We’re in the midst of a crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
The accelerated spreading of COVID-19 has caused many economies across the globe to rapidly slow down and is leaving lingering effects on consumer behaviour. Ones that we’re just beginning to see in China.
A return to ‘normalcy’ won’t be quick and may never happen.
Behind all the negativity and pessimism there’s some interesting research being carried out into shifting consumer behaviour.
One of the best comes from Canva8 and their deep dive into Pandemic Culture.
Throughout history, pandemics have shown a tendency to follow a 5-stage structure:
- The New Normal
As a business owner, it’s important to be able to identify what stage your consumers are in, and how you can adjust your messaging accordingly.
Stage 1: Denial
This is the earliest stage of things when the pandemic’s nothing more than a quiet whisper.
Maybe you’ve seen a few articles getting shared on social media, or one of your friends brought it up over dinner, but nobody really knows what’s going on, not for sure, and there’s widespread public disbelief because of it.
It’s important to be on the lookout for these rumblings.
The earlier you start planning, the easier things will be for you and your business once the pandemic progresses into its later stages.
Pay close attention to what the experts are saying, and begin to think of the long-term economic ramifications of the pandemic.
Businesses with a solid plan and a marketing strategy in place are far more likely to survive (or even thrive) once the economic structures begin to disintegrate.
Another key thing that you can be doing at this stage is to start reaching out and networking with other business owners.
Doing so will begin to create a mutually advantageous group of supporters and potential opportunities that will far outlast any pandemic.
Think of this more as a lifelong investment than pandemic response.
This stage is the perfect opportunity to stretch your concept of what’s possible for your business.
Use this ongoing pandemic as a chance to really get to know your consumers and their needs, and begin working towards ways of meeting them.
Stage 2: Anxiety
By nature, people are worrisome creatures.
Once the pandemic becomes an unavoidable part of their lives, anxiety will begin to set in.
Because it’s impossible to outright avoid this feeling of anxiety, it’s critical to quickly accept the reality of it and try and comfort your consumers during their time of duress.
According to a study done by marketingdive.com:
43% of Americans found it reassuring when brands that they trusted reached out to them in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Just 8% of consumers think brands should stop advertising due to the coronavirus outbreak
During this stage, people seek structure and security more than anything else, and will inevitably feel overwhelmed by the ever-changing world around them.
As a business, it’s important to remain simple and clear with your messaging.
Most of all, remain consistent.
If you do, your consumers will begin to subconsciously look towards your business as a social anchor for their pandemic-related anxieties.
Be a voice of reason throughout these troubling times, helping your consumers in any way you can.
Stage 3: Adjustment
After people begin to get over their anxieties related to the ongoing pandemic, they’ll start adjusting their behaviours and consumption patterns to suit their new situation.
As a business, it’s imperative that you adjust with the times and be flexible instead of fighting to keep things as they once were. It’s also important to be mindful of the uneven distribution of financial strain from this crisis.
Each demographic will be affected in a different way and knowing that, will help you construct a value-based, mutually beneficial marketing plan.
This is the perfect opportunity to break free from the traditional rules of marketing and dare to rethink what’s possible.
- Leverage the internet to interact with consumers in new and exciting ways.
- Your focus should shift to helping as many as people as you can during these troubling times.
- Encourage positivity through your branding.
Throughout all of the adjustments that you’ll inevitably be making, keep your brand’s long-term health in the back of your mind.
Don’t make the mistake of trading long-term growth and sustainability for the short-term profits.
Always think and plan ahead.
Stage 4: Reevaluation
Once people begin to feel changes, they’ll reevaluate their choices moving forward.
You should do the same with your business.
Take this time to audit and make plans for the future.
What works? What doesn’t?
Stay agile and stretch your concept of what’s possible. Brands will come out of the crisis changed in unexpected ways.
Make note of which changes triggered a positive change and which ones hurt you, then use this information to plan for the future. Going forward, you should constantly be testing and evaluating.
After you’ve audited your own business, look at others and see what they’re doing.
Look at the things that people are responding well towards, what they’re finding helpful, and begin to adapt your own strategy accordingly.
Start asking yourself what the barriers to consumption are for potential consumers, and then work towards removing them.
Think creatively about different ways you can stimulate demand for your products and services.
Ask yourself the following questions and think long and hard about the answers.
- What can I offer?
- What do people really need?
- How can I adapt to the New Normal?
Companies will need to get back to basics.
They’ll need to reassess what they do and why they do it. That transparency and passion should be visible to all.
See my article on small business and semantic search for more actionable suggestions.
Another thing to consider at this point of a pandemic is the re-purposing of your assets. Don’t be afraid to explore new opportunities and to think laterally.
Necessity is often the biggest catalyst of great invention.
Stage 5: A New Normal Emerges
In this stage, the pandemic has largely passed and subsided.
The worst is behind us, but things aren’t the way that they used to be.
A new normal has emerged, and some of the things we’ve grown accustomed to over the years may be no more.
According to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice, it only takes around 66 days to build a habit. With over 1/5 of the world in extensive lockdown, it’s only logical to assume that people will come out of their homes with widely different habits.
The long-term ramifications of COVID-19 will likely influence the next decade or longer of our personal and professional lives.
These changes could take many forms, and no-one knows what they’ll be.
Early research from China is suggesting 82% of people plan to resume their spending in restaurants once the outbreak is over, and 78% will resume their cancelled spending on travel. A further 77% said they’ll resume their out-of-home spending on entertainment.
This is great news for two of the hardest-hit sectors (hospitality and travel), however, consumer spending and social shifts will affect many other industries in less predictable ways.
In the same study, only 8% of people said they will buy less frequently from online shops once the pandemic ends. Considering how much spending has shifted online, this is a huge change.
While these are just a few examples, almost every industry will change in some way.
With over 20% of the world’s population under lockdown, most of our lives moved online.
This has only been sustainable because of the massive digital infrastructures that we’ve been building over the past two decades.
Widely accessible broadband access is now being described as a human right, and COVID-19 is punctuating that. Consumers, companies, and even countries that failed to digitise will struggle to adapt to the modern world and fall victim to the changing times because of it.
Firms and companies that have put an increased priority on digitalisation will benefit from this change in reality (think e-commerce businesses, on-demand service, remote enterprises and the like) while others, namely brick and mortar stores and events companies, will be left vulnerable.
Among the many questions, business owners will be asking themselves over the coming weeks and months will be
- Which digital behaviours will sustain?
- How have digital expectations changed?
- How do we deliver value online-only?
- How can we adapt and provide value in the New Normal?