The pandemic has disrupted nearly every routine in day-to-day life. In ordinary times, consumers tend to stick to their habits, resulting in very slow adoption of beneficial innovations that require behavior change. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused consumers everywhere to change their behaviors rapidly and in large numbers.
In the United States, 75% of consumers have tried a new store, brand or different way of shopping during the pandemic. Behavioral science tells us that identifying consumers’ new beliefs, habits and “peak moments” is central to driving behavioral change.
Five actions can help companies influence consumer behavior for the longer term:
- Reinforce positive new beliefs
- Shape emerging habits with new offerings
- Sustain new habits using contextual cues
- Align messages to consumer mindsets
- Analyze consumer beliefs and behaviors at a granular level
When consumers are surprised and delighted by new experiences, even long held beliefs can change, making consumers more willing to repeat the behavior, even when the trigger is no longer present. For example, approximately 15% of US consumers tried grocery delivery for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those first timers, more than 80% say they were satisfied with the ease and safety of the experience; 70% even found it enjoyable.
Companies can nudge consumers toward new habits through product innovation. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred consumers to become more health oriented and increase their intake of vitamins and minerals. Unilever reported a sales spike in beverages that contain zinc and vitamin C and is aligning its innovation priorities with consumers’ emerging health and wellness concerns.
Habits can form when a consumer begins to associate a certain behavior with a particular context. Eventually, that behavior can become automatic. To help turn behaviors into habits, companies should identify the contextual cues that drive the behaviors. For example, more companies are keeping hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes near entryways for easy access and as a reminder to keep hands and surfaces clean.
McKinsey’s consumer-sentiment surveys show that consumers are paying closer attention to how companies treat their employees during this pandemic and taking note of companies that demonstrate care and concern for people. That has implications for how brands connect with consumers and what types of messages will resonate.
For example, hair-care brand, Olaplex, became one of the most mentioned hair care brands on social media when it started an affiliate program. The company donated a portion of its proceeds from product sales to customers’ local hairstylists, helping them stay afloat during salon closures.
Companies must also conduct primary consumer-insights work, with a focus on identifying changed behaviors and associated changed beliefs and motivators to get a comprehensive picture of the changing consumer decision journey. Digital data gathering and monitoring techniques such as mobile diaries, social media listening and AI driven message boards will be vital tools to help companies understand emerging behaviors and contextual cues.
Companies that develop a understanding of the changed beliefs, peak moments and habits of their target consumer bases and adjust their product offerings, customer experiences and marketing communications accordingly will be best positioned to thrive in the next normal.