Earlier this year, we tackled uncertainty head-on and embarked on an entrepreneurial, multi-method learning journey to keep a real-time pulse on the changing behaviors of consumers in response to COVID-19. Now, six months later, we must continue developing our understanding of these behaviors as the effects of COVID-19 escalate again.
Luckily, this doesn’t require running a new, comprehensive research study. We can instead revisit our initial findings because they’re just as, if not more, relevant today.
Our learning journey consisted of two main parts. We first conducted a Digital Ethnography to uncover behavior shifts and overall thoughts and feelings, and identify Opportunity Areas for businesses. Then, in part II, we pressure-tested the staying power of the Opportunity Areas by capturing recurring themes and in-market examples via a Social Media Ethnography, Desk Research, and a 360-Degree Lean Landscape Assessment. In the end, we emerged with lasting insights and effective, consumer-driven ways forward that brands can leverage to pivot existing strategies and identify future opportunities for innovation and growth.
Download and check out our research, which includes two separate reports (parts I and II), by filling out the form below.
With the resurgence of COVID-19 across the country, our team members who conducted the initial research shared their thoughts on how they’re seeing consumer behaviors come to life now and how brands can adapt and win in each of the Opportunity Areas.
1. Expanded Approaches to Self-Care
“As the pandemic continues with no concrete end in sight, the need for coping skills and mechanisms continues among consumers. Studies have shown that mental health has become top-of-mind for many as they continue to navigate how to operate in this new ‘normal.’ Whether it’s having a small treat during the day or receiving additional mental care, consumers are looking to brands and companies to help them get through these challenging times.
Recognizing the need for breaks from monotony and being holed up inside, Canada Goose recently launched a program that helps their employees manage stress and anxiety by allowing them to take one paid hour off per week to spend doing something recreational outside.” – Grace Cho, Strategist, Lean Growth
2. Peace of Mind
“As the pandemic continues, so does consumers’ vigilance in protecting themselves against the chance of contracting the virus. The safety standards for companies have increased since the start of COVID-19, with consumers expecting that brands are doing their part in keeping everyone safe. The pandemic revealed vulnerabilities that no one expected or wants to experience again in the future, so while the extent to which people protect themselves might change over time, I believe that needing ‘peace of mind’ from companies will extend into long-term needs.
We’ve continued to see companies reassure consumers that their safety measures are up to standards and will protect them. Lyft recently announced a ‘clean ride guide — a recommended vehicle cleaning process created specifically to fight SARS-CoV-2.’ Hilton continues to provide new programs and protocols to help consumers feel comfortable. From personal experience, I know the reason I chose to stay at Hilton for a recent stay was because of their CleanStay program, which gave me peace of mind that the company was doing their part in helping me stay healthy.” – Grace Cho, Strategist, Lean Growth
3. Proactive Health
“While consumers continue to social distance, wear masks, and avoid crowded places whenever possible to avoid contracting COVID-19, there continues to be momentum in other areas of proactive wellness that are sparking in popularity. One movement that is growing in popularity is the sober-curious lifestyle. Consumers of all ages are discovering the positive effects of drinking less alcohol or not drinking alcohol at all. Whether the impetus was the shutdown of bars and restaurants, the heightened sense of chronic anxiety consumers are feeling daily, or the general lowering of immune function when consuming alcohol (and the risk it poses to catching the virus), consumers have been flocking to mocktails and alcohol-free beverages, like Curious Elixirs or Tost Sparkling Teas, to enjoy at home.
Many bars and restaurants are following suit, featuring alcohol-free craft mocktails alongside drinks containing alcohol on their cocktail menus. Social norms surrounding alcohol consumption are shifting as consumers find freedom, and function, in taking a break from consuming beverages that make them buzz.” – Monica Dabecco, Strategist, Lean Growth
4. More Intentional Connection
“With the holidays right around the corner and COVID-19 cases rising, we expect consumers will be continuing to lean into new ways to connect with loved ones near and far, virtually. We also expect them to expand their entertainment spaces to include the outdoors, even with temperatures dropping.
When this all began, consumers were finding new ways to connect with each other (e.g., Zoom, Google Hangouts), but since then, those methods of connecting have become commonplace. New ways of connecting over old pastimes are emerging as consumers and companies have gotten creative. Companies like Argaux have come up with ways for consumers to virtually host events with friends and family. In addition, as Americans have leaned into spending more time outdoors with loved ones, purchases of outdoor equipment have surged.
Companies should be leaning into ways their brands and offerings can help people connect virtually this holiday season, and considering ways in which they can give or inspire new possibilities for connecting safely.” – Heather Christman, Ph.D., Senior Director, Lean Growth
5. Bringing Restaurant Quality & Atmosphere at Home
“Especially as we head into the cold, winter months in many regions in the United States, this becomes even more of a focus area. While restaurants welcomed consumers back over the summer with outdoor seating, it will be harder to deliver on that experience during the winter, as consumers are still hesitant to dine inside (that also seems to be a scenario where the spread of COVID-19 is high).
This space fascinates me, as I think there are a ton of restaurants and delivery services really finding meaningful innovation within this area. A great example is Nestle’s recent acquisition of the home meal kit service Freshly. Freshly delivers on that unique restaurant experience by providing a large variety of offerings and fully cooked meals, unlike other at-home meal kits.” – Molly Baldwin, Director, Lean Growth
6. Tension Between Germs & Sustainability
“When we introduced this trend space back in April, there was a lot of concern about the ability for the coronavirus to spread through surface germs (packages, groceries, etc.). As a result, consumers left behind normal sustainability practices in favor of overall health and safety, using one-time use bags vs. reusable grocery bags and foregoing the bulk bin in favor of items that were prepackaged.
In the past six months, we have learned more about the coronavirus, especially as it relates to spread (which happens most often by respiratory droplets) and, as such, the worry around surface germs spreading it has calmed. We believe that this departure from prioritizing sustainability in the early days of COVID-19 has reverted. Consumers are back to expecting brands to actively pursue sustainable options as it relates to their brands.” – Molly Baldwin, Director, Lean Growth
As always, if you need a partner to think through how your team can apply these findings, we’re happy to help. Get in touch with the Garage Group >>>