The COVID pandemic will likely lead to fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour, sparking a new wave of social trends around everything from how people support local business to how they consume everything from music to movies, according to new research from Mindshare Canada.
The COVID-19: Canadians, Media and Culture study is based on two waves of research, the first conducted with 890 English-language Canadians on March 11, and the second with 845 English and French Canadians on March 17. Neither wave reflects the March 21 closure of the U.S. Canada border or this week’s closure of all non-essential businesses in Ontario and Quebec.
Canadians increasingly worried
The number of Canadians who indicated that they were worried about the COVID pandemic jumped from 46% in the first wave of research to 53% in the second, while the number of people who said they were anxious rose from 30% to 35%.
However, 23% of respondents in the second wave indicated that they were calm, up from 18%. The number of respondents indicating that they felt prepared also rose, from 19% to 26%.
Not surprisingly, all of the time spent in self-isolation has led to increased media consumption across all channels, with pronounced differences in the amount of trust consumers place in the various channels (see chart, right).
There are also major differences between the trust that English and French Canadians place in information channels, with Quebeckers placing greater trust in traditional channels such as TV news over government websites.
Google Trends analysis in recent days, meanwhile, has seen a pronounced spike in search activity related to finding cures for boredom, such as finding new books to read and activities to do with children.
Asked what they expect from brands at this time, nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents said that they should provide basic necessities for needed communities, while other expectations included advocating for impacted workers (62%), donating supplies (59%) and providing more information on product availability (48%).
People are looking to brands less for entertainment, with only 16% indicating they want humorous content to watch or read. Just 4% of respondents said they need nothing from brands.
Mindshare Canada’s chief strategy officer, Sarah Thompson, says that brands will be expected to act in the wake of the COVID crisis, with those perceived as bad corporate citizens subjected to public shaming.
Thompson says it’s still too early to determine if advertiser budgets will contract as a result of COVID, but says the approach in the short-term calls for “courtesy and compassion”—addressing consumer anxiety and fear that is being exacerbated by what is happening south of the border.
Clients are currently regrouping and determining appropriate next steps, she says. “Some will do it very publicly and some won’t.”
The next round of Mindshare research, Thompson says, will focus on what consumers are missing in this strange new world. This type of insight will shape how brands go to market in the near to mid-term.
“Brands have been pulling down advertising they know is not thoughtful, reorienting themselves to do what’s best for their employees and Canadians to protect jobs, but they don’t move lightning quick,” says Thompson.
“It takes time to mobilize those things, but I think in the next couple of weeks you’re going to be seeing some really tremendous things that brands are doing on behalf of employees and Canadians.”
Some Mindshare Predictions
Thompson also shared a few predictions about how consumer behaviour will change during the current period of self-isolation and its aftermath. It is a milestone moment for the world, she says, akin to 9/11 and the 2008-09 economic meltdown.
“There absolutely will be a before and after,” she says. “I think all of us are taking a gut check of what is important to us and what we hold dear. When you’re in isolation like this and you’re not spending a lot of time in the community you sort of take stock.”
One of her predictions is the rise of new media channels, particularly around content streaming and e-learning.
Among her predictions:
- Streaming everything
Consumers’ “daily stream-a-thon” on services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime during the isolation period will lead to a new content strategy for brands. The Chinese e-commerce giant Jingdong (JD.com), for example, recently launched a live-streaming e-commerce initiative called “Online Clubbing.” The program sees musicians and DJs deliver live performances with alcohol brands selling directly to viewers from the stream. That led to a 30% increase in sales.
- Online fitness
The fitness industry is about to “dramatically change,” with class-based operations like SoulCycle struggling to regain momentum when regular life does finally resume.
Thompson says that platforms like Instagram and YouTube could emerge as the primary delivery mechanism for fitness. “People will realize that I can do all those things at home much more cost effectively,” she says. “Those yoga mats they’ve had at home can get dusted off.”
Thompson also expects e-learning to emerge as a new media channel, with people looking to discover everything from a new habit to a new hobby. The advertising opportunities at this point have yet to be determined, but they will come, she says.
“All of the pieces to make it happen exist,” she says. “It’s a captive audience that is seeking something very specific, and it might end up being one of the premium marketplaces that are starting to emerge.”
- Frontline staff will be recognized as part of the brand identity
This phenomenon has become particularly noticeable during the self-isolation period, with people applauding retail staff who have been forced to work with the public despite risk of contracting the virus.
“This is the time where brands need to start thinking about how they train, manage and connect their front line staff to customers,” says Thompson. “They are integral to the loyalty and customer experience. Much like anything we do as marketers, they are essential to that overall marketing plan.”
- A new note for musicians
Most artists have already accepted that album sales are no longer a viable source of income, but the loss of touring revenue is leading them to look at adopting new revenue streams.
“They’re looking for ways of financing themselves… It won’t be long before musicians start to look at this as an opportunity to start earning revenue for themselves.” This will also be a new path for brand sponsorships, says Thompson.
This trend emerged early during the crisis with multiple artists giving live performances on social channels, including Sarah Harmer on Instagram stories, and a recent Facebook Live performance by country stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood actually crashing the platform multiple times.
Those concerts have mostly been free and focused on helping lift spirits, “but what you’re going to find is they say ‘I need to feed my family and pay my rent,'” says Thompson.
- Meal kits
Shares of the meal kit company Blue Apron have risen by more than 500% in the wake of increased consumer demand in New York, the epicentre for the COVID outbreak in the U.S. Thompson predicts that demand will continue even after restaurants re-open.
“What people are going to realize is how much money they can save with the limited cooking skills they have, and that going out to eat all the time is not a healthy endeavour either.”
Canadian grocers will be required to up their game in what could become a highly competitive meal kit space, says Thompson. One Canadian meal kit brand that is aggressively marketing itself during the pandemic is GoodFood, which is running ads featuring Toronto Raptors star Serge Ibaka on TV and social.
- What aren’t you wearing?
Thompson predicts that the fashion and beauty industries are about to be hard hit by the pandemic, with many brands that rely heavily on China for their supplies having already halted e-commerce because their supply chain has been disrupted.
There have already been countless jokes about people growing increasingly comfortable in sweats while self-isolating; it could be hard for fashion brands, particularly those in the couture space, to attract customers in what will likely be a period of austerity.
Thompson predicted that services such as Rent the Runway, which let customers rent high fashion for a fraction of the price of ownership, will grow in popularity. People will also likely cherish their existing wardrobe.
Movies @ home
Movie theatres, Thompson says, will have to drastically overhaul their operations, leading to new ad opportunities as they look to move first-run movies online. This will happen very quickly, she says. “As industries start to realize that the content they have needs to get to market.