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Understanding consumer motivations during COVID-19

This blog post has been contributed by Bruce Levinson, Client Partner, SGK.

Today we are experiencing a watershed moment that will redefine what consumers look for in their brands and whether or not companies thrive or merely survive this crisis. Marketers looking to build resiliency across their marketing ecosystem should be listening intently to new consumer attitudes and deciphering emerging behaviors that can help them grow. The implications for brands are significant today and may become the new normal for some time. 

Understand the current health of your brand.

With new attitudes and actions emerging, this is the moment to perform your next strategic brand health check and explore how to pivot and grow in a post-crisis world. Marketers should work to understand whether the events of recent months present their brands with new growth opportunities or pose serious new challenges that must be addressed. For most brands, it will be a mix of both. Luckily there are ways to learn what’s working and not working to help inform your next brand imperatives.

Know the market you compete in.

Before investigating your own brand, you’ll need a clear picture of the market at large.  What has changed in the specific category your brand competes in? Is the figurative “pie” larger or smaller in terms of unit volume and value? Every category is unique and behaves differently.  Air travel, for example, will be down on both volume and value, despite low fares. Paper goods, exercise equipment, baking supplies will all have behaved in different manners, and the short-term recovery, resiliency, and growth prospects for brands within them will also vary. 

Quantify your new square one.

With an understanding of the category dynamics, next determine how your brand’s share of volume and share of value changed and why.  Did your brand perform better than competition behind a business advantage? Did it rise to the challenge and solve problems or deliver meaningful value when consumers needed support the most?

Successful marketers know that consumer perceptions are always changing, but disruptive events such as this crisis can accelerate behavior change. Now is the time to evaluate what went well (or not) and adopt new practices that reflect the current mindsets and behaviors to give your brand the best chance at success going forward.

A good place to start is with the key drivers of consumer trial:

  1. Rethink your brand proposition. Is your proposition as relevant and motivating now as it used to be? As consumers focus on self-protection and collective healing, brands should reflect the current climate rather than forge ahead with the same promises that may have worked in the past.

    A more delicate, empathetic voice is welcomed during a time of deep vulnerability. Brand marketers who understand the emotional need state of their consumers--and if and how it has changed--can successfully adjust messaging and tone accordingly. 
  1. Enhance product distribution and availability. Are your brand’s products where they need to be?  The answer to this question isn’t as simple as it used to be. With the rapid adoption of eCommerce, brands must have a comprehensive strategy, including visibility via optimized search, mobile imagery, accurate and current product detail, and appropriate metadata. Doing so will enable discoverability and buyability across the spectrum of established and emerging eCommerce channels.
  1. Optimize packaging. Create meaningfully differentiated packaging that supports your brand proposition and connects emotionally with consumers. Offer the right sizes and bundles for any new buying behaviors.

    Drive quality perceptions through graphics and typography that are appropriate for your brand.  And do all of this in an agile, flexible, and efficient workflow that makes your hardest-working brand asset deliver the most equity possible with the least effort.
  1. Recalibrate brand promotions. Ensure promotional offers are meaningful and relevant to new consumer needs. Truly connect and integrate promotions across the offline and online worlds using the latest tools and technology.

    As with proposition, consider the economic climate of the moment and know what consumers truly need from your brand today, not necessarily how your brand might help consumers achieve higher-order aspirations tomorrow. For some brands, there may be more value to your consumer winning a mortgage payment for a month, for example, versus a trip to a far-away destination.

Once you’ve taken the steps above to drive consumer adoption, build on this base to improve your marketing resiliency and increase brand share, frequency, and consumption:

  1. Update your claims strategy and product innovation pipeline. Amid a crisis, people often seek familiarity, security, and stability, whereas recovery requires optimism, positivity, and hope. Fresh new offerings help transition the consumer relationship with your brand to new possibilities.

    Focus on solving a new consumer problem or response to the current climate. This can be product driven, such as offering an accessible indulgence during a time of tighter budgets, or values-driven, such as tie-ins with third-party organizations that have gained new relevance.
  2. Modify pricing strategy to maximize brand growth. Leverage price elasticity of demand for your brand to determine base and promotional pricing strategies, influence pack size choices, and balance discounts to encourage loyalty while protecting profit. 

    Optimize your marketing ecosystem through efficient workflows and technology, outsourcing where required, and then redeploy those cost efficiencies back into the brand--either via increased marketing support or optimized promotional spend.
  1. Finally, build on the goodwill you’ve earned. If your brand participated directly in helping consumers and communities through the crisis, then build on the positive equity you’ve earned.

    Continue the dialogue with consumers, connect with what is most important in their lives. If your brand has not done that yet, don’t worry. You can still be present, relevant, and helpful to consumers right now by understanding their new mindset and motivations in a post-crisis world. It’s never too late to be a positive force in consumers’ lives.

Brands that take stock of their core position in the new market and truly understand how consumer motivations are evolving will create value in this new landscape. The actions described here are a starting point to make sense of the recent disruption and forge a new path to brand growth with a more resilient marketing ecosystem.

About Bruce Levinson: Bruce Levinson brings over 20 years’ experience managing and growing many of the world’s most famous brands both as a client and an agency partner.  In his current role, he consults with blue-chip CPG companies to accelerate their brand growth and optimize their marketing spend.  A classically trained CPG marketer with international experience, Bruce is obsessed by strategies designed to generate consumer demand in a marketplace transformed by new possibilities.

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