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The First Deep-Dive into Consumer Behavior in the Time of COVID-19

The First Deep-Dive into Consumer Behavior in the Time of COVID-19
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We are now more than a month into the new normal of the COVID pandemic. Buying patterns have been massively disrupted, millions have lost their jobs with panic buying affecting many categories while others have nearly collapsed.

When it comes to multicultural segments in particular, a few things stand out.  First, culture is a significant determinant of human behavior in this crisis and therefore understanding cultural variation is critical.  Who is stocking up more or less?  Who is listening to influencers more than news and vice versa?  These are questions brands need answers to.

Second, the growth rate of the multicultural population and expenditure in good times is important, but in bad times, that growth rate is critical.  From our scenario modeling, we have seen there is virtually no chance of brand growth in a downturn without successfully activating multicultural consumers.

And finally, multicultural influence on the general population only increases every day.  For brands, that means that building trust and cultural relevance with these segments creates cross-over effects that drive demand across all segments, especially younger white segments.

To successfully address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities, brands need to understand how culture is intersecting with the current climate to alter attitudes, behaviors, and receptivity to support and outreach.

With this end in mind, Collage Group fielded a study during the last week of March to provide members insights into the attitudes and behaviors of different cultural groups—racial, ethnic, and generational segments—during this time of crisis and uncertainty.   We covered attitudes, COVID mitigation behaviors, employment and finances, buying patterns, time spend, general behaviors and expected future behaviors.

Read below for four top findings from the research. 

Key takeaways

    1. Most people recognize the seriousness of the disease and don’t need to be scared into action.
    2. Avoid alarmist messaging. Remain fact-based and compassionate. Messaging should recognize that people are doing what they can, but can do even more to ensure success.
    3. Hispanic consumers are overwhelmingly feeling the economic impact. And Millennials—a group that has already experienced significant economic hardships due to student loans and the Great Recession—are bracing for more disappointment.
    4. Tell consumers how your brand will support them during these hard times. Offer coupons, extended free trials, etc.  Let them know that you know they’re struggling. This is the time to build connections and trust that can last for years.
    5. Black consumers are more likely than other groups to have bought more food, beverages, personal goods and household goods since the start of the pandemic.
    6. Understand which segments are changing behavior; who to target right now is as important as how to market.
    7. Everyone is spending more time on social media and streaming platforms, but this amplifies the differences in information people receive.  Note that younger consumers, especially younger multicultural consumers use different channels for getting information, relying more on influencers than the news.
    8. Build a culturally fluent channel strategy.  More than ever, brands need to show up in the places where segments retreat into their preferred media bubbles.

Please contact us to learn how our COVID pandemic research can benefit your brand.

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The Coronavirus Crisis Research Initiative

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The Coronavirus Crisis Research Initiative
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The coronavirus crisis is changing everything in ways we never expected. Read more below to understand our research and review custom options for obtaining detailed reporting and proprietary insights.

The coronavirus crisis has now emerged as a once-a-century transformation in the global economy, with radical impacts on trade-flows, consumer behavior, and spending across every industry. Collage Group members are now in the throes of intensive investigation into consumer response across every category.

Two factors reinforce why this initiative is so important.


Cultural differences impact consumer behavior even more a time of crisis.

Cultural backgrounds significantly influence the neuroloigical “defaults” in human behavior, especially when it comes to health.  Consider the progress of COVID-19 in South Korea vs Italy, both democracies in which multigenerational households are common.  The differences could not be starker. Indeed, the difference in outcomes could not explained without recourse to an understanding of differences in culture.

The multicultural contribution to growth increases in an economic downturn.

Multicultural consumers will continue to drive the majority of spending growth through this crisis.  Indeed, the multicultural contribution to growth has historically increased when the economy shrinks.  Indeed, all our projections indicate the contribution can only increase in the future. As you can see from the chart below extracted from our Big Shift research, multicultural response is even more important at this time than in periods of economic strength.

We cover four components in our coronavirus crisis research:

1. Deep Dive Syndicated and Omnibus Survey

Our main survey goes deep into culture factors that are critical to differences in consumer behavior.   We incorporate cultural attitudes that impact health and response to risks to health, such as social proximity conventions, multigenerational contact, fatalism, compliance with authority and other factors.  The difference between the Italian and Korean situation cited above is probably due to these factors in no small part

We will look at a variety of questions including:

    • How does consumer reaction to the coronavirus vary across race, ethnicity, and generation, gender?
    • How do cultural factors such as social proximity, risk aversion and multigenerational interaction impact behavior and motivations across demographics segments?
    • How are consumers across all segments altering purchasing behavior across and within categories, including stockpiling?
    • How are consumers viewing the future, where will they spend when the crisis passes and what will be the long-term effects on behavior?

2. Tracking Survey

Our tracker goes beyond top-line reporting.  We will look at levels of concern in multiple areas (financial, health, etc) as well as with government and media response. We will also track behavior adoption change which can be used by brands to encourage consumers to “do the right thing” and which may be predictive

3. Revised Spend Projections and Brand Response

We will updating our Annual Population and Expenditure analysis. We will look at a variety of questions including:

    • How are population and spending projections likely to be altered across race, ethnicity, generation, and gender?
    • How will these projections alter the outcomes by category?
    • What are emerging examples of effective marketing during the Coronavirus crisis?

4. Custom Solutions

Questions we are currently address on behalf of members  include:

    • How are consumer behaviors changing with respect to my specific category, brand and consumer segments?
    • How are my marketing efforts being perceived by consumers?
    • How is my size of prize changing?

We’d love to hear from you! Talk to us about the benefits of Collage Group’s methodologies.

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American consumers are experiencing a cultural transformation of unprecedented scope and scale. The pressure is on to rethink marketing with a focus on authentic connections that tap into culture, identity and emotion. This rapidly evolving landscape requires a new approach to assessing and building brands, centered on what we refer to as Cultural Fluency.

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