The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense economic fluctuation and disruption. Consumer behavior has morphed and shifted and will continue to do so as the pandemic recedes. These ongoing disruptions have posed many challenges for marketing professionals, demanding seemingly constant strategy adaptation to meet consumers’ changing needs and habits.
How Has Consumer Behavior Shifted During the Pandemic?
The most dramatic change in consumer behavior is the overwhelming shift towards digital shopping and, as McKinsey & Company calls it, the “homebody economy.” People have spent far more time at home, buying what they need and want online. People are spending more money on home items like fitness equipment, home-office supplies, appliances, video games and essentials.
Even as pandemic conditions improve, many people will likely continue to spend more time (and investment) in their home environments than they did pre-pandemic. Many jobs that went remote during the pandemic will stay that way. The money people have saved by not going out may well result in long-lasting home entertainment and shopping habits.
The pandemic has also disrupted brand loyalty by increasing consumer demand for convenience, availability and value. Consumer decisions regarding necessary in-store shopping are influenced by the safety and hygiene measures stores take to protect the public’s health.
Political polarization, movements for racial justice and other societal factors have also impacted consumer behavior in nuanced ways. Many consumers are making buying decisions based on a business’s values or social commitments. This form of value alignment has become a driver for brand loyalty. Conversely, a lack of value alignment may drive away previous or prospective customers.
How Can Marketers Adapt Strategy to These Changes in Consumer Behavior?
The most obvious adaptation marketers must embrace is engaging customers through digital channels. This has been an ongoing marketing trend for years. But with consumer behavior now occurring almost entirely online, marketers must advance the scope and impact of online marketing in innovative ways.
Scaling online marketing to reach consumers in the digital environment can include diversifying digital marketing channels to reach new audiences. However, doing this strategically means using advanced data analytics from multiple sources to target online marketing efforts where they will be most impactful.
In collaboration with other departments, marketing professionals enrich the consumer’s holistic online buying journey from start to end. Consumers expect personalized marketing including engaging content of all sorts that adds value to the consumer experience. They also expect personal, authentic connections and service throughout their buying journey.
Furthermore, consumers want convenience and immediate gratification in their buying journey. They want the ability to move seamlessly from product awareness to exploration and engagement from final sale to delivery. Marketers play a key role in designing this buying journey, using modern social media platforms, personalized content, AI-powered engagement and integrated eCommerce tools to create fluid and complete end-to-end consumer experiences.
Adapting With Empathy
In engaging consumers and guiding their buying journeys, marketers are essential in fostering the initial customer relationship. Building this relationship is integral to marketing strategies that drive long-term sales, growth and business continuity through disruption.
Empathy is at the root of building positive, trusting relationships with customers. Successful marketers in crisis times put customers first, listen to and address what customers want and provide information and support, much of which may have nothing to do with directly driving sales.
Perhaps the most important overarching adaptation for post-COVID-19 marketing strategy will be pivoting toward the customer. Every aspect of marketing efforts should show respect, understanding and empathy.
Yet, importantly, an empathetic, customer-centric marketing strategy can still accomplish marketing goals and benefit clients and businesses. Engaging consumers by celebrating user-generated content can create a community of brand awareness and loyalty. Expanding included services, extending free trials and reducing costs for existing customers incentivizes customer loyalty.
Adapting marketing strategies for the post-pandemic world is not a simple task. But the pandemic has driven creative marketing pivots that have proven effective, efficient and resilient to disruption. Such adaptations, innovations and movements toward personalized, customer-centric marketing are sure to shape industry trends long after the pandemic fades.