Business development / COVID-19 / Guest posts / Marketing

Brands: Here’s how to responsibly prepare for emerging consumer behavior

Amid coronavirus, companies "have the responsibility to seek an understanding of the changing needs of consumers now, and meet them where they are," writes Brownstein Group's Anne Ryan.

Brands need to consider the new mindset of the consumer. (Photo by Britta Jackson from Pexels)
This is a guest post by Anne Ryan, VP and director of brand strategy at Brownstein Group.
An unprecedented change in consumer behavior is underway.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in massive socioeconomic disruption that has affected all industry sectors, as well as every aspect of our day-to-day lives. Global supply chains have been disrupted with the same level of uncertainty as our interpersonal relationships to our families, friends and coworkers.

As marketers, we build brands and reputations based on cultural tensions and truths — and almost overnight, many of these have changed. We only know that one thing is certain: What brands do today, based on their understanding of consumers now, will resonate far into the future.

Agencies, just like our clients and partners, have an opportunity to step up and help redefine what marketing and communications will look like in the future. We also have the responsibility to seek an understanding of the changing needs of consumers now, and meet them where they are today.

As you we prepare to meet these challenges, there are a few preliminary strategies businesses need in order to adapt marketing communications during this time.

The first of these will be to start mapping changing consumer mindsets and adapting to their needs. During times of uncertainty, the human needs that first come into focus are those of affirmation and reassurance, and community and unity. Brands can’t be facetious, or assume they can make the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the coronavirus pandemic go away. But they can seek to be both assuring and useful in their communications and initiatives. Brands with the audiences and power to do so should be there to provide a sense of community to their clients or customers.

Because of the nature of changing consumer mindsets, which are as dependent on the ongoing pandemic as they are on upcoming health and state policies, the next priority will be to prepare flexible marketing strategies. Instead of relying on projections that could be severely undermined by a multitude of changing variables, brands need to focus their attention on understanding the immediate needs of customers and clients.

Finally, it’s time to set concrete interim communications goals for the time between now and the conclusion of the coronavirus pandemic. Consider how your communications can offset the emotional tax currently imposed on consumers, be authentic and not self-serving, and prepare for changes in business values to last long after the pandemic reaches its conclusion.

In order to demonstrate genuine brand purpose, brands first need to recognize the power they have to influence and change consumer behavior. This involves asking essential questions, such as: What behavior or issue is a brand uniquely qualified to impact? Where can it be a leading force of change?

At this time, brands need to seize opportunities to help, educate and reassure their customers and clients throughout changing circumstances. Among these opportunities lies the moral responsibility to help promote the recommended social, health, and communications guidelines presented by the CDC and World Health Organization. These include endorsing everyday preventive actions and helping build and maintain trust and transparency across the public and private sector.

Without a commitment to this kind of strategic understanding, brands will not be prepared to reach consumers now — in the middle of a “shut in economy” — or later, once it is safe enough for people to leave their homes and return to business as usual. They also risk becoming tone deaf to real-world circumstances, and risk losing the consumer trust and brand loyalty they have built over years of hard work and dedication.

Series: Coronavirus

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