The mid-to-long-term impact of COVID-19 lockdown
Within the space of three months, COVID-19 has undeniably changed the world, with unprecedented global disruption to markets, economies and personal freedoms. The question of whether these changes are merely temporary, with the new normal looking distinctly like the old normal, or permanent, with changes to consumer behaviour enduring and prevailing post-pandemic, remains unanswered.
What is certain is that we have seen a myriad of new trends and behaviours throughout COVID-19, mostly forced by adaptation to life under lockdown. Whereas clickbait headlines could lead us to believe that we will be stepping back into an extremely different world, we expect many of the lockdown-centric behaviours to wane. With that in mind, and in assessing the public response to the gradual easing of lockdown, we have been mindful not to overestimate projected change.
On assessing behaviours and mindsets over the past three months and holding back for some signals of stability, this document highlights six emerging trends and behaviours that we believe have the most potential to endure over the course of the next 6-18 months. It’s these trends that brands should be exploring to understand their potential impact and implications on business, brand, product offering and communications.
Rethinking human needs after lockdown
We’ve used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a base. Factors that endure will alter our fundamental needs and outlook on life. Will COVID-19 make us reconsider what is essential to a safe and secure everyday life? Will lockdown change the way we connect with friends and family? Will it give us new perspectives on what we need to truly be happy? We’ve analysed a range of current sources and looked at historic precedents to guide us towards trends that we feel will truly shift behaviours over the longer term.
Below, we summarise what new consumer needs may emerge and the potential changes to communications behaviours, media strategy and the path-to-purchase that brands may need to implement to meet these needs and take advantage of their altered form.
In lockdown, what’s deemed essential has been both prescribed and defined by the government, with regulations imposing physical limitations that have severed connections between certain brands, products and consumers. This has forced abstinence, trial of new products and encouraged a personal assessment of what is held as essential to each individual – perhaps it’s craving a weekly Big Mac or a realisation that own-brand will be just fine.
A prolonged period of forced abstinence or trial could inspire a reorganisation of purchase priorities as we emerge from lockdown. Even with a looming recession, the lockdown effect could spur a reappraisal of what is essential to our everyday lives, shaking up traditional discretionary/non-discretionary categorisation.
Implications on communications behaviour
Assert your product or service as holding a clear value in people’s lives
Create an opportunity for previously ‘discretionary’ categories and products to reposition as essentials. Consider placing your product around routines or tying consumption to a day of week.
Infiltrate lives through a frequent and familiar presence
Increased visibility and presence will help weave your product/service into the fabric of the consumers’ everyday lives. Prioritise regular, lightweight touchpoints to build familiarity or larger, more infrequent campaigns which resonate and allow you to dominate category/share of mind.
Identify and lean on the new heroes of your portfolio
Revaluate the strength of your product portfolio. Are there any under-appreciated brands that could be viewed as essentials post-COVID? Products which provide value may displace those with more premium signals.
In a stark reversal of a trend which has developed in years past, support for government intervention has been universal. With mandated movement, mass limitation of freedom and social interaction, Brits have understood the importance of stability in uncertain times. Recognition for our services (NHS and police) has been propelled to the forefront of our mindsets and societal bonds have been strengthened.
This societal context has led us to seek reassurance through leadership and expertise, symbolising a diversion from the rise of individualism that has gained traction over the past decade.
With an increasingly uncertain outlook, looming anxieties of a second spike of cases and disruption to personal financial security, this trend is set to continue and could manifest in audiences mirroring this sentiment in purchase decisions. This could see consumers seek stability and reassurance through a gravitation to tried, trusted and reputable brands which display stature and empathy through their very presence and visibility in society.
Implications on communications behaviour
Prove brand structure, permanence and stability
Maintain and signal size, stature and perceptions of heritage in comparison to your competitors.
Act as a leader in your category: provide expertise not opinions
Confidence and leadership signals will differentiate brands from competitors, especially with reduced spending power and a poor long-term economic prognosis. People will rely on brand signals to make, safe, well-informed purchases.
Don’t be afraid to reflect mainstream attitudes, beliefs and behaviours
Listen, align and respond with empathy as a reflection of the customers’ values in order to communicate more effectively with resonance and relevance. Respond to mainstream media and culture as a guide to public opinion and appropriate tone of voice.