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COVID19: A New Normal for Consumer Behavior?

April 2020

By Claire Brooks, Los Angeles

“It took me a long time to go out and live in the world again”, remarks Katherine Porter in her 1918 Spanish ‘flu pandemic biopic, Pale Horse, Pale Rider.  Similarly, COVID19 impacts will likely be transformational for consumer behavior in many brand categories. In this GlobalCultureBlog® we attempt some predictions for the ‘new normal’.

Online Becomes ‘Safe-Space?’

Pandemic memories and Scientific advice to maintain social-distancing will change our comfort level with public places. Our post-COVID19 cognitive bias is to ask, ‘do I have to to do this in person?’, and the implications of this new consumer mindset will be wide-ranging and profound.

The trend to online retail will intensify, as will VR retail experiences, so physical stores will have to demonstrate a genuine reason for being. Grocery shopping will move online or to click and collect by car models, with redundant grocery stores becoming warehouses for online pickers (already happening in UK stores).

The resistance of medical and teaching professionals to online interactions will be swept away by consumer demand. Trial of telemedicine has doubled in the P3M and future intention is ramping up.  Students will look for shorter semesters at lower cost and more online learning.

Employees will be reluctant to return to workplaces and the trend to digital team working and company events intensifying. Robots will take over low-skilled jobs. These changes will have profound effects on the economy and on consumer behavior from where to eat lunch to what kind of car to buy - now that the daily commute is redundant.

Mental Wellbeing is the New ‘Healthy’

The World Economic Forum has predicted there will be a secondary mental health epidemic in 2020. There will be a spate of new mental health apps (like Calm which we reported on a year ago) and employer mental health programs attempting to stick a Band-Aid on the problem, but consumers are making an important shift to value mental and physical health equally. Expect a radical shift in consumer interest in the language and habits of mental well-being, offering innovation opportunities and requiring new communications approaches. Brands which can authentically position themselves in this new space will benefit.

Paradise Regained: Emotional Memories Inspire Eco Consumerism:

No smog in LA?  Mountain goats roaming city streets? The effects of reduced human activity on the natural world have created powerful emotional memories of ‘Paradise Regained’. Research shows that hope drives responsible consumption, so these emotional memories may nudge us to consume more responsibly in future, or, at minimum reinforce buyer decision-making which may transform supply chains – e.g. for electric vehicles, (local) food or away from previously aspirational long haul travel. We can dream that eco-activism may even become as mainstream in the US as it is in northern Europe!

Brand Meaning: the Civic Dimension

The economic pain of the crisis has starkly highlighted the vulnerability of low-paid or gig economy workers close to home, just as child labor scandals hit the reputation of clothing and footwear brands, forcing them to change operating practices. Similarly, fear of food shortages has made consumers more acutely aware of food insecurity at home and in poor countries.

In my book Marketing with Strategic Empathy® I suggest a new definition of brand positioning, placing Brand Meaning at the core: how do brands create distinctive emotional meaning by reflecting a compelling vision of the world for consumers? Increasingly, the way brands exercise civic responsibility, at home and abroad, will no longer be a separate CSR effort but a new and important dimension of this vision.

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