4 Consumer Needs That Brands Must Meet During COVID-19
With so much economic flux and turmoil, a whole new generation of brands will survive — and others won’t. The questions “who will the winners be?” and “what can I do to increase the chances that my brand is one of them?” are at the top of marketing leaders’ minds. There are many things that differentiate brands and their likelihood of success in the COVID-19 economy that are out of their control: industry sector, necessity of in-person patronage, reliance on large group gatherings, but there is something else that brands do control: Whether they meet consumer needs and strike the right emotional chord.
What is that chord?
Three major studies my firm has conducted with thousands of consumers have indicated brands that reaffirm consumers by making them feel good about who they are and what they do are the ones that earn consumer loyalty. If a product or service makes the customer feel good, 94% are highly likely to purchase repeatedly; if the customer feels bad, 79% are unlikely to buy again. This goes for products and services across a variety of regions and sectors.
With today’s "new normal" stirring up fear, anxiety, and depression, the path to meeting consumer needs and making them feel good about themselves has shifted from enabling them to project a sentiment of success and happiness to conveying that a brand can help soothe consumers’ nerves.
Look at the Buick GMC Ad from mid-March for example, which says: “We understand that you want to feel safe.” What better way is there nowadays to make consumers feel good about what they’re doing than to reaffirm that they are acting in safety’s best interest?
But it’s not just about safety. Here are the four consumer needs we see as essential for brands to fill in order to come through the COVID-19 crisis alive and thriving.
1. Consumers Need to View Themselves as Good Decision-Makers
Helping people see themselves as "doing the best they can" will foster loyalty. For instance, Apple worked with the CDC to create an app and website that lets people screen themselves for COVID-19. Downloading the app or using the website helps people feel they’re making a socially conscious decision that also helps themselves.
Or take your inbox — all those emails you’re receiving from brands promising preparation and measures to protect against COVID-19? Authentic messages from these brands show how they are concerned for you and your community — so you should feel good about your decision to engage with them (as for the inauthentic ones, it's not hard to spot a brand trying to opportunize on the pandemic, and to avoid at all costs).
2. Consumers Need to Believe They’re Smart Spenders
While the economy is in chaos, consumers need to feel that they’re being smart with spending. Consumers want to feel like they’re saving money — or being financially smart. If companies want users to feel this way, they should use messaging around value and note that consumers want to be careful. That way spending seems less risky. The Buick GMC ad about feeling safe is an example: “We understand that you want to feel safe,” says the ad. Buick also is offering 0% financing for 84 months and deferred payment options to help people feel they’re making smart purchasing decisions.
3. Consumers Need to Feel That They’re Taking Care of Themselves
"Self care" has become a mantra of sorts for consumers who currently find themselves in excessively stressful situations. Meditation and sleep app Calm addresses mental wellness and invites viewers to: “Join the millions experiencing better sleep, lower stress, and less anxiety.” There are some obvious product category fits — home fitness equipment, for instance — but almost anything that increases health, either mental or physical, can be positioned to aid self care right now.
4. Consumers Need to Maintain a Sense of Control
With a lot of things beyond the consumer’s control — above all, how long this pandemic will last — products and services that help create a sense of control will create a deeper emotional connection. Think of the new ads McDonald's unveiled reminding customers about their contact-free options during the pandemic. Being able to get takeout or delivery from McDonald’s eases the frustration over restaurants closing in the time of social distancing. It also helps restore at least some semblance of a sense of control, because consumers can go pick up an affordable, quick and easy meal from the restaurant, as well as the many others who have also set up to provide takeout or contact-less delivery. Buick, too, is offering online shopping and home delivery with generous warranties and return policies.
Great brands have always been great partners to their customers. In times like these, helping people feel like your brand delivers in even a few of these consumer needs categories will make it stronger both throughout this "new normal," and afterward.
Anne E. Beall, PhD is the CEO and Founder of Beall Research, Inc, a consulting firm that uses data and research to discover trends and create solutions for Fortune 500 companies. Author of Strategic Market Research: A Guide to Conducting Research that Drives Businesses (3rd Edition) and 7 other books on reading body language, gender dynamics, human-animal relations, and fairy tales, Anne previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). She received her MS, MPhil, and PhD from Yale University. A lover storytelling and running, Anne lives in Chicago.