How to adapt to changing consumer needs

How to adapt to changing consumer needs

Jay Pluhar

By Jay Pluhar,
Global Head, Impact Consultancy

Richard McLeod

By Richard McLeod,
Senior Client Director

Obviously, the COVID-19 crisis has turned the world upside down. Research agencies and brands have been scrambling to get a finger on the pulse of what these changes mean for consumer behavior, feelings and needs today and into the future. We know from our own initiatives on this front that brands have a clear role to play in the age of COVID-19. Specifically, brands need to reassure people on health, safety and price stability. But people are also looking to brands to play a wider role in these times – they are looking to brands to inform, but also to entertain and inspire them.

A brand’s key to survival and success in these times is agility. We’re past the point of thinking in terms of “before COVID-19” or “after COVID-19” – it’s time to really dig into the “during,” and how to be as adaptable as possible.

Right now, we know three things for sure: The impact of the pandemic is likely to be with us for a long time; the situation around the world is fragmented; and it is changing rapidly. Your business needs to adopt an agile approach that evolves quickly with consumers’ shifting needs and priorities. You need to know how to engage with people meaningfully today, but also prepare strategically for the world as we emerge from the crisis – while also hitting every step along the way.

We don’t know yet what we don’t know

That’s why it’s important to start asking questions now, and to keep asking new ones as we all navigate the new normal brought on by COVID-19.

We designed MetrixLab’s Understanding the New Normal program to track consumer insights globally over the course of 12 months (April 2020-March 2021), while creating a collaborative learning community of researchers, experts and clients. Monthly collection of survey data, social insights, trusted external sources and brand case studies allows us to stay in touch with consumers as they navigate the frequent changes brought on by COVID-19. With this approach, we can actively collaborate with our clients to evolve the program on an ongoing basis to really get to the core of what brands need to know today – and simultaneously help them plan for tomorrow.

But we need to start investigating now in order to understand the significant effects that both what changes and what does not change will have on strategy. Using the Dunning-Kruger effect as a backdrop, our ambition is to avoid the “valley of despair” by launching a program of accelerated learning and competence building. From the start of the pandemic several months ago, to structured global lockdown, to 12 months from now, what people want from brands is likely to change and brands must continuously find ways to adapt.

Graph showing Dunning-Kruger effect

The clients who are joining the program now are already helping to shape our learning agenda both in terms of the analysis as well as the evolution of the survey. And we are keen to get this “crowd sourced” feedback to shape our tracker so it continues to be focused on the most relevant topics and deliver fresh, actionable insight – and to propel us with greater momentum up the slope of enlightenment.

Asking the right questions

So how will we climb the slope of enlightenment? We start by asking the right questions to get to the heart of what people want from brands today.

  1. How are people adapting?
    How are peoples’ feelings, needs and behaviors changing during and after the crisis?
  2. What does the future hold?
    What are peoples’ hopes and expectations as we come out of the crisis, and which new feelings, needs & behaviors will most likely stick?
  3. How can brands help?
    How should brands respond now and how can they prepare for the new normal?

It’s impossible to address all the key questions, learning needs and hypotheses, but after much research, input and some spirited internal debate, we arrived at these 3 core areas to form the focus of the program.

What the future may hold

As we are wrapping up the 2nd month of the program, we’re already gaining insight into what directions this research may take moving forward. Looking ahead, we are seeing many clients interested in learning more about the price/value equation. For example, we know that in the 2008 recession people favored price and value. They were willing to make trade-offs regarding product quality and other dimensions, and private label brands increased. This is leading to a big question about whether or not people will follow the same path with this recession. We anticipate a similar shift to private label brands in the current situation, although this is something that we will watch closely in the coming months to assess the reality.

We’re also seeing a keen interest in sustainability and to what extent this is still an important issue for people right now.  More specifically, will they now prioritize price or value over sustainability? Will they prioritize hygiene and personal safety over sustainability?  Or are people aware that lockdown life is helping the planet, motivating them to continue to support this trend? These topics have important implications for many of our clients, and we plan to explore them more deeply in the months to come to get to the heart of what people expect.

Let’s learn together

This pandemic has created a rapidly changing landscape and high degree of uncertainty. At the same time, we also know that many things will stay the same – people want consistency, and we can expect that even in the face of disruption there will also be much that will not change. We need to understand and work with both in tandem as we move forward towards a new normal.

The Understanding the New Normal program is one of the most collaborative and dynamic projects at scale that we’ve ever undertaken, and we’re excited to be able to work with our clients to strategize a way through this crisis to arrive at a stronger future.

For more information on how to stay in touch with your consumers’ hopes and expectations for your brand, get in touch.

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