The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed unparalleled change in our daily lived experiences. With nearly one-third of the U.S. population having received the COVID vaccine, schools reopening, and a return to regular activities on the horizon, brands should be thinking about new ways to engage their customers. Below are three things brands should start doing now to ensure their place in a post-COVID world.
1. Invest in Market Research
So much has changed in the past year, you might need to get to know your target customers all over again. You’ll need to learn how their needs, wants, priorities and preferences have changed in the face of unprecedented uncertainty, disruption, isolation and unemployment. For example, we’ve seen that many consumers rediscovered the simple joys in life such as home-cooked meals, growing their own food, and getting out in their neighborhoods more often. Their financial priorities have also changed. I know I spend far more on groceries and far less on new clothes than I did a year ago, which likely won’t change as more people will continue to work from home than ever before. In fact, in a recent survey* conducted by my consultancy, Symphony PR & Marketing, Inc., 81% of respondents reported that their personal values have changed significantly as a result of living through the pandemic. When asked specifically how their values have changed, 22% said that they are much more dedicated to finding their unique purpose in life, 25% cited that spending time with family is much more important to them, and 18% reported that money and material things are less important to them now. It’s crucial to understand how your brand can not only stay relevant, but also be a catalyst for people in the face of this transformation. Create consumer surveys to gather opinions, conduct focus groups to dig deeper and turn to ethnographies to understand how the evolution of our culture is shaping changes in consumer behavior.
2. Don’t Rely on “Back to Normal” Messages
Companies who are well-positioned for the future are not invested in an old vision of the status quo. They will fully embrace a new normal – and, even more importantly, realize that “normal” may no longer exist. As marketers, we have a responsibility to encourage the companies we work for to further dismantle normative, hegemonic images of what life should look like and invest in messaging and positioning strategies that celebrate diversity in all of its forms. Companies that highlight the different ways people are redesigning their lives and how their brands can help them innovate, take care of each other and forge a more inclusive society will also capture the hearts and minds of a much broader potential market.
3. Be the Change You Want to See
When Mahatma Gandhi uttered those words, he was encouraging each one of us to take the initiative the change the world – not wait for others to do so. In a post-COVID world, more companies, regardless of industry or size, will have an opportunity to take a leadership role in creating a more equitable society. The problems of our society have been laid so bare in the past year that it’s never been more clear – or essential – that every company do its part. In fact, according to the Symphony survey*, more than 80% of respondents think big companies should spend more money to help their communities recover from the pandemic, and 80% say they would switch to another brand that was dedicated to helping with these recovery efforts, even if the other brand costs more. In addition, when asked how important it was that the companies they buy products from are committed to supporting social and racial equality, 84% said it was important, with 51% of those saying it was very important. In other words, consumers want brands to give back and do the right thing - and are even willing to pay more to support them. So make a commitment to “be the change” through meaningful investment in your local communities and in larger movements that ensure more women and BIPOC have support for their dreams as well. In addition to making large corporate donations to relevant organizations, consider empowering your employees with a set amount of funds each quarter that they can direct toward the community non-profits and causes they care about in their own neighborhoods. Websites like DonorsChoose.org and Givsum.com are great resources for finding ways to support local communities.
Brands should take advantage of this remarkable opportunity to reflect on their values, their customers and their campaigns. Taking the time to conduct research, revise your messaging and invest in the collective might just help you find new ways to make your brand an indispensable part of your customers’ post-COVID lives.
*The Qualtrics XM survey was conducted from December 15, 2020 – January 15, 2021 and included a sample of 99 respondents. See below for the full survey results.