Five Key Insights Illuminating the Way Forward for Brands – Coronavirus Consumer Advisory Panel 1

We hope you, your family, and friends are well and receiving the support you need, perhaps even finding some degree of contentment as we all transition into a new way of life.

On our end, we have an important development to share: the creation of our Coronavirus Consumer Advisory Panel, a thoughtful group of 50 consumers who’ve agreed to provide guidance and insights to brands and companies during this sensitive time.

As you might expect, consumers are making significant and, in all likelihood, lasting changes to the way they interface with brands and companies on every level. From shopping and path-to-purchase, to interaction with advertising content and products, to emergent expectations for how businesses should conduct themselves in the midst of the pandemic and beyond.

We’ll be providing ongoing updates from our panel on evolving consumer sentiment and implications for marketing, business, and society as a whole.

It is meaningful to first note that practically all panelists – despite their fear and uncertainty at this time – feel inspired by what one called “the greatest collective altruistic movement in business of all time.” Tens of thousands of brands and companies have stepped up to selflessly contribute something of significant value during this crisis period. There are countless uplifting stories to this effect…but not all so. Some brands are making serious mistakes.

Now let’s take a look at the findings.

Our initial round of discussions focused on how consumers perceive brand and company responses to the COVID-19 crisis. We spoke with our advisory panel about what’s good and bad so far in the responses they’ve seen. Some brands they praise as heroes (as they have taken meaningful, helpful action) while others have been branded villains (for taking advantage of the situation) or sloths (who’ve done nothing or are “dragging their feet”).

What exactly did our Coronavirus Consumer Panelists factor into the rationale behind these brand perceptions? We’ve pinpointed 5 major concerns that influence brand perceptions in the time of the COVID-19 crisis. We are witnessing and participating in the establishment of a new consumer order – one in which these themes will likely remain prominent determinants of a brand’s success.

  • No matter how big or small the gesture, did the company take initiative with appropriate adjustments to its communications, policies and procedures, products and services, and/or its delivery channels?
    • Or did it proceed with business as usual, as if nothing had happened, as illustrated by Sandals Resorts. “A week after the CDC released their COVID projections, Sandals Resorts sent me an email that read, ‘Hello Paradise!’ Okay…well you can still get COVID-19 in paradise.”
    • Walmart responded quickly by creating “special hours for seniors, keeping stores stocked, limiting the number of people in their stores, and providing extra hand sanitizing and shopping cart sanitizing measures.”
  • Or was it just another sales angle devised to boost image and visibility?
    • High marks were awarded to brands that
      consumers perceived as selfless. Panelists were more likely to view a response as “selfless” if it was swift and executed without prompting. “Tesla,” for example, “rose to the occasion and was the first automaker to offer its resources and equipment, without being forced.”
    • Consumers expressed disdain for companies they viewed as taking advantage of the situation to further their own interests. “Hyundai tried to spark new car purchases by enticing people to buy now saying, ‘we will not ask for payment for x amount of months.” The panel felt this type of marketing by any company at this point in the crisis was “only setting the buyer up for failure.”
  • Abrupt, “heartless” layoffs – especially for those companies with a substantial cash cushion – are a big negative. A pronounced theme that ran throughout our panel discussion was the position that “now is the time to put the common good above profit”.
    • Champion received several positive mentions in this respect since “their CEO is going without pay to keep people employed.”
    • Brands caught in the consumer crosshairs are those like the Kennedy Center, which “received $25m from the federal government and then immediately furloughed its staff.”
  • Our panelists tell us these measures must be well communicated, publicized, and demonstrated by new safety policies and procedures.
    • From the most thorough…“Publix has been seen sanitizing and cleaning their stores daily. The staff has taken every step in letting the community witness their efforts in fighting COVID-19 and keeping us safe.”
    • To the heedless…“Kroger was crowded and people there were not social distancing. Their employees were not wearing masks. It felt like there was more of a chance of getting the virus by going there than by going to a hospital.”
  • Consumers know there’s going to be a new normal, and they are
    looking to their favorite brands and companies to lead the way.
  • Brands who are making meaningful adjustments are catching the attention of our panelists. Panelists have noticed: revisions to communications/advertising, products and services mix, and delivery channels – especially those moving to online sales and servicing where possible.
    • A few examples from our panelists: “CVS started doing home deliveries of medication,” and “Clarity Counseling in Wilmington has transitioned completely to online tele- health services [and] is offering the first session for free.” With counseling and other health services more vital now than ever, these timely alterations to fundamental business models have been win-win.

And that’s a wrap.

Amidst the never-ending stream of reports and news blasts flowing in from all directions, the last thing we want to do is flood your inbox. We’ll deliver our shortlist of key findings from our Panel to your desktop (or kitchen table…or closet office) once every few weeks. We hope that this small gesture supports you at this time.

Stay tuned for our next report entitled The Art and Science of Pivoting in the Time of Coronavirus.

We’re taking your suggestions for future panel discussion topics. Which questions are most pressing for you in your industry at this time? Send a quick reply to this email with your input and we’ll work your questions into our discussions with the panelists.

​Our best to you and those whom you hold dear – keep well in mind, body, and spirit.