COVID-19 brought us many changes.
Consumer interactions with products and services have changed. An empty shelf in a supermarket made consumers be in survival mode. Some even fought to get essentials, and there were no joys around shopping. We just wanted to satisfy our physiological needs in Maslow’s hierarchy.
Self-isolating ourselves from all usual social interactions gave many people a chance to stop and step back from their busy lives. This taught us that life could dramatically change overnight and asked us a fundamental question; what is important in life?
Nature also gave us a wakeup call: canals were cleared, and fish and swans were back in Venice, Italy, known for its foul-smelling waterfront instead of a beautiful landscape. Grey skies disappeared as factories stopped releasing pollution in China.
What is the consequences of these experiences for relationships between consumers and brands so far and in the future?
COVID-19 pushed consumers to try new brands in a short time frame
Take Abel & Co, organic food retailer whose mission is to deliver the best organic food to a table of customers. They provide in-season-vegetables-and-fruits, with fewer chemicals to over-produce, less carbon footage and less plastic pollution.
Demands for their food delivery services increased during the pandemic and that was to the extent that they needed to shut the door to new members, which they had never seen in their 30 years of experiences.
After COVID-19, Adel & Co will put themselves in a great position, as many new customers have experienced their services: customers experienced how easy it was to place an order, the delights of enjoying seasonal vegetables, how great to feel that their consumption had a less negative impact on the environment.
In other words, COVID-19 has introduced new brands, such as Adel & Co, to many customers.
Consumers have been given opportunities to have a clearer idea of what’s important for them during lockdown. In other words, ‘purpose‘ has become an even more influential factor for a buying decision. If the reason why a brand exists is aligned with what consumers believe, they will happily be part of the brand community.
Another interesting example from Abel & Co is a new product called ‘Food on the table,’ introduced during the lockdown. Surprisingly, this is not an organic range of products, and they let whole sellers (who normally deliver quality food to restaurants) use their platform to reach end customers.
They clearly explained the reason why they launched it; it’s win & win for customers, whole-sellers and Abel & Co. They will cut food waste, contribute to keeping a job for wholesalers and growers, etc. by providing a channel to sell, and customers have better chances to secure food delivery slots. With a clear purpose explanation and communication, customers will be likely to support the brand’s initiatives in the future.
Brands can only grow when they act upon words
Pret A Manger, a sandwich shop started in the UK, is one of the early adopters of this unprecedented situation and started distributing free coffee and discounts to NHS workers from late March 2020. Many brands showed gratitude for these front line workers by saying ‘we are here for you’ or ‘thank you’ in their messages; however, it was not common to see these messages coming with actions. Pret's nimble actions beyond profit will remain in the consumers' minds even after the pandemic is over and will surely serve as a fond foundation with consumers for the future.
Another aspect that COVID-19 made us rethink was ‘sustainability’. A mover and shaker for sustainability will become mainstream. We witnessed how our mass consumption was impacting the earth by examples mentioned above. In fact, we knew that mass production and mass disposal were happening somewhere in the world, given our access to cheap food and garments, etc., but we have been ignoring it.
COVID-19 has triggered a change in consumer behaviour, as it established clearer links between every choice that consumers make and its impact on the environment. Actions speak louder than words. Consumers are more seriously but unconsciously relating to brands that keep their word, linking to the brand’s purpose.