The Coronavirus pandemic has caused drastic changes in consumer behaviour – but how long are these changes going to sustain?
Brands are no strangers to change and crisis management – in fact, many have mechanisms in place to handle them. No amount of crisis management training, however, could have prepared the world for the Coronavirus pandemic. The biggest marketing challenge right now is deciphering what people really want, and understanding the overall consumer sentiment. Marketers are now faced with the added challenge of understanding consumer behaviours, expectations and needs in the midst of these tough times. Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) hosted a webinar recently, and the participants included Sapna Chadha (senior country marketing director - Google India and Southeast Asia) and Sukhleen Aneja (CMO, hygiene home for South Asia - Reckitt Benckiser).
The webinar discussed in detail what Google search behaviour can tell us about consumer priorities, and the trends that are here to stay. The webinar also talked about what these changes meant for the marketing community at large. To begin with, Chadha spoke about how the Coronavirus pandemic has ushered in the ‘new normal’, and how this way of living is here to stay, even after the lockdown is lifted. “This is a time when brands should attempt to stay connected with their consumers. It is important to communicate and be sensitive in those communication. Don’t use humour, it may not be perceived well,” she stated at the beginning of her presentation.
Chadha went on to explain that once the pandemic struck, three new search patterns emerged on Google:
1) Shock – characterised by a sudden change in behaviour as people are forced to go out less.
2) Step-change – this refers to changes in consumer behaviour that may sustain after the lockdown (such as shopping for groceries online and an increased interest in viewing OTT shows and video games).
3) Speed up – namely, the acceleration of certain pre-existing behaviours which may sustain after the lockdown ends (such as an increased interest in exercising, cooking, and streaming videos).
Chadha also pointed out that habits pertaining to personal hygiene, cleaning of homes and washing hands will persist even after the lockdown has come to a close.
Aneja said that that the Coronavirus outbreak has caused irreversible changes in consumer behaviour – which was normally a mammoth task for marketers to bring about. “How we adopt to new trends, spend money and clean our houses, are going to change dramatically. This is an inflection point that industries haven’t seen in almost a 100 years. There’s a heightened interest in personal hygiene. Beyond habits, the way we work has changed, too. There’s been an uptick in virtualisation as well – many people are working from home, and many aspects related to payments are also becoming digitised,” Aneja explained.
She added that there is going to be an increased interest in e-learning “Once consumers adopt a new habit, it’s unlikely that they’ll go back. E-learning also increases access to education to those who can’t afford to go to a school, or sit in a classroom.”
Chadha then said that Google search results revealed the different ways in which customers are trying to better themselves, while staying at home. “There has been an increased interest in quick, simple recipes, and cosmetic and wellness DIY home remedies. Interestingly, the queries for tools such as beard trimmers has increased by nearly 400 per cent,” she added. Chadha also mentioned in her presentation that there has been an increased interest in shopping for groceries online and offline.
“This has led to people trying brands that they may not have normally tried, and there has also been an increased interest in supporting local businesses at a time like this. It’s not just Gen Z, but even the older generation of consumers are adapting to online purchase of groceries as that’s where availability lies. It also helps maintain norms of social distancing, with precautions like contactless delivery,” she said.
Another point that came up during the presentation was the increased interest in OTT and news consumption. “Every time the Prime Minister makes an announcement (between the months of March and April), we always see an increased interest in news consumption. The increase in OTT consumption is a given, considering that people are spending more time at home. We’re expecting this interest in news and OTT consumption to sustain as a habit, even after returning to office, though not in the same volume,” said Chadha. Indians additionally have increasingly been searching for and consuming content in regional languages - a behaviour that is expected to stick, even after the pandemic ends.
During a fireside chat between the two speakers, Aneja revealed that travel, tourism and the hospitality sector might take the longest to recover, but it’ll get there - “We were seeing an economic slowdown long before the onset of COVID-19 and the crisis has caused the personal hygiene category to attain a relevance at an all-time high level, since disinfection for disease prevention is the need of the hour.”
“Moreover, the need of the hour is to ensure that resources are available for everyone. We must realise the importance of public-private partnerships, and nobody can succeed without creating an ecosystem where we all work together, for greater good,” Aneja concluded.
View the full presentation below.