We are at a moment in history that consumers are craving a greater connection with the brands they love. This brief examines three overarching trends surrounding consumers and brands. We have explored brands being facilitators of connection, trust, and confidence during the pandemic, brands being the disruptors that consumers actually need at this moment in time, and brands making sustainability an easy step that a consumer can take
We have curated eight additional pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding the following overarching trend statement: “In these uncertain and divided times, people are seeking confidence from brands and the comfort of brands. Lacking trust in government and media, people turn to brands more and more for products and services and statements that we can rally around and agree on.” To provide a more cohesive brief, we brought over the 11 pieces of information found in the initial hour of research and included them in the final result for ease of viewing. This provides, in total 19 data points.
We also have presented eight pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding the following overarching trend statement: “With so much change happening at the moment-driven by the global economy and the pandemic, folks are finding that they have to be open to change to survive. In particular, they are open to companies and brands disrupting old patterns of behavior and ways of doing things that no longer fit the times.”
Lastly, we have provided ten pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding the following overarching trend statement: “People want to be sustainable, but they expect brands, products, and services to make incorporating sustainable behaviors into their lives an easy task.” This part of the research has not revolved around COVID-19 and/or the “new normal”.
All research is United States focused where possible. We have only provided global data when that was the only information available, when mixed in with other countries, or as extra data points that we felt would be useful.
Consumers: Seeking Confidence and Comfort from Brands
- Consumers in the United States are craving that connection with brands during this pandemic. According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, only fifteen percent of consumers rejected the notion that brands should be making that consumer connection. Forty-three percent of consumers have revealed that they actually find it reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust during these challenging times. When it comes to what brands are doing surrounding their response to COVID-19, forty percent want to be told about their efforts, even if it is just about their cleaning procedures.
- When it comes to brands helping out communities by donating goods and services, fifty-six percent of those asked said they are pleased to hear about brands doing this.
- How brands are responding to the pandemic ranked as the most popular thing consumers in the United States wanted to hear about from brands and companies. This encompassed things like donating money or products to people, and providing employees time off with pay. In fact, giving employees compensated time off who cannot work because of COVID-19 was rated as the most important thing brands could do. The generational cohorts of Millennials and Generation Z respondents especially placed this action quite high, which is understandable, as these age groups are most likely to be affected by layoffs due to COVID-19.
- According to Zion Doran, senior director, integrated promotions and partnerships at Kellogg’s, “In this time, people really turn to brands that bring them comfort. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Kellogg’s has seen demand skyrocket for foods like Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Pringles”
- Gartner makes the assertion that “brands that take proactive steps to comfort customers and protect their safety and financial confidence will earn strong reputational benefits during a volatile time.”
- According to a Twitter user survey, seeing and/or hearing advertisements gives fifty-two percent of respondents a sense of normality, while seventy-seven percent revealed they feel more positively about brands making an effort to support communities during the pandemic. “In fact, only seven percent of those surveyed were of the opinion that brands should continue using their normal brand tone of voice.” Reliable, accurate information being provided by brands was cited by eighty-nine percent as being important, and perhaps most importantly, seventy percent of respondents said brands should boost positivity and share positive stories.
- A recent study by Kantar found that an overwhelming majority of people (92%) “believe that businesses should continue to advertise during the COVID-19 outbreak.” Further, in the same report, there is a high level of consensus shared by consumers that “brands should use a reassuring tone, offer a positive perspective and communicate brand values. More than fifty percent also think brands should talk as they have always done, while another fifty percent think companies should talk about their own brand in a carefree and light way.”
- According to Unilever CEO Alan Jope, “At these times, consumers do seek the reassurance of big, familiar, trusted brands.”
- “With the aim of looking directly at the banking, quick service dining, hotel, mobile provider and retail industries, Emotive conducted a North American online survey with a goal of understanding the attitudes of consumers during the pandemic, so that brands could adjust their strategies in meaningful ways. The key findings were that sixty-nine percent of people are extremely interested in seeing strong leadership from companies and brands in the months ahead, as they are more likely to feel a lack of confidence in governments. Across industries, customers are looking for a reason to smile more than ever, yet have never had a tougher time finding one. Delivering joy is currently the most critical and chronically underserved element of engagement across all industries tested.”
- While both males and females are equally interested in engaging emotionally with brands since the beginning of the pandemic, it is just not in the same way. “Men are drawn to brands that demonstrate traits of ease and familiarity, while women are attracted by brands that want to build a more personal connection, yet demand follow-through.”
- It is of note that this study showed a difference of attitudes between Americans and Canadians. “While Canadians are seeking a more emotionally-driven relationship driven by elements like empathy and understanding, Americans are looking for more rational elements of the relationship fulfilled (like committed service and innovation). Attitudes towards brands have become more emotionally driven since the pandemic. A previous Emotive study conducted in January 2020 found the key elements driving engagement across industries were more operational in nature.”
- The Epsilon-Conversant and CJ Affiliate Consumer Survey reveals that when “consumers in the United States were asked whether they felt it was appropriate for brands to be advertising to consumers right now, during this global pandemic, over 70% of Americans said yes.”
- Consumers want to receive relevant, timely and valuable information during times of turmoil. While respondents were okay with brands advertising to them during the Covid-19 outbreak, the messaging and timing needs to strike the correct tone. When looking across the five countries included in the survey, “49% of all respondents reported that they received marketing messaging over the preceding seven days that was poorly timed or didn’t match their interest.”
- A report from Morning Consult reveals that ninety percent of consumers in the United States feel quite strongly that in tough and uncertain times, it is important to them that “brands take care of their employees and treat them well.” Just a smidgen less than half (forty-nine percent) asserted that when deciding what to buy from a company or brand, they will weigh how the employees are treated at that business. In fact, those consumers reveal that it is one of their top five purchasing considerations.
- According to Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM, “The nostalgic strength of consumer goods brands — the only industry in our study where nostalgia is the dominant archetype — is playing a large role in helping people cope during the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers are taking solace in the foods of their childhood, which are bringing them back to the positive memories of their past. As entertainment binging continues with people at home, snacks are also becoming a part of the experience.”
- When looking at the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, consumers think that brands have a vital role to play during uncertain and divided times. “They do not want brands to disappear, but instead to show up and use all their resources and creativity to make a difference.” While this was not an exclusively United States focused research, Americans were included in the 12-market online survey. The countries included were: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, S. Africa, S. Korea, the U.K. and the U.S.
- Sixty-two percent of people agree with this statement: “[o]ur country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges we face.”
- Consumers overwhelmingly want brands to align with government and relief agencies to address the crisis, with 90% of them asserting that either “brands must do this to earn or keep our trust, or that they hope brands will do this, but there is no obligation to do so.” Further, consumers want brands to be a safety net, stepping in where they are needed and able, to fill gaps in the government’s response to the virus. Eight-six percent of consumers think that either “brands must do this to earn or keep our trust, or that they hope brands will do this, but there is no obligation to do so.”
- When drilling down to the United States specifically, seventy-nine percent of consumers want brands to be a source of news that would be trustworthy. When asked, consumers envisioned that this would take the form of “keeping people up to date about the virus, and the progress being made in the fight against it.”
Consumers: Seeking Brands that Disrupt
- Brands would do well to focus on the indisputable fact that online consumer shopping across multiple categories has risen tremendously due to both social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines. Consumers are shopping differently and are embracing those brands and companies that are disrupting their normal way of doing business and switching, or at least expanding, to an online model. Once consumers are past this crisis, it does not look like US consumers will go back to their old ways of shopping, as they are reporting an intent to shop online moving forward, as McKinsey projects.
- McKinsey reports that three quarters of US consumers are not just open to trying a new shopping behavior, but are actually and actively trying new things out. This can be seen by the data that reveals thirty-six percent of Americans are trying a new company/brand and one quarter of them are trying and buying a new private label brand. Further, once they have tried them, they seem to be very happy as seventy-three percent report that they have full intentions of continuing to buy the brand.
- When drilling into demographics based on generation and income, Generation Z and those who earn high incomes are the most willing to take a flyer and switch brands. Taking a look at the companies and brands that are reaping the benefits of this shift in consumer mindset, it appears that the brands that have the most consumer trust and are of enterprise size are seeing a fifty percent growth during COVID-19.
- American consumers list six reasons for switching brands and/or companies, but the top three are in-store and online availability, convenience, and value. Brands can exploit this particular consumer willingness to be open and change, by keeping their fingers on the pulse of consumers when they are migrating to other brands or retailers and then to respond with proper marketing showing their willingness to be disruptive and provide the consumer what they need.
- What is being framed as “hygiene transparency” is a driver behind consumers in the United States deciding that they have to be open to change to survive. As lockdowns ease, and Americans become a bit more comfortable venturing out to shop and dine, they will be looking for those brand disruptors that are not only following strict hygiene protocols but are also clearly telling consumers that they are indeed following those procedures.
- Consumers in the United States are already rewarding those disruptive brands that are responding to their hygiene concerns. Contactless activities such as curbside pickup, and the delivery of food and grocery delivery are extremely popular. It is apparent that Americans are looking for brands that are using technologies that enhance hygiene, and will continue to do so even after this crisis is over. Over three quarters (79%) of Americans report that even after COVID-19 is long gone, they will continue or even increase their usage of self-checkout in retail. When parsing out generational cohorts, both Millennials and Generation Z are the widest devotees of contactless activities.
- During the initial outbreak of the virus, many brands and companies quickly adapted and made short-term changes. However, now is the time to look longer term and construct plans to stay connected with customers who will be looking for companies and brands disrupting old patterns of behavior and ways of doing things that no longer fit the times. Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and The Infinite Game asserts that “[t]he opportunity is to shift from survival mode to reinvention mode, to focus on what will be instead of trying to preserve what we had.”
- “Consumer behavior is drastically shifting, and in response to these new behaviors, brands need to proactively demonstrate to customers how they fit into new routines and expectations. Some examples of brands doing this are: Pizza Hut rolling out tamper-proof seals, making it apparent if anyone has opened a pizza box before it gets to the intended destination. Beauty brand MAC creating a tool to let customers virtually try on lipstick and eye shadow since they could no longer sample colors at a makeup counter or MAC store.”
Consumers: Brand Sustainability Made Easy
- Futerra looked directly at the United Kingdom and the United States and asked over 1,000 people how they felt about their own sustainability actions. A rather overwhelming ninety-six percent revealed that they believed that the “direct actions they took such as donating, recycling or buying ethically, can make a difference.” Over fifty percent that on their own, they personally can make a tangible difference. The question is, are brands and companies expected to make things a bit easier and seamless for a consumer to incorporate sustainable behaviors into their lives?
- As revealed in the previous data point, although consumers think they can make a difference, they want more help doing it, and they want that help to come from brands and companies. According to the Futerra research, eighty-eight percent of consumers made it clear that they want brands to step up on sustainability.
- Americans almost unanimously (95%) agree that sustainability is a great end goal, but very few of them know what to look for to figure out if something is, in fact, sustainable. According to a 2019 survey by Genomatica, “consumers want to start buying these more sustainable products, but they have no idea how to accomplish this.” For example, seventy-four percent of Americans that read the ingredient label on a food item, don’t know what half of the ingredients are, which in turn makes it impossible to determine whether the product is sustainable. When examining generations, Millennials score the highest (34%) when understanding the ingredients on the label, followed by a tie between Baby Boomers and Generation X, and Generation Z pulling up the rear with 23%, 23%, and 20% respectively.
- According to Christophe Schilling, Genomatica’s CEO, “[c]onsumers have a craving to be environmentally-friendly and make sustainable choices, but many don’t know what ingredients make up their products, and how sustainable those ingredients are. There’s a real opportunity for the industry to educate consumers to help them get over these hurdles, and for brands to market and deliver more sustainable products with greater transparency on where they come from to feed this surging demand.”
- The 2020 Retail and Sustainability Survey shows that 51% of American consumers rate sustainability as important. When these same consumers were asked if fashion, apparel, and footwear brands offer enough visibility into their sustainability practices, 23% said brands offered enough, 27% said that some brands are, but they could offer more, but half of the respondents revealed that they felt brands are not demonstrating sustainability practices.
- If a brand objective is to drive reputation, sustainability messaging can help. “Multiple testing programs show that Americans did view brands more favorably after viewing sustainability messaging. Arguably, this type of favorability can drive brand preference over time. Messaging can include raising awareness of a brand’s sustainability programs or initiatives designed to help consumers easily engage in sustainable behaviors.”
- Ethics, sustainability, and origins of the products they purchase are all things that consumers in the United States are increasingly concerned about. According to a Nielsen survey, “forty-eight percent of Americans would “probably” or “definitely” change their purchasing behaviors in order to reduce the environmental impact.”
- According to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, a majority of consumers in the United States look for brands and companies to focus on sustainability efforts. Sixty-three percent of them don’t want businesses to wait for the government to regulate them to do it, and are hopeful businesses will just do it themselves and take a leadership role to drive social and environmental change.
- Getty Images asserts that “while eighty-one percent of people surveyed said they saw themselves as “eco-friendly“, in reality only half of them actually go out of their way to buy products from firms with strong green credentials.” Rebecca Swift, global head of creative insights at Getty Images said: “[o]ur research shows us there is an opportunity for companies and brands to help consumers bridge the gap between their attitudes and their actions.”
- Companies need to understand that simply talking about the brands values surrounding sustainability isn’t enough. “Consumers want brands to help them live theirs.” A shift has to occur from brand marketing that is cause-related, or the brand listing its sustainability efforts and/or the brand messaging of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities promoting what the company is doing. Instead, a brand should focus on assisting the consumer to make their own difference. This isn’t an issue just for consumer brands. “Governments and even many NGO’s take for themselves the role of ‘actor/hero/change-maker’ and relegate the public to mere ‘audience/beneficiary/cheerleader’. Perhaps this is why today, consumers feel that companies are actually making it harder for them to make a difference in the world.”