10 THINGS MARKETERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR DURING EPIDEMICS AND PANDEMICS

A UK REPORT COMMISSIONED BY THE PLAYBOOK & INNOVATION BUBBLE

The spread of Covid-19 has now passed an inflection point and the marketing game is just about to be changed like never before.

To bring some clarity and context to the multitude of information currently in circulation, The Playbook has partnered with consumer behaviour psychologists Innovation Bubble to shed some business insights to help marketers shape their future plans over the coming weeks and months.

10 KEY QUESTIONS ON CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR:

1. HOW WILL CONSUMERS CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR IF THE VIRUS CONTINUES TO SPREAD?

People are reluctant to change their behaviours unless forced. In this early stage, there will be a cautious business as usual approach, but be prepared for rapid change. Currently this is a minor outbreak compared to normal winter season illnesses like flu, but the unknown nature of the virus means a growing fear of contagion is likely to prompt widespread aversion behaviour.

People, whether infected or not, significantly reduce activities that put them in close proximity with others. During the SARS epidemic in 2003, we saw a significant reduction in activities like flying and eating in restaurants, as well as workplace and school attendance.

2. HOW SHOULD I BE ALTERING MY MARKETING STRATEGY IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES?

Marketers should design their current strategies based on understanding consumer behaviour and identifying the real drivers.

There is an opportunity currently for brands with products in highly-relevant categories – such as disinfection products, medicine, insurance, food, health products, fitness and office equipment – to simultaneously contribute to the public good and capitalise from a marketing and sales perspective.

3. IF I WERE TO DO ONE THING TO PROTECT OR ENHANCE MY BRAND DURING THE VIRUS OUTBREAK, WHAT SHOULD THAT BE?

Take caution to try and avoid self-serving marketing – don’t be seen to be profiting from an international crisis.

Marketing efforts should be focused on any relevant ‘self-isolation’ activities, whilst carefully building a narrative around public service in order to protect the reputation of your brand.

4. WHAT IMPACT COULD IT HAVE ON BRANDS AND SPORTS BUSINESSES?

We’ve already seen an economic impact, with stock markets falling and in China, there have been serious challenges to consumer spending on transportation, retail and tourism. A major casualty has been the travel sector and the impact on events is only just beginning with cancellations across almost all major sports.

The winners will – unsurprisingly – be brands who embrace online consumption. Apart from e-commerce, this may include the fields of healthcare, distance learning, gaming and eSports, live streaming, virtual entertainment, telemedicine/tech/insurance, and remote working/enterprise communication software.

5. IF CONSUMERS ARE NOT ATTENDING PHYSICAL EVENTS OR PURCHASING IN A PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT, HOW ELSE CAN I REACH MY AUDIENCE?

As of today, the UK market is still very much business as usual, but in the next few months using online platforms will be key.

We expect to see a boom in ecommerce, eSports, gaming and online apps – behaviour trends already witnessed in China. People will be more likely to purchase products online and expect to see an increase in virtual events through online streaming services.

6. SHOULD I BE EXPLORING DIGITAL ROUTES AS ALTERNATIVES?

Brands should minimise their out-of-home consumer engagement (e.g. cinemas, airports, railways) and instead upweight on digital tactics (such as online media, social media and information sites) during the outbreak.

It’s important to focus on maintaining credibility during this time – and communications and adverts focused on public interest should be prioritised over overly sales or product-driven communications.

7. WHAT MEDIUMS AND CHANNELS WILL CONSUMERS BE PUTTING THEIR TRUST IN?

If self-isolating becomes widespread, consumers will spend more time on digital channels such as online news sources and social media. Consumers will tend to trust resources that offer social good and that are consistent in their messaging around the virus, so brands should look to offer tips on staying protected and avoid explicitly pushing products.

It’s predicted that live streaming office, as well as gaming and virtual entertainment will see the biggest benefits in the short term, as these businesses are optimised to operate through a prolonged period of self-quarantine. Live streaming content may see a surge in availability as more people have time on their hands to produce and consume it.

Don’t be surprised to see ‘Netflix and self-isolate’ trending…

8. WILL CONSUMERS BE MORE HYPERAWARE OF A BRAND’S SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY DURING AN OUTBREAK?

Brands have a duty of care during this time – as misinformation and uncertainty on social media could spread panic and then affect behaviour by consumers and individuals who are trying to stay out of the way.

Companies need to tread a fine line to not risk being misinterpreted by consumers. It’s not the time to be seen beating your own chest or profiting off misery. This is the time to be a good corporate citizen.

9. AS A BRAND, HOW OPEN SHOULD WE BE WITH HOW MUCH OF A RISK THIS POSES TO OUR BUSINESS?

Plans for pre-emptive communication to employees, partners, customers and investors can help reduce the risk of harmful overreaction that drives most of the economic losses arising from disease outbreaks.

Organisations should ensure communications regarding the nature of an outbreak are people-focused, transparent and ‘business as usual’ to help reduce the likelihood of panicked consumer responses. Simple online health tips and guides for staff and consumers are immediate and simple tools for halting the spread of disease.

10. HOW LONG WILL THE ‘AFTER EFFECTS’ BE FELT FOR?

In China, the knock-on effects and China’s dramatic response are daily making themselves felt, from disrupted air travel to rattled supply chains and plummeting commodity prices that are dampening growth prospects from Southeast Asia to South America and beyond.

For the rest of the world, the full economic fallout currently depends on how well the outbreak is contained or limited but expect a very challenging consumer landscape for the rest of 2020.

HOW WE CAN HELP

– eSports: ‘Is eSports Coronavirus proof?’  Talk to us about our deep sports heritage and how learnings can be translated into the online and gaming space, delivering proactive comms and consultancy for the likes of NFL, UFC and LaLiga.

– Virtual Events: ‘Is Coronavirus a change for brands and organisations to roll out long-discussed digital solutions?’  We are already seeing an upsurge in requests for digital experiences, online engagement and web-based solutions for internal comms, conferences and consumer brands. With increasing pressure on business travel and real-world events from a time and environmental perspective, an enforced period of remote working and at-home leisure could fast-track tactics which have until now been regarded as longer term.

Rather than cancelling your next event, you can repurpose your assets to create a digital delegate experience.  Talk to our Studio to discuss how at studio@wearetheplaybook.com.

– Content strategies: ‘Can content fill the events gap?’  Whether your brand calendar is being forced to shift as a result of virus outbreak or not, there’s a likelihood that a big proportion of your audience is watching and listening online.  Upweighting your output, whether capturing new imagery, video or digital assets, or to repurpose brand collateral, can make digital tools work harder for you to continue to connect with customers and staff.

ABOUT THE PLAYBOOK

Founded in July 2016, The Playbook has a mission to create game changing communications and campaigns that create fame, action and results for the world’s most ambitious brands.

With The NFL and England & Wales Cricket Board as founding clients, The Playbook has a number of high-profile clients with consumer brands like Bosch, OMRON and 888sport and global sports brands UFC, LaLiga and INEOS.

The business is also shortlisted for Young Agency of the Year in the Sport Industry Awards 2020 and was a finalist in the PR Week New Agency Awards 2018.

Our sister agency Hanover has launched a dedicated crisis comms team to help companies and NHS hospitals that are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. The team is led by Alexander Davies working in tandem with Gavin Megaw.

ABOUT INNOVATION BUBBLE

We are a psychological insights and behavioural solutions consultancy.

We deploy all our expert team to support clients with timely and affordable solutions.

We help you understand the ‘whys’ of your target audience’s behaviour.

We work with you to adapt, grow and be relevant to these audiences.

WE MAKE THE UNCERTAIN CLEAR

Over the past ten years have been providing advice and brand work for clients in all sectors including such brands as Diesel, Virgin Atlantic, Ted Baker, SpaceNK, and Pandora.

Achieving up to 50% increase in sales for clients and 60% decreases in customer churn we know our customer behaviour.

We help you understand the psychology of customer decisions, online and offline and how to navigate the situations and environments that impact their behaviour.