This is the first of four blog topics on the themes of business survival in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and how being attuned to shifting consumer needs and behaviours could mean the difference in how fast brands bounce back.
This blog post has been contributed by Michael Duffy, Global Creative Director, Equator Design.
Although the retail marketplace has always been fast-moving, the swings the COVID-19 outbreak are changing the landscape at breakneck speed.
As soon as we formulate a response to shifts in consumer behaviour, supply chain and logistics, and government guidelines, there are further announcements waiting just around the bend.
It’s crucial that FMCG players take action in the face of ongoing developments, to ensure their marketing ecosystem can survive in adversity and thrive in its wake. This week, we’ll look at new research from data insights consultancy Kantar—starting with some recent eye-opening figures which illustrate how rapidly retail has changed: in the first week of social distancing in Britain (17 March), consumers made an additional 15 million supermarket visits and average spend increased by 16%, when compared to the same week in February.
The result? A tremendous load was placed on supermarkets and supply chains, as consumers—who were forced to curb their habitual consumption in cafes and restaurants, which previously constituted 40% of all food and drink purchases—became virtually 100% reliant on supermarkets.
As a population, we have foregone luxury goods and focussed on the essentials, spending our money in supermarkets and on grocery delivery companies—triggering a hiring surge and a new appreciation for our steadfast bricks and mortar stores.
Kantar recently delivered a webinar on the effect of the Coronavirus on spending habits and consumer behaviour in mainland China as the trading superpower cautiously enters its own early recovery period.
One potential silver lining to the progressive nature of the outbreak is that observing the knock-on effects on East Asian economies can inform practices in the West to help bring about a quicker, smoother recovery in Europe, North America and Australia.
One such “lesson” noted by Kantar was the idea that brands should undertake a fresh assessment of the essentials that matter to consumers and subsequently update their messaging and offering around the “new normal”.
Social distancing and working from home does little to dampen people’s need to be individuals or to pursue personal and professional growth—and as such, retailers should focus on assisting people in enriching their lives and routines.
According to classcentral.com, Google searches for “online education” leapt 204% from March 7 to March 21. This is supported by Kantar’s findings that 33% of Chinese consumers explored online learning modules earlier this year. New skills and the motivation to adopt new behaviours and experiences have become characteristic of societies as they deal with the pandemic and its effects.
Therefore, consider pivoting toward supporting consumers with ideas, platforms, products and services that help them adapt to current needs, make the best of difficult times, and enjoy mental and emotional wellbeing.
As you plan to take your brand forward, you should in the short term focus your efforts on maximising your marketing ecosystem versus competitors. Below, we offer four strategies or the way we live now:
Take a fresh look at your messaging and your assets. Is the brand in line with the public mood and sentiment at present? Is your branding memorable, unique to your brand and different enough from your competitors?
Make a shift to meet consumers’ current needs. How do you want to be remembered in the months and years to come—the business that said nothing in the face of COVID-19, or the business that adjusted its messaging and/or offering, shifted around emerging consumer needs, and gave the public reassurance?
Tap into the ways people interact now. Use technology to build emotional connections with consumers. Ensure your assets are optimised for e-commerce and social e-commerce. Explore ways in which to innovate around consumers’ new skills and growing integration of tech into everyday life.
Deliver meaningful difference. Show how your brand is different from competitors, thus aiding consumers in their decision-making process. Is the meaningful difference of your brand likely to be perceived by the consumer? Are there adjustments which can be made to the brand’s messaging or assets which could create more meaning, given difficult and uncertain times?
Building your brand is an investment, and a tough financial environment bears out those who have put the work in. A good degree of salience—the probability of a person noticing, recognizing and thinking about your brand—leads to a visible brand that weathers ups and downs more easily.
As companies and brands, how we behave now will not be forgotten once the outbreak has run its course, be those associations good or bad. The brands with marketing resiliency will be best positioned to grow their value and return faster than competitors when the economy swings into a recovery phase.
About Michael Duffy: Michael Duffy is the group creative director at Equator Design’s Chicago office. The UK-based agency is a creative consultancy for holistic packaging design.