Nearing the new normal – consumer behaviour in the post-pandemic landscape

Kevin Doutzenberg, Account Manager

Great… another article on coronavirus and the marketing industry. We’ve read about the devastating figures on casualties, illnesses and economic downturns. At the same time, a few of us marketing junkies are trying to plough through great volumes of information on how the industry is going to develop once we reach this *sigh* new normal.

‘We’re all in this together’ was once nothing more than a High School Musical song that would get stuck in our heads (tell me I’m not the only one!). And yet here we were, in this together yet separated from one another for well over four months. On top of that, we had to get used to social distancing, video calls instead of visiting people, working from our spare bedroom, and going anywhere was nothing more than a pipe dream. The world has been flipped on its head and we’re all adapting for our own and our family’s physical and mental health and safety.

Now that restrictions have been loosened, what does this mean for our customers?

Catering for a shift in human behaviour

In direct response to the challenges of the pandemic, many brands fundamentally changed their business. LVMH produced facemasks, BrewDog produced hand sanitisers, Nando’s provided online cooking classes, and online therapy apps such as My Online Therapy are taking the nation by storm – all to cater to changes in human behaviour that will form ‘the new normal’.

In this ‘new normal’, experts cannot say with any certainty that health measures such as social distancing, space markers and face masks will disappear. This will unquestionably translate to a shift in consumer brand interaction. It may be hard to accept, but two decades after 9/11 the extensive airport checks that seemed extreme at the time are now the norm.

Here are three key subjects that brands need to consider in their communications and propositions.

1. Family first

Without going too deep into the theory, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a framework for today’s environment. Pre-pandemic, society could be described as more or less individualistic. Our conscious behaviour focused on prestige and how the outside world perceived us, which relates to the top two tiers in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Esteem and Self-actualisation. The reason we were able to focus on these ‘higher’ tiers more consciously is because our lower-tier needs – Physiological, Safety and Love/Belonging – were met, and therefore required less conscious attention.

When the first drastic changes took place mid-March, your first thoughts were probably along the lines of ‘I hope my new car will still be delivered’, ‘what does this mean for my promotion?’ and ‘this better not cancel Glasto because I need pics for Insta’. But an experience like this changes people.

“Health and family first. Work, career, success – all of that second.” – a Wuhan resident quoted in The New York Times after the restrictions were lifted. Remember the public criticism and scrutiny following the government’s update mid-May when the possibility of relaxing measures was first mentioned? It further emphasised this societal expectation of safety for one’s family, and shows that esteem-driven activities are no longer front of mind for many.

To accommodate this change of mindset, what opportunities are you providing that make your customer and their families feel safer, healthier, and therefore more valued?

2. Retaining positive impacts

We all know that some brands have taken some, shall we say, less positive actions than others. However, locally and globally, we’ve seen some extraordinary initiatives from brands and communities coming together to make big positive impacts.

To name just a few, Pret a Manger and Aviva’s support to NHS staff, online festivals like this year’s BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, and Barclays’ payment holidays on mortgages and loans – all were fantastic initiatives in their own way that the public will not soon forget. And there are so many more.

Some of the changes made by brands and businesses will be temporary, not easily fitting into new daily operations after the dust settles. Others are here to stay. Wherever we can, we should continue to adapt to a world that will be changing for the foreseeable future.

The great display of responsiveness and reflection that we’ve already seen, from big corporate CEOs to small business owners, hints that we could be moving towards a future in which we retain and build on these positive impacts for our customers, fans and audiences.

3. Your customers’ financial priorities

The world is going to take a financial hit as people have been critically ill, lost family members, been made redundant, or perhaps all of the above.

We need to be mindful that the socio-demographic implications will have a large knock-on effect and consumers won’t just be spending their pennies on me, myself and I. Unnecessary purchases will be put on hold for a while – but that doesn’t mean that they will completely fall by the wayside. What is unnecessary to some may be essential to others.

You know your customers and what they expect from your business. With their attention now trained on the base three layers of the pyramid, it’s up to you to find that tone and service that speaks to your audience by thinking about what physiological, safety or love/belonging needs your brand fulfils that make you worthy of receiving their hard-earned cash.

Perhaps you’ve created a new product that educates children about the importance of healthy eating and daily exercise. Maybe that new car does keep families safer than the current one. Or it could be that the look on a child’s face seeing Mickey Mouse for the very first time at Disney On Ice is that little bit of magic your audience needs now. Whatever it may be, there will always be opportunities to connect with your audience.

Growing together for the better

All these points are thought starters that can form the basis for a future in which we connect with our customers on new, deeper levels – whether that’s face-to-face like in the old days or through new digital experiences. If you want to find out more about what digital superpowers are and how to build these great experiences, my colleague Kirstin wrote an intriguing article here.

Wherever you stand in all of this, eventually we must step forward again toward growth. For us at krow.x, what matters is that brands can continue to make big positive impacts that help people grow – individually and collectively. If we can help in doing so, even better.

Where do you think your brand can go next? Get in touch to talk to us about it.