How Coronavirus impacts your consumer experience

* Consumers expect brands to make a difference in global crisis ─Study

* How COVID-19 is giving brand purpose a new meaning

* Corporations taking the lead where governments aren’t

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is having a very real impact on consumer behaviours, attitudes and perceptions in diverse markets across the world.

Dedicated research into the effects worldwide is giving businesses the up-to-date information they need to stay ahead.

How brands should respond to Coronavirus crisis?

In the GlobalWebIndex recent survey on consumer behaviours in respect of the actual impacts of the endemic virus humans worldwide, it is reported that consumers are one group that decides the business response to the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the study, a brand’s purpose found to be its reason for being – or so it’s been seen for some time now.

But for some, it’s merely a buzzword, for others it’s formed the most crucial aspect of their business.

Whatever the belief up to now, it should be noted that the Coronavirus outbreak is giving brand purpose a whole new meaning.

Presenting unprecedented challenges for people, governments, and businesses alike, if ever there was something that would put this concept to the test, this is it.

The crucial test here presents brands with a question: how will you respond? And consumers are paying attention.

Employing its very latest COVID-19 research into 13 markets around the globe, the team recently released findings on what it discovered thus far.

Consumers understand how they want brands to respond.

As COVID-19 epidemic has spread across the world, it is found that normal life has been put on hold for many people.

Right now, a third of the global population is under lockdown, according to some estimates.

Typical buying behaviours are on hold, old certainties are being shattered, and – most importantly – many are fearful about their future prospects.

In other words, consumers look to businesses to lead the response to Coronavirus outbreak.

Consequent upon this, consumers are now broadly in favour of some seismic changes to how businesses work.

83% think brands should provide flexibility in payment options, while 81% think they should offer free services to help pitch in.

Even under normal circumstances, consumers probably wouldn’t object to flexibility and free services.

Perhaps more striking is that 67% think brands should suspend factory production to make essential supplies, and 79% think non-essential stores should be closed down.

Those are enormous changes that require sacrifice on the consumer’s behalf. The fact that so many want this globally illustrates what kind of situation humans are now in.

Only 37% of consumers want brands to continue to advertise as usual.

This is the clearest sign that brands have to interact with the market in a fundamentally different way at this time.

Using the lens of brand purpose helps to ensure that any activity at this time isn’t perceived as profiteering, but as a contribution to a bigger battle.

The most effective responses will go beyond just messaging, and draw on other parts of the business.

But there is another way we can test how many people are putting a fresh onus on brands.

As the data in this blog came from a recontact study in 13 markets across the world, we can apply an audience of Internet users who usually want brands to be socially responsible, and see what differences exist between them and the average Internet user.

This would let us see if attitudes to brand response differ between those who normally want brands to act in a purposeful way, and those that normally have less of an interest.

What the data tells us is there’s no distinction. The current sentiment isn’t being driven by the most vocal advocates of brand purpose; it’s coming from everyone. Regardless of previous sentiment, consumers of all kinds support these far-reaching measures.

At this point in time, brand purpose is everyone’s concern.

Corporations are taking the lead where governments aren’t.

Consumers are one group that decides the business response to COVID-19. The other group are governments.

Brand purpose has to be high on the agenda because consumers are actively looking to corporations to lead the fightback where governments can’t or won’t.

While Coronavirus is ultimately a political issue, political leadership has been slow to emerge in some countries. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) have the power to make change while governments hesitate.

Analysing the finding on a country-by-country basis, the study notes that in countries where governments have taken robust action early (Singapore, Philippines) or imposed restrictive measures once the crisis escalated (Italy and China), they’re felt to be doing a better job than large corporations.

However, corporations are still rated quite highly, and will have a big role to play in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

Confronting Coronavirus will need a collective effort, where brands listen to consumers’ concerns and work with governments to produce solutions and assistance.

In markets where governments have been slow to react, or dismissive of the threat (the UK, the U.S., Brazil, and Japan), approval of the government is lower, and approval of large corporations is higher. Consumers in those markets expect businesses to lead.

Edelman’s research into trust and Coronavirus tells a similar story, that businesses are seen as leaders in the Coronavirus battle.

Because of this approval gap, playing safe, or doing nothing, just isn’t an option. Businesses have a responsibility to step in where government approval lags behind.

This is bigger than marketing – it’s providing a public service.

Many marketers are understandably anxious about looking like they’re trying to profit from a crisis. Looking at it this way helps remove some of that threat.

By considering what businesses can provide that governments can’t, it can feel like less of a commercial exercise.

For instance, Scottish brewer, Brewdog, has emerged as one of the leading lights of brand response, producing free hand sanitiser for those that need it, as well as opening virtual bars to help consumers undergoing physical distancing.

This, while sending a note to its shareholders that it had lost 70% of its income overnight, and was forecasting some difficult months ahead. Brewdog’s two measures show that brand purpose during Coronavirus is multi-faceted.

It’s not just about supporting healthcare initiatives, but going above and beyond to give consumers some assurance or entertainment in troubling times. It doesn’t have to involve a complete compromise of traditional brand values.

Brands, government’s response and consumer experience in Nigeria

ConsumerConnect reports that during the Coronavirus emergency, for example, Corporate Nigeria stakeholders in diverse sectors of the nation’s economy, under the aegis of the ‘Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), have intensified efforts at supporting the battle against the disease.

The CACOVID initiative being coordinated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), as part of the expectations recently grew its planned N120billion relief fund to N25.8billion.

Besides, the CBN as the Apex Bank in the nation’s economy also established a N50billion Targeted Credit Facility (TCF) for households, businesses, regulated financial institutions and other stakeholders hardest hit by the enormously infectious and distressing pandemic.

Several other corporate brands, though individually, have equally continued to support the fight against the spread of COVID-19 with adverts, commercials and jingles to sensitise the populace on practical measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

It is recalled that aside from the much-criticised Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the same Ministry has commenced the distribution of palliative materials.

These are basically grains, including maize, rice, millet, etc., being deployed to selected parts of the country to cushion the hardship of “the poor and vulnerable” individuals and groups.

Nevertheless, apart from a general impression by the populace that the government is not responsive to easing off the people’s untold hardships at this critical time, both arrangements of cash transfers and palliative materials have been roundly condemned by several state governments and a broad spectrum of Nigerians who believe that allocation of the palliatives is biased.

Many Nigerians have also alleged that the government does not really have a reliable database of millions supposed prospective beneficiaries the arrangements in the country.

But President Muhammadu Buhari recently approved the release of a sum of N500billion as a stimulus package to prop up the nation’s economy over the devastating effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Nigerian populace.

Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s Honourable Minister for Finance, Budget and National Planning, stated it at a media briefing in Abuja, FCT, Monday, April 6.

Why businesses are rated higher than governments in many lands

Even though businesses are rated higher than governments in many markets, there’s still work to be done.

More context can be drawn by comparing how consumers view the response of large corporations compared to local businesses.

According to the survey, in most markets, consumers feel local businesses are doing more than large corporations.

The nature of the outbreak and its effects, particularly physical or social distancing, makes a local connection with consumers important, and they’ve probably had to be more nimble in their response.

But it shows that larger brands, as well as having the resources to make meaningful change happen, can aim for the level of intimacy with consumers that local businesses have.

Because of this vacuum in leadership, brands will be defined for years to come in how they reacted in times of crisis as the COVID-19 epidemic.

With so much scrutiny on them, those that took up the fight in a global crisis will be remembered, whereas others may end up on the wrong side of history.

As lockdown spreads, so do brand expectations

Incidentally, because of the manner in which COVID-19 has spread in several economies of the world, it has deeply affected some countries before others have followed suit.

This was evident in the recent film project 10 Days, where Italians recorded messages to themselves sharing what they wished they’d known 10 days ago, before Coronavirus ravaged the country.

The film was created with a view to warning other countries about complacency.

This lag between countries presents a pattern the research bears out, particularly when it comes to how brands should respond.

We can get a rough metric of the extent of its spread by looking at what lockdown measures were in place at the time of research.

By this measure, Spain (86% on full lockdown), Italy (83%), France (67%), the Philippines (59%) and China (31%) were most impacted.

It’s no coincidence, therefore, that these countries are the most demanding when it comes to brand expectations.

Italian consumers are keenest for suspension of normal factory production, and they tie with Spain for wanting widespread store closures the most.

Consumers in China lead in wanting free services.

To put it frankly, when a lockdown is instituted, and most activity stops, the brand-consumer relationship significantly changes.

As more countries, including the UK, have gone under lockdown since the research was conducted, we can expect consumers in countries like it to follow the Italian and Chinese examples and demand more from businesses.

It’s important to act in these countries now, and anticipate the change that’s coming.

Brand purpose is no longer about brand health.

One of the first Coronavirus initiatives from a brand to get serious attention was LVMH’s transition to making hand sanitiser, as it was such a profound move from a brand usually focused on exclusivity.

Not all businesses can make hand sanitiser. Not all have factories or networks of stores to draw on. How exactly businesses contribute depends on each case.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. But there are creative ways to do so, and businesses have to look at some of the longer-term implications of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Brands that have pursued a more aspirational or fun image can still contribute by making a virtue of these qualities. It doesn’t have to be doom-and-gloom.

People will be faced with social isolation, financial precarity, and will lose much of their regular sources of entertainment, fitness, and other important things in their lives.

These are all places where brands can make a difference beyond the initiatives more directly linked to healthcare, like making hand sanitiser, or face masks.

It’s fair to say the general approach from brands to Coronavirus until now has been one of caution, but we’re past that stage now. It may well end up riskier to do nothing.

Brands may be wary of association, but just as dangerous is the association with not contributing to a global crisis.

Whereas it shouldn’t be the focus right now, brands that do this will emerge as leaders after the crisis.

Every business has to look at the resources it has available, and determine how they can be deployed for the benefit of all, particularly for economies or markets where governments have been slow to lead, corporations have a responsibility to take positive action.

Right now, brand purpose isn’t about brand health –it’s about public health and wellbeing.

Additional reports by Alexander Davis and Gbenga Kayode.

Kindly Share This Story