Changing Habits and Changing Brands

Maria Topken

VP, Client Leadership
Changing Habits

Practically overnight in mid-March, the country went into sheltering-in-place due to COVID 19. Many brands and retailers were taken by surprise as “panic-buying” kicked in for consumers. This pandemic has created different shopping behaviors as relationships with brands are being tested. McKinsey’s research reports that more than 75% of consumers have experimented with a different shopping behavior during the crisis, including trying new brands and places to shop. The high unemployment rate has also been a force behind people changing brands. Creating loyalty is a must for a brand to succeed in today’s new world. Winning brands are doing the following to gain and retain the customer’s loyalty.

Listen closely. Doing formal research takes time – and it’s time you may not have. Many consumers talk to others before they talk to you. Following consumer sentiment via social channels is a must. There also is technology that allows you to gather real-time feedback that your frontline employees may be hearing and witnessing firsthand. Analyze the information, determine what is relevant, and then act quickly and appropriately.

Personalize your brand. Strive to understand your customer’s mindset, and then connect in a meaningful way. What’s top of mind for many is the importance of staying safe during these times. Many retail brands are sharing what they are doing to keep us safe when we enter their locations. Zoom Meetings has delivered a free service so you can stay safe at home and still connect with others in a fun way. Also, YouTube’s campaign #StayHome and help save lives #WithMe focuses on the many things we can still do together while we’re apart – painting, cooking, jamming, to name a few.

Add value. Don’t confuse adding value with discounting. Show that you care and you’re in this to help make life a bit easier during these hectic times. For example, Anytime Fitness provides virtual workouts, live cooking classes, and advice from coaches in the areas of stress management and nutrition. The New York Times offers daily coronavirus updates to non-subscribers to help keep everyone informed. Best Western Hotels & Resorts is allowing members to retain their current elite status through January 31, 2022, without needing to fulfill the necessary qualifications. Consumers tend to stay with those brands that have a heart and make life better.

Provide convenience. I applaud the many parents that have suddenly taken on the role of teacher and coach while continuing to be the breadwinner. Finding time to handle some household chores is tougher now, and those brands helping us “find time” will be rewarded with loyalty. Panera turned its extra food challenge into a positive by selling its produce, dairy and breads to their online customers who were purchasing meals. Kroger’s pick-up service has skyrocketed. For less than $5.00, Kroger will do the shopping for you and deliver it to your car. Even brands such as Target and Kohl’s now offer curbside service.

Offer new products to solve for new pain points. With health and hygiene being at the top of everyone’s list, some brands have asked how can I become a solution for some of these new pain points. The producer of Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey is using its US distilleries to produce hand sanitizer. Ford, General Motors, and Dyson are producing ventilators for hospitals. And Gap announced that it would use its factory partners to make masks, gowns & scrubs for healthcare workers on the front lines.

Things aren’t going back to what we used to know as “normal.” AlixPartners’ research shows that as many as 30% to 45% of consumers said they were willing to stick with a new national brand, and 25% to 30% said the same for new private label. A new normal is being created, and those brands that can pivot quickly, fail fast and try again will be the winners as consumers look to brands to supply necessary products along with the intangibles that make life a little less crazy.

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