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Consumers in flux: why the next six months will be crucial for brands

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Initials on how brands can make the most of lockdown lifting

The lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England on July 19 marked a watershed moment in the UK’s response to the pandemic.

From the resurgence of industries like travel, retail and live events to cultural changes in the way people shop, work and live, coming out of lockdown is a major life event, one that is being uniquely experienced by society as a collective.

In a recent survey, EY found that consumers plan to increase spend in several key categories as we come out of lockdown. This follows on from predicted social changes in ‘the way I travel’ (49%), ‘shop’ (45%) and ‘spend time with my family’ (43%).

Behavioral science suggests that major life events can destabilize existing routines and influence the formation of new habits, which take on average three to six months to solidify.

Such profound change can also have a disproportionate impact on the adoption of new brands, products and preferences. McKinsey, for example, has recently shown that 36% of consumers are now actively trying new brands.

Taken as a whole, this state of flux presents a host of new challenges and opportunities for brands.

On the one hand, hard-hit brands must find clever ways to regain lost relevance and reconnect with audiences that have experienced 18 months of substantial change.

On the other, brands that saw monumental growth during the pandemic need to solidify their market position and stay front of mind with consumers.

In a recent event with Total Media and Behave (behavioral planning and media buying experts), we explored how brands can navigate this transitional moment for the consumer and seize the opportunity it presents to make their brands part of a new way of life.

This article will explore how brands can meet this moment in time and navigate the next six months to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.

The power of habits

As brands look to make the most of the resurgence out of lockdown, it’s likely there will be a rush of new product launches and marketing campaigns designed to capture attention and drive sales.

Despite the best intentions, studies show that half of all new product launches fail.

Habits can go a long way toward explaining this. Since products and services frequently require new behaviors, new product launches don’t fail due to a lack of consumer awareness or even intention to use the product – they fail because they are unable to create or fit into a new habit.

Believe it or not, the latest data shows that 45% of the activities people undertake every day are habitual, meaning they aren’t necessarily conscious decisions.

At a time when new habits will be instilled across millions of people, this presents an incredible opportunity for brands to deliver on the wants and needs of a changed audience.

Here are some of the ways that brands can maximize the move out of lockdown, retain existing audiences and win new customers.

1. Recognize evolving brand-consumer relationships

In 2019, only 32% of Londoners had ever worked from home. In 2021, 89% favor a fully flexible home-and-office hybrid.

With working patterns changing and potentially fewer or less consistent office visits, brands must understand that consumers may have a different relationship with them going forward.

Lower-frequency store visits and disrupted commuting journeys and behaviors mean that brands and retailers will need to work harder to attract customers, and not rely on commuters on autopilot.

2. Make brand salience a priority

The next six months are a crucial period for the evolution of consumer habits, so reminding consumers why they love you and remaining front of mind is critical.

While stores may be reopening, there’s no guarantee your old customers will rush back, having found other online options.

Now represents a huge opportunity for brands to lock in loyalty and attract new customers through storytelling, clarity of proposition and emotional connection.

3. Reassert relevance as occasions evolve

Several categories have prospered in the last 18 months, from grocery delivery to coffee subscriptions and restaurants developing DIY kits.

But with working-from-home days likely to be less frequent, on-the-go grocery shopping returning and restaurants reopening, how will those categories fare as their consumers reset?

While the next six months pose an opportunity for many businesses, for others the focus needs to be on avoiding the loss of relevance as habits are disrupted.

4. Look deeper than demographics

Brands must not assume that all people feel the same about lockdown easing.

While celebrations, treats and foreign holidays may be on the cards for some, for others it will be an anxious time, with financial hardship and ongoing health concerns. Importantly, these trends do not correlate neatly with easily-distinguishable demographics.

For the foreseeable, brands must be empathetic and flex their communications to get the right (and appropriate) messages to the right people at the right time.

Driving success at a time of immense change

The long-term impact of Covid-19 is not yet fully known. While this can lead to threats, it also brings new opportunities.

Across sectors, there are many psychological juxtapositions that highlight the nuances in customer behavior that are required to navigate through this time.

For example, many people feel an emotional desire to return to old socializing behaviors, yet 61% report feeling uncomfortable with pubs and bars.

Equally, many consumers feel an emotional need to make up for a lost year by treating themselves to tickets, indulgent nights out and travel. At the same time, financial pressures may make it difficult to justify the return of these extraneous expenses.

For brands, these subtleties in customer behavior demonstrate why it’s so important to reconsider propositions and price points as we move into the future.

In summary, brands need to:

  • Recognize that relationships to consumers have changed

  • Remain open to flexing and refining your proposition

  • Remind consumers why they love you

  • Don’t generalize how your consumers feel

By taking all these aspects into account, brands can develop a considered strategy that recognizes differences in consumer behavior and plays into the development of new habits.

Josh Tilley, senior strategist at Initials.

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