partners; and (3) adopt a more dynamic marketing approach, with responsive marketing programs that adjust to the consumer’s ever-changing life in all its surprising dimensions.