Inside Marketing

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Rapidly changing habits around health and the environment may pave the way back for marketers in a post-Covid-19 world

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a grim reminder of the delicate balance that exists between a brand’s positioning and the context in which that positioning is communicated. This year, the Conscious Consumer project set out to understand the influences impacting consumers and their purchasing decisions. The fieldwork for the research took place before the lockdown, but there is confidence that the insights uncovered by this project remain valid. 

At a minimum, understanding how consumers were thinking and feeling heading into the lockdown can help inform how they behave during restrictions, and how they might act during an exit.

Today, consumers are more informed, more aware and more discerning when it comes to how they think about their purchasing and consumption. They are changing their behaviour for health and environmental impact reasons. Equally, concerns around gender equality and new product alternatives are changing how they behave and what they buy. Too often we consider only a slim vertical of context, directly related to a brand’s category context. The Conscious Consumer work provides an opportunity to consider the broader context of Irish consumerism.

Main concerns

Electric scooters, vaping and even worries about gun control are now influencing our choices in Ireland, but the three main concerns identified by the Dentsu Conscious Consumer study in January 2020 were health, poverty and climate change.

It is probable that as we begin an exit from the lockdown phase of this pandemic and begin to consider the new reality, these three issues are likely to remain. 

Fifty-one per cent of people aged 15-64 in Ireland felt general and mental health was their biggest concern. For brands operating in the health sector this void provides opportunity and MedTech is growing as a result. The MedTech sector’s growth outpaced the broader life sciences industry in 2019. Poverty, unemployment and wealth inequality was the next issue most concerning Irish citizens. 

According to Social Justice Ireland, there were 689,000 people living in poverty in Ireland at the end of 2019. Unemployment levels at the beginning of 2019 were at their lowest since 2008, yet unemployment was still seen as a key issue, as was wealth inequality. 

Climate change moved more centre stage as an issue during 2019 and this was set to continue into 2020 and beyond. To what extent this stays on the agenda during and after the pandemic is difficult to predict. 
Economic pressures and health concerns may push environmental issues down the list of factors influencing consumers. However, the stark impact lockdown has had on the planet as humanity reduced its footprint may bring into focus the importance of continuing to protect the environment. It may continue to be a key motivational lever for brands to be aware of. 

Our research showed that 33 per cent of people aged 15-64 are actively reducing their meat consumption, 87 per cent use a reusable water bottle and 79 per cent use a reusable coffee or tea cup. Just over half of us wash out and recycle household items, showing a real change in behaviour linked to environmental concern and how it is influencing purchasing decisions. 

Controversial subjects

Income inequality in general and market inequality in particular, have been controversial subjects and “the squeezed middle” has been hotly debated over the last few years. This research did not set out to prove or disprove inequality or distribution of wealth, but a very clear trend emerged in the data.

The age demographic of 45-54 consistently behaves differently to other age groups: they are most likely to be value conscious, least likely to be socially conscious and most likely to feel disappointed that the 2020 budget did not include any changes to tax rates and bands. This group were also among the heaviest drinkers and smokers in Ireland and the least likely to exercise regularly. There are many explanations as to why this particular age profile feels most under pressure, but it could be argued that these are the people most negatively affected in the long term from the 2008 recession.

Previous studies have found adverse effects of unemployment, income shocks and poor living conditions have a significant impact on health and suggest that a health crisis may follow economic crisis in the medium and long terms. The impact of Covid-19 on mental health has been identified as a massive threat in the short term, but the longer term footprint may still be felt by key demographics well into the 2030s and 2040s. Marketers trying to understand the delicate balance of message and context in the midst of the crisis need to ensure that this level of interrogation and insight is not lost as we move into the exit stages and beyond.

New technology has narrowed the space between offline and online worlds dramatically over the last few years, with lockdown bringing the reality of living life through digital platforms under the spotlight. The speed and comfort with which we have all embraced this new digital reality has been extraordinary and our trust of the platforms has not been an issue. 

TikTok is exploding and Zoom is now part of our everyday lives facilitating everything from quizzes to family get togethers. Our research showed that 17 per cent of Irish consumers were active users of TikTok prior to the pandemic lockdown and usage will likely be significantly higher after this period. 

Esports, one of the fastest growing sectors globally, has also been demonstrating rapid growth since 2016. Our research showed that prior to the lockdown, 22 per cent of consumers were watching esports, with 18 per cent participating. The void that “real” sporting event cancellations has created during Covid-19 will almost certainly be filled to some extent by esports. Those watching esports are highly engaged and connected to the players and the game tactics, providing marketers with great engagement opportunities.

Starkly represented

This merging of real-world experience and digital experience is starkly represented when considering that the same percentage of people trust the Government as they do their virtual home assistants such as Google Home, and Amazon Echo.

The way consumers are accessing their information has also changed dramatically. Seventy-six per cent believe that fake news is a problem, yet just over half regularly check if the content that they are consuming is accurate. Most feel that the publisher is responsible for this accuracy check. Fifty-six per cent feel that Facebook is responsible, 30 per cent believe it is Google, and 19 per cent feel the Government is responsible.

As we consider the reality of emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, economic recovery and value will dominate consumers’ decisions. Some form of gradual lockdown exiting will begin across the globe over the next few weeks and being contextually aware of where and how we place our brands will never be more important. 

It would be remiss to only consider data and learnings within the lockdown time frame. There is an opportunity to understand the influences on purchasing behaviour as we headed into the crisis, what we know during the crisis and to learn from history to help inform the new post-crisis reality.

Dael Wood is director of strategy and insight consulting at Dentsu Aegis Network 

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