The dizzying speed with which COVID-19 pandemic swiped the world has not only affected the health and general wellbeing of the global humanity but also taken the world economy frighteningly to the downhill journey. Since every walk of economic as well as social life has been so severely impacted globally by this unexpected catastrophe, it would be unthinkable to imagine that marketing domain in general and branding and consumer behavior in particular would remain unscathed. The dynamics of demand is poised to alter at least in the short run. The job losses would force majority of consumers to practice self-imposed austerity. Producers may need to re-customize their products to survive. As an obvious and major psychological toll of the pandemic of this scale and scope, the consumers would more than ever before are likely to remain risk averse.
However, in parallel, some new trends in supply, delivery and marketing as well as in demand and consumption have consolidated if not emerged completely as new. The Covid-19 certainly intensified adoption of digital platforms in every possible aspects of transactions from placing demands, delivery of goods and services and clearing payments. One clear indication of this is the rise in number and volume of transactions on amzon.com online shopping platform during last one month. Therefore, for the producers and sellers too, the one way to stay afloat in this changed marked dynamics is to fully understand the digitally-driven consumer behavior and also to be able to adopt state-of-the-art leveraging technology. Accordingly, the marketing and branding enterprises, too, need to contextualize their creativity and output in the same breath. They may actually need two distinct strategies to survive through the Covid-19 crisis and to compensating prosper beyond that.
Firstly, the new consumer demands emanating from the changed scenario are not catered to nor are being satisfied fully through the current offerings by marketers. In a crisis situation like these, two kinds of consumer need viz., need for affiliation and need for change are inevitable. These associate needs arise from the free time due to imposed social distancing. Customers during lock down are looking for experiences that are newer and varied to escape inherent monotony of limited social interactions and movements.
It is exactly where the creativity and ingenuity of marketers are put to test. Now, they have to discern and uncover ways and means to reach their existing and prospective consumers who are forced to be confined within four walls at least for some more time.
Secondly, after all, the efficacy of all the promotional tools and marketing communications is going to be determined by the level of psychological connect and social bonding that graduated from short-run acquaintance to sustained loyalty in the long run. As an immediate fallout of this pandemic, a sudden spurt in the buying and consumption of at least daily essentials like groceries, medical supplies and supplements in the short-run spurned by panic buying. However, consumers may exhibit a ‘wait and watch’ attitude” for buying of consumer durables and luxuries. For instance, when a number of malls and branded chain stores of Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus spread, were reopened last week, low foot falls were recorded and reported. It certainly an indication that it may take time for consumer’s confidence to revert to normal after such psychologically exhausting magnitude of the pandemic.
Besides, when the consumers are allowed to pivot from the status quo, they tend to try out new consumption patterns and test out new things in the altered conditions. For instance, there would be steep spike in demand for newer and emergent teaching-learning processes as both the teachers and the taught are left with no other choice. Likewise, other examples are soliciting advice of medical professionals and legal consultants online which earlier consumers were hesitant.
Changing Perceptions and New Learning
In the post-COVID consumer psychology, brand perceptions are bound to change when marketers strategically attempt to bring about positive impressions in consumers towards brands they promote and make such impression sustainable for the long-run competitive advantage. Consider for instance ‘Facebook’ providing free digital training to SMEs in Singapore or ‘Heineken’ donating to Red Cross or the Indian Brand ‘Amul’ promoting hygiene and social distancing by using different posture and a renewed positioning through altered logos, symbols, and artifacts in their promotional contents.
Research evidences suggest that it takes 66 days for the altered behavioral patterns of consumers to become a new habit. This finding is going to act as a powerful pointer for marketers engaged in designing marketing communication strategies. Hence, sales communication experts and consultants suggest marketers to apply the ‘Tri-component Attitude Model’ comprising of cognitive (knowledge), affective (evaluation), and conative (behavior) components in all their future market-focused messages.
Enhanced Digital Marketing Presence
In the emergent context, the digital marketing apparently has increased potential to track and unearth the psyche of the consumers by leveraging the power of data analytics. Most consumers today are glued to TV, active on social media, and tend to view long videos online. Any data, statistics, and analytics related to consumer home-bound activities would provide insights into their changed consumption habits for effective targeting. For instance, millennials today do not wish to watch whatever is aired in general but prefer to be selective in the choice of ads that are put up on medium they use. Hence, brands should search for and focus on alternate means such as YouTube, FB, etc. Small businesses can make use of more affordable yet powerful Twitter, WhatsApp, FB, etc., for commercial purposes all the more now than ever before.
Those brands may achieve better mileage that are able to craft messages that are value oriented and compassionate. Social Listening can help track the changes in consumer perceptions and preferences forming their new attitudes. Companies who invest their time and money to keenly observe and follow signals available on social media through comments both favorable and critical, stand to gain.
This crisis creates an opportunity for brands to instantly go virtual which in a normal scenario would have taken years. Brands need to think like as a customer and try to assess the emotional upside they may be experiencing in these turbulent times. Societal Marketing Perspective maintains that companies are better off in a stronger, healthier society that incorporates ethical behavior and social responsibility. Hence, brands should not focus on short term gains but see how they emerge as socially responsible.
Brands can explore opportunities even in times of adversity by strengthening their social media presence. Making an intelligent use of data and analytics would help marketers take evidence-based decisions in the realm of consumer behavior. For instance: about seventy percent of the content online in US newspapers and articles these days has the word COVID (Rajesh Chandy, Prof. Marketing-London Business School). It is important for brands to be able to assess with the help of analytics, whether the use of term COVID and its context is actually helpful in market communication. At present, what the marketers should be focusing on is not just surviving during crisis but maintaining consumers’ perceptions through successful positioning strategies for building and sustaining a credible brand image far beyond the crisis.
By Roshee Lamichhane
Author is Assistant Professor (Marketing) and takes courses in the area of Services Marketing and Consumer Behavior. She writes frequently for local newspapers such as The Kathmandu Post and Republica, as well as for monthly Journals such as New Business Age in the area of Marketing, Supply Chain, Consumer Behavior, and Employability. She can be reached at Lamroshee@gmail.com. Her twitter id is @RosheeLC.