COVID-19 has spurred a seismic shift in consumer behavior, and not just in regards to our newfound appreciation for toilet paper. In the blink of an eye, we went from socializing around the water cooler to Zoom happy hours. The idea of a drive-through has expanded from your local fast food joint to grocery shopping, medical care, and even entertainment. Digital consumption in all forms is at a peak across demographics (no shame in our screen time game).

Such behavioral shifts have thrown an unexpected wrench into 2020 marketing strategies. The channels and messaging used to resonate with your target audience pre COVID-19 are likely much less effective today, given these changes. Let’s take a deeper dive into the most pronounced behavioral shifts and an example of how the Revel team helped one brand effectively pivot their marketing strategy.

Four key consumer trends born from the COVID-19 pandemic that impact your marketing strategy:

  1. Actively pursuing stability, consistency, and trust. One of the major behavioral shifts first observed by McKinsey’s research team is that consumers are clamoring toward more trusted brands. This is a shift from 2019, when brand loyalty wasn’t quite as sticky as in years past. During the COVID-19 lockdown, however, 55 percent of consumers reported returning to brands they trust, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Furthermore, from that same study, nearly 61 percent claim that how a brand responds during the crisis will have a large impact on whether they continue buying from that brand when the crisis is over.

During periods of great uncertainty, consumers actively seek brands who can provide a sense of stability, consistency, and transparency.

  1. Stronger support and appreciation for local. The near-total shutdown of travel and other lockdown constraints forced people — some for the first time ever — to refocus inward toward their own neighborhoods and community for emotional, mental, and economic support. As McKinsey’s ongoing ethnographic research has shown, supporting familiar, local businesses has now become increasingly important to many people in the U.S., driven in part by greater confidence in their quality and safety. Hyper-localization marketing, personalization, and mirroring community “oneness” in your approach are all sage strategies to address this behavioral trend.
  2. Centered, rational spending and sentiment. Perhaps one of the most interesting consumer insights from the COVID-19 shakeup is that spending behaviors and sentiment have largely remained consistent for the majority of Americans. Reactionary behaviors to the COVID-19 pandemic have also mostly been centered (i.e. not over- or under-reacting).

A recent Gallup panel and survey found that it may behoove financial marketers to begin looking beyond the traditional demographic splits that were used pre-COVID; during a pandemic, age itself is trumped by other factors. Gallup uncovered that the majority of consumers now fall into one of the following newly identified segments, based on pandemic reactions, willingness to spend, and economic position:

Middle Ground (24%). While somewhat concerned about their financial standing, they aren’t overly cautious about Coronavirus. Financially they aren’t in an outstanding position, but they’re also not in the red.

Cautious and Able (24%). Their concerns about Coronavirus have altered their day-to-day behavior and they take more health precautions. They’re spending less overall, but they can still afford to spend the way they did pre-COVID.

The remainder of consumers, according to Gallups data scientists, fall into one of the following segments. It’s important to note that only 19% of consumers can be categorized as “greatly” adjusting their spending behaviors due to direct financial impacts from COVID-19.

Cautious Possibilities (19%). Similar to cautious consumers in #2, this group is inclined to self-isolate. They are less financially able, but not actually suffering economically.

Ready and Able (14%). These consumers express fewer COVID-19 concerns and are making few if any adjustments to their routine to avoid potential exposure. They are also in a strong economic position, making them the most likely to be walking around with money and ready to spend today.

Cautious, Not Able (10%). These people have concerns about the pandemic and have adjusted their lives accordingly. They are also hurting financially.

Ready, Not Able (9%). While ready to go out and return to life as normal, they are not ready to spend because they’re economically unable.

  1. Escaping digital exhaustion. When it comes to digital adoption in 2020, we’ve covered a “decade in days,” according to McKinsey. Whether we wanted to or not, many people (especially older demographics) were forced into the adoption of new technology in order to work, educate, and entertain from home.

Furthermore, according to ComScore, total digital visits (mobile and desktop) across ten key categories peaked during April 2020 with 64.3 billion digital visits. Since then, total digital visits have slowly declined, but still remain over 30% higher than pre COVID-19 levels. This data suggests that while consumers are spending less time online now than during the height of the lockdown, digital behavior is still significantly more prevalent than it was pre COVID-19.

All of this rapid digital adoption and consumption will inevitably, though, leave consumers with a hangover. While it’s wise to reexamine your marketing strategy to include a strong digital focus, it’s also important to proactively plan for a potential digital fallout. When your audience steps away from digital for a breath of fresh air, does your brand still have a plan for staying top-of-mind?

Accommodating for these collective insights regarding consumer behavior while simultaneously standing out from the crowd continues to be a challenge for any marketing strategy, and one that was recently posed to the Revel team by the Springfield, MO Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Throughout the pandemic, many well-known brands have struggled to differentiate their pivot messaging in a memorable and resonant way. Case in point: this supercut video of various spots that largely work from the same template. Remove the logo from each, and would you be able to tell which brand each spot belonged to? The Revel team worked through the motions of this same exercise with CVB, and in doing so it became evident that a differentiated campaign was needed in order to stand out and better align contextually with their audience.

Creative that is rooted in deep consumer truths is most effective, so our process began with brainstorming around the previously presented audience insights: The fact that people are seeking brand transparency; they value a sense of community and supporting local more than ever; they are taking a measured approach to spending; and that digital exhaustion is real. From there, the concept of “Give Yourself a Weekend” emerged.

Consumer sentiment: “Every day looks and feels the same during this pandemic. We’re all stuck at home, glued to a screen.”

Consumer problem: “My family and I need a change of scenery, but during COVID-19…how?”

The solution: Inspire people to rethink what it means to getaway.

The strategy: Shift consumer mindsets from weeklong vacations on the coast to a weekend getaway in their own backyard.

Creative approach: Depict families breaking away from the COVID-19 digital monotony to safely enjoy all the unique experiences that Springfield, MO has to offer. Talent was depicted wearing facemasks where appropriate, and city-wide safety and sanitation measures were punctuated to instill confidence and trust in a Springfield, MO getaway.

Results: The “Give Yourself a Weekend” spot was a success by all accounts and applauded by CVB for its ability to: position Springfield, MO as the solution to digital exhaustion; for transparently addressing the realities of COVID-19; and pivoting their messaging and creative approach in a differentiated yet topical manner.

As we continue to navigate the next phases of COVID-19, so too should you continue to monitor the implications of this pandemic on consumer behavior. If you understand the importance of pivoting your marketing strategy right now, contact the Revel team to see how we can differentiate your voice. Who knows, perhaps we’ll even help you go viral (in a very safe and creatively cool way).