While the Coronavirus pandemic has altered the landscape of consumerism – potentially forever – it is also changing how CPG and retail brands need to build for and reach their audience. Consumers’ anxiety about the future, ongoing financial strain, and the deeper connections they’ve forged in their communities during this difficult time are all converging to make brands rethink their messaging and the role they want to play in consumers’ lives. Brands have to adjust their product and marketing strategies accordingly if they want to capitalize on the moment, make an impact on customers, and expand market share.
But it’s not only the existential questions that brands are grappling with. They need practical insights into consumers’ current attitudes and behaviors to better understand how to reach them, what channels to prioritize, and what they need to be saying. GutCheck recently conducted a study with more than 500 individuals aged 18-65 to uncover some COVID-specific insights that can help you explore and make effective strategy shifts.
Here’s what our study revealed.
Brands, Products, and Stores
As COVID drags on, consumers have mostly remained loyal to the brands they know. They’re purchasing top CPG brands like Pepsi (58%), Kellogg’s (58%), Kraft Heinz (55%), and Proctor & Gamble (52%). But they’ve also been exploring new brands and products. 38% of consumers have bought brands they wouldn’t typically consider because of product shortages. More than half of consumers bought new products like masks, sanitizer, gloves, and wipes. 58% purchased these new products at Walmart, 40% at Target, and 34% at a local grocery retailer.
COVID has not lowered brand loyalty for half of consumers. In fact, 28% said they’ve actually became even more loyal to the brands they love. But if there has been a shift in brand loyalty since the start of the pandemic, it’s largely generational. Millennials are the most likely to try out new brands, likely because the businesses targeting them on relevant channels have been able to make a positive impression through agile messaging and marketing.
Digital and Ad Experiences
COVID is still pushing consumers to engage in new activities, one of the more popular ones being the usage of mobile apps – 45% of females and 38% of males have done so. 48% of Gen X consumers have recently downloaded new apps onto their smartphones (more than any other generation), while 31% of Gen Z lead the way for tablet app downloads. It’s important that brands optimize their apps to keep up with this increased usage of apps across the board and create the most enjoyable experience for their consumers.
As COVID restrictions have started to lift to varying degrees around the country, many consumers said they’ll continue their current digital behaviors. More than 20% predicted they’ll actually increase usage of mobile apps and websites, social media, and online purchasing.
But advertising on digital and traditional channels may get trickier. Only half of consumers find COVID-specific advertising appealing. Of those who do, Millennials and Gen X consumers are the most receptive to the ads.
In-Store Shopping and Dining
Most consumers (7 out of 10) are expecting a second wave of COVID to hit, and while the majority (92%) are concerned about it, not everyone is united in how they’ll approach it. Some could still be spending most of their time at home and online during the next wave, while others are aching to get out and may decide to venture out a bit more. Approximately one quarter of men plan to dine out and travel less in the future, while also saying they’ll increase their web surfing. Females, on the other hand, are eager to shop in stores again – 38% said they’ll actually increase in-store shopping when COVID restrictions lift and the pandemic is under control.
While Gen Z consumers said they are ready to get out of the house to travel, shop in stores, and go out to restaurants, Baby Boomers are even more anxious to do so and plan to engage in those activities more frequently than they did before the pandemic.
How to Optimize Your Brand Strategy
Based on the findings from our study, here are a few ways you can adapt to these changes and improve your brand and marketing strategy:
- If you gained new customers during the early phase of COVID, continue to grow their loyalty on mobile channels. This is especially important for brands who want to target women and younger generations.
- Optimize online and digital experiences, and make sure you have differentiated strategies when targeting consumers on mobile devices. Women and Gen X shoppers use smartphones more than other segments, while Gen Z shoppers use tablets and subscription media.
- Establish a footprint in national retail chains and local grocery stores, which are the third-most visited stores after Walmart and Target across all U.S. regions.
- Since consumers, especially Baby Boomers and Gen Z segments, are eager to get out of their home, make sure you’re offering safe in-store and restaurant experiences.
- As restrictions lift, prioritize giving female shoppers a great experience, as they are the ones driving the return to in-store shopping.
- Be thoughtful about ads with COVID-specific messaging. It’s important to be creative and relevant in your messaging and communication when appealing to audiences who may be growing weary of COVID-related ads.
To learn how you can conduct more effective and actionable audience research and use those insights to inform your brand strategy during these challenging times, download our eGuide.