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Consumer Culture in the Time of COVID-19: Fuel for Thought #2

The tide has turned, the sands have shifted, and this week the topic we’ve been hearing the most about is RECOVERY. For the first time in the nine weeks since our friends at Heart+Mind started collecting weekly data on consumer feelings, a razor-thin majority (51%) of Americans are saying it’s time to start removing restrictions and emerge from our hidey-holes. Every marketer we know is asking, “what’s our come-back plan?”

But we’re a nation of cognitive dissonance. We’re ready to start lifting lockdowns, but we’re not ready to resume normal life. According to the latest Harris Poll fielded May 15-17, 72% of Americans fear returning to public activity. Let’s face it: coming out of this is going to be a long haul.

So just for this week, let’s stop worrying about future come-back plans and talk about what brands can do NOW. Here’s what we know:

Our collective spirits are down. Heart+Mind and C|T Group have each conducted research that came to the same conclusion: the pandemic has had negative impacts on our sense of freedom and choice.  Our peace of mind has been unsettled. We’re not very happy, and we don’t feel very secure. We could definitely use some cheering up.

We want brands to lead us out of this. The Dentsu Aegis COVID-19 Crisis Navigator shows that, as of May 8, 55% of people believe brands should continue to acknowledge the crisis in their advertising.   People aren’t feeling super positive about the government’s ability to lead us out of this (per Heart+Mind, May 14, 60% of people are confused by messages from the federal government), so they want to hear from the brands they know and trust. They want to know – what are brands doing to keep their employees safe? What are brands doing to support the communities where they operate? Oh, and are they going to help me out right now, maybe with some discounts?

Now is the time to build loyalty. Not later. Think about a time in your life when you’ve been down and out, and someone has done something extra special for you. During a rough patch my junior year in college, a housemate cleaned my room for me. I didn’t ask for that gift, but it was exactly what I needed.

Brands have the opportunity to make that same kind of impact – the kind of impact that will make customers forever prefer you. So what can you do for your customers now that will exceed their wildest expectations? That they wouldn’t think to ask for? If you have a loyalty program, can you add points to your customers’ accounts, or bump them up a level – or two? If you’re an ecommerce brand, can you waive shipping fees for current customers for the next year? If you're a healthcare organization, can you give your customers a free subscription to a fitness app? And all brands should be thinking about extra special things they can do for their essential employees, because consumers are watching, and they care.

We call these Gestures of Extreme Generosity. Do them now. Because you will never have a better opportunity to do something to influence your customers’ emotions than you do now. And if you can build up their affection for you now, they will consider you a “Brand That Did The Right Thing When We Needed It The Most.” They will prefer you. They will advocate for you. And having customers that care about you is the rocket fuel that will propel your future recovery plan.