Changing Consumer Behaviours: Your business needs to react

By Dave Hickey

Consumer beliefs and behaviours changed quickly during the COVID-19 lockdown and these changes are continuing as societies re-emerge. What does this mean for your business? Can you change how you operate to take advantage of this mini-revolution?

The pandemic disrupted many routines in our daily lives. Closure of schools and businesses as well as restrictions on travel, even locally, forced people to give up deeply ingrained habits.

A recent article by McKinsey points out that in ordinary times, consumers tend to stick stubbornly to their habits, resulting in very slow adoption (if any) of beneficial innovations that require behaviour change. Now, the COVID-19 crisis has caused consumers everywhere to change their behaviours—rapidly and in large numbers. In the US, for example, 75 percent of consumers have tried a new store, brand, or different way of shopping during the pandemic. Even though the impetus for that behaviour change may be specific to the pandemic and transient, consumer companies would do well to find ways to meet consumers where they are today and satisfy their needs in the postcrisis period.

What’s important to consumers now?

Behavioural scientists have shown that the set of beliefs a person holds is a key influencer of their behaviour as a consumer. Beliefs are so deeply-rooted they perpetuate existing habits rather than encouraging a logical evaluation of options. Businesses which ignore or challenge consumers’ beliefs face huge difficulty in motivating behavioural change.

Now however, COVID-19 has forced consumers to change their behaviours and these new experiences in turn have caused them to alter their beliefs about a wide range of everyday activities such as grocery shopping, exercising or engaging with food outlets. If the experiences are good, even long-held beliefs can change leaving consumers more willing to repeat the behaviour even when the trigger (COVID-19) is just a memory.

If these new ways of operating are beneficial to the business, then owners need to find ways to reinforce these habits in the minds of consumers. For example, grocers could consider including a handwritten thank-you note or some other surprise, such as a free sample, to reinforce consumers’ positive connections with the experience.

Messaging aligned to Purpose

The anxiety brought on by the pandemic and its restrictions on societies have made communicating with consumers a tricky task right now. Consumer sentiment is very different from what it was at the start at 2020 and is still evolving. The ability of a business to strike the right tone in its communications will be a competitive advantage.

McKinsey’s consumer-sentiment surveys show that consumers are paying closer attention to how companies treat their employees during this crisis—and taking note of companies that demonstrate care and concern for people.

A brand’s communications must align with its purpose otherwise its messages won’t ring true. Consumers will quickly see through inauthentic or manipulative messaging.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed people’s routines at unprecedented speed—and some of those changes will outlast the pandemic. Businesses that develop a nuanced understanding of the changed beliefs, 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.

See the full McKinsey article here.

The Leading At The Edge Online event on 7th October will provide business leaders and managers with insights and tools to help them build better organisations for 2021 and beyond. Find out more here.