post-covid consumer

The post-Covid consumer syndrome

June 2021

The worst of the pandemic is hopefully over. But we now must adapt to the “new normal”. With that altered way of life inevitably comes changing consumer needs, priorities and behaviours. Some of which, no doubt, will be permanent. But who is today’s consumer? What are their new priorities and behaviours? How can businesses meet them, win back their trust, and in doing so maybe even emerge stronger than before?

Since the start of the pandemic, the EY Future Consumer Index has conducted five waves of research with 14,500 individuals in 20 countries and identified five different groups of consumers, driven by different priorities. From the need for affordability, to a desire for deeper value, transparency, safety, sustainability, social equity and empowerment, this article explores changing consumer beliefs and expectations in a post-pandemic world. And how businesses and marketers might successfully answer them. 

“The worst of the pandemic is hopefully over. But we now must adapt to the “new normal”. With that altered way of life inevitably comes changing consumer needs, priorities and behaviours.”

Check your purpose

The pandemic has thrown brand purpose under the spotlight. With the stripping back of consumer habits comes the stripping back of brand loyalty, and marketers will have to work hard to reclaim that loyalty. Having great products in the post-Covid world no longer cuts it. Nor does limiting your brand values to a page or two on a positioning document. Today, brand values need to become deeply ingrained principles that are consistently articulated in communications and backed up with decisive actions. Consumers are now holding brands to higher standards, and, if brands act for profit alone, they will be swift to make an example of them. 

“Today, brand values need to become deeply ingrained principles that are consistently articulated in communications and backed up with decisive actions.”

Safety, sustainability and social equity should  be high on the marketing agenda

As the Black Lives Matter movement took storm, wildfires raged and a heatwave was recorded in the Arctic Circle, 2020 was the year the world protested against racial inequality and woke to the enormity of the climate emergency. These events have shaped consumer priorities with equal magnitude, with 16% of consumers now seeking to engage with businesses that minimise their environmental footprint, and 15% with businesses that use their resources for social empowerment and collective greater good. Health and safety is another new consumer priority, with 25% saying that the health of themselves and their family is their most important consideration when choosing brands and products. This means marketers would do well to look beyond the rational benefits of physical products, and spend more time revealing how their company cares for our collective future. 

“16% of consumers are now seeking to engage with businesses that minimise their environmental footprint, and 15% with businesses that use their resources for social empowerment and collective greater good.”

In a post-pandemic economy, affordability is key

According to the EY Future Consumer Index, 32% of consumers are living within their means and budget, focusing less on brands and more on product functionality. The pandemic has made consumers extremely wary of unjustified cost (with a McKinsey survey last year revealing that nearly half of US consumers had significantly cut back on their spending), so both products themselves and the marketing strategies behind them must tick the usefulness and reliability box. This renewed emphasis will only bring more benefit to the customer, too, with businesses competing to offer real quality over simply luxury or covetability. 

Accelerate your digital marketing and experience

With Coronavirus came an explosion of digital in our daily lives, with everyone working,  shopping, socialising and seeking entertainment online. Across all countries measured in the McKinsey survey, consumers are still seeking digital, reduced-contact ways of accessing products and services. And with the shift in consumer habits likely to stick, all marketers should be prioritising e-commerce and social media as a means of connecting. Offline experiences should be made available online. Online interactions should be fresh and relevant. The process of actually ordering should be swift and easy. Content should be consistent and compelling. Newer technologies and communication channels should be leveraged to create deeper engagement – from AR and VR to Tik Tok Duets. 

With the stripping away of our ability to hug, shake hands, or browse the shops has come a craving for exceptional online experiences. As many as 12% of consumers say they now want to interact with brands and businesses that will enable them to make the most out of life. And businesses and marketers should be exploring every possibility to deliver that. 

“As many as 12% of consumers say they now want to interact with brands and businesses that will enable them to make the most out of life. And businesses and marketers should be exploring every possibility to deliver that.”

Make it personal

Personalisation is now paramount: the whole digital journey must take into consideration individual needs and therefore be frictionless for all customers. Data must be used to ease customer decision-making and build stronger human connections. And performance marketing and brand marketing must be given a more equal weight. When Covid exploded the need for data-informed solutions became greater than ever, and companies who aren’t investing in cutting-edge data and analytics models today will be running a risk tomorrow. 

“Personalisation is now paramount: the whole digital journey must take into consideration individual needs and therefore be frictionless for all customers.”

Moving forward: a new recipe for growth

All this means that marketers should be redesigning their strategy around how today’s consumers live, how they shop and what they care about, not just what they buy. Challenging times can and should allow us all to learn, adapt and transcend our existing way of doing things, and Covid, beyond being a disaster for businesses, may also be an opportunity for redefinition and growth – whether that means a re-articulation of company values, a shift in emphasis from product to motive, or an adoption of new technology.  And while economists are predicting that consumer demand is going to rise exponentially as more people get vaccinated, this is something that businesses should approach with proactivity and, dare we say it, something approaching optimism. With crisis can come creativity, after all, and perhaps this next year will be the one to prove that necessity really is the mother of invention. 

Illustration: Justyna Dybala