As we enter the tenth month since the pandemic began, it has become obvious that many consumer behaviours are becoming habits, and those habits at scale over time are becoming trends. I’m fascinated watching and studying all the shifts taking place right now, many of them well on their way to becoming permanent. One way to understand what is driving behaviour, is to look at changes in motivation. I’ve got three concepts to consider related to this.
I heard an interesting new phrase a couple weeks ago called “risk credits.” As in, “Taking transit is not worthy of a risk credit.” The phrase was curious, but what it stands for is fascinating. It’s essentially people putting a measure of risk trade off associated with different activities into play when deciding how they will spend their time, and with whom. It’s similar to the age-old “time worthy” assessment, of who and what will earn your precious time. But the difference is, risk credits are governed by fear. It’s an interesting concept that is likely to influence consumer behaviour for some time. When I put the idea out to my weekly e-newsletter subscriber base, it generated a lot of discussion, as well as numerous examples I hadn’t even considered: changing athletic activities to those with less risk of injury and subsequent medical or hospital care required, stories of abandoning life long medical or teaching professions perceived as higher risk now, and major lifestyle changes to protect an aging parent. The list was long, and the behaviour changes profound. But the underlaying theme was one of changes likely seismic enough to be permanent. But there were also fears framed from a positive perspective – the fear of not moving forward but wanting to continue their career journey, the desire to make the best of things, to relish the gift of reflection, and reframing priorities around health and happiness.
What became very apparent is that the world we emerge back into, whenever the heck that is, will not only be different, but so will the people. As marketers we need to understand that. Everything you thought you knew about your target audience customer needs to be reassessed. While their demographic and geographic profile may have stayed consistent, their psychographic and behavioural profile is likely to have been impacted. Here are four (admittedly loaded) questions you might want to consider:
Has there been a shift in their values? If yes, what?
How might this shift in values impact your communications with them? (where, when, how, why, what and frequency?)
Has there been a change in their buying behaviour? If yes, what?
How might this shift in needs that are driving buying behaviour impact what you sell? (where, when, how, why, what and frequency?)
What’s the insight and opportunity? Understanding deeply the entire customer journey is a good place to start, and reframing every interaction from a possible position of fear. It’s sounds negative, but it isn’t really. What you’re searching for is even the tiniest insights on how you could make your interaction more safe and comforting, compared to the alternatives, and how best to communicate that. Health and economic fear are two big buckets to consider, but there are also other fears at play – missing out, being alone, moving forward, accomplishment, living with regret.
The travel industry is doing their best right now to reframe interactions from a position of fear, and addressing anxieties. Every customer will have his or her own “risk credit” equation though, so it’s still a battle as long as the pandemic is a threat. I would expect the industry to offer solutions to some of those other fears though – not living with regret, sharing memorable moments, reuniting with global friends and family, and planning for the future – even if just holding a ticket is the thing that provides hope. They certainly need to be careful how they sell it, so they don’t appear tone deaf to the current situation, but there is an opportunity here to sell not just travel and all it’s wonder, but to ultimately sell HOPE.
The notion of risk credits a big concept. This behaviour motivator will be with us for some time.
As humans we crave contact and connection, but right now there is a huge absence of touch. Some people haven’t hugged an elderly parent in close to ten months. Most haven’t embraced close friends or relatives. There are no high-fives. A normal handshake between strangers for a business interaction no longer happens. Some toddlers and pre-school kids have never experienced a world of interaction and touch beyond their parents. The need for touch might help explain why so many new puppies have entered our lives recently too.
In the commerce world, we have no touch payments and online order delivery, which bypasses the tactile experience of purchases. Where does all this lead? Marketing is all about discovering unmet or underserved consumer needs, and fulfilling them. I suspect the experience or promise of touch will have huge economic value in the future.
What’s the insight and opportunity? There will be a huge opportunity in the areas of “reuniting and celebrating” and whatever might stem from that. If there’s a “hug” as the customer journey goal, there’s opportunity. There might also be a revival in products, services and experiences that demand touch, taste, and smell in person. Denied for so long, there is likely pent up demand to escape the screen – in person touch will have economic value.
We have found comfort in many things since March – sweat pants, slippers, duvets, party from the waste down Zoom calls, home cooked meals, Netflix, DIY projects, gardening, board games and of course new pets! Much of this has been centered on home out of necessity, however I think there’s a bigger concept afloat. The craving for comfort is a defense mechanism against the pandemic, but also other threats – a widespread unease around divisive politics, social media news influence, shifting global alliances, and a feeling of increased helplessness in the face of environmental concern. In times of crisis, people often return to nostalgia – memories from the past, or of simpler times. It’s all wrapped up in the craving for comfort.
What’s the insight and opportunity? Comfort marketing and nostalgia is likely to be an emerging concept. Anything that delivers comfort, security, simplicity or a sense of normality could have appeal. Nostalgia items like rotary dial phones, turn tables and LPs, flip phones, film cameras, board games are tactile examples, but it could also mean tapping into positive cultural references from decades past through music, art or theater. Or it could also involve past fad items like hula-hoops, the Rubix cube, pet rocks, cabbage patch dolls or Pokémon. Comfort marketing is apt to be with us for some time, as society collectively tries to “heal” from social divisions and the impacts of the pandemic.