Brave (New?) World

A man looking through a telescope into the distance, standing on a giant question mark.
Written by Kay Robinson,

How understanding consumer attitudes/behaviour now is the best way to predict the future – the Gusto view

We’ve all noticed changes in our behaviour since COVID-19 hit the UK – from how we interact with one another, to giving greater consideration as to how and where we spend our money. Given the extremity of how quickly life has changed – and how significantly – across all sectors there’s now the pressing question of how differently consumers will behave in the future. What behavioural shifts resulting from the pandemic are here to stay, and what does that mean for consumer-facing brands?

Many are predicting the future…

Attempting to predict the challenges of the future are various articles which talk about the ‘new norm’, arguing that many aspects of life will be different going forwards. Supporting these interpretations are some results from COVID-19 trackers, for example that of YouGov; which finds that 63% of British people are ‘wary’ of visiting pubs post-lockdown. In the same tracker, many also report feeling uncomfortable with the idea of returning to re-opened commercial establishments such as clothing stores and restaurants, with women and older people (50+) particularly strongly represented in this category.

…But how true will consumer predictions like these hold going forward?

At Gusto, we believe the challenges associated with asking consumers to accurately tell us what they will do in the future haven’t fundamentally changed. It’s perhaps now harder than before, for consumers to give a reliable assessment on how their future behaviour might look when potential paths (i.e. political, economic and social) forward from the crisis are still very unclear.

We’ve been listening to some interesting commentary on this topic from Mark Ritson. In his contributions to a webinar from Marketing Week, he makes the point that our expectations of the staying power of behavioural changes emerging from a crisis are often too high. Using the example of the behaviour of the British public during the Mad Cow disease in the 1990s, Ritson cites reports from many UK consumers that they would avoid buying British beef in the future – yet demand post-crisis has gone on to grow year on year. In further evidence of the limits of change, when comparing data both pre- and post- the 2008 financial crash, many behaviours remain relatively constant. This suggests that consumer habits can be remarkably resilient to crisis.

“…consumer habits remarkably resilient to crisis”

So given the need for caution when interpreting consumers' projections of their future behaviour, how can brands respond to the present crisis in a way that will remain relevant going forward? Due to how fast consumer behaviour and the political response to the virus is changing, there is a clear and present role for research to play in ensuring that brands are able to support NPD and future-proofing strategies with relevant and robust insight. As Lucy Banister notes on Marketing Week’s ‘The Lowdown’ webinar, consumers are in some ways now even more equipped to provide actionable insight, as the lifestyle shifts enforced by COVID-19 have to a degree sensitised us to our own habits. For brands, this spontaneous navel-gazing is a window to be able to understand and ensure that products and services meet the needs of new and existing audiences, as consumers are able to identify what the benefits driving their choices are; both previous and current.

“…consumers are in some ways now even more equipped to provide actionable insight”

The opportunity for brands seems to lie in harnessing this introspection, and in understanding consumers in the present moment. From there, we can uncover and address core questions around drivers of brand loyalty and identify opportunities to innovate right now and also in the future. Brands of course need to think ahead, and at Gusto we’re well placed to tap into consumer mind-sets – and as ever, understanding the ‘right now’ will be the key to unlocking future consumer behaviour.

By Kay Robinson

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