6 Weeks for 6 Months

6 Weeks for 6 Months

May 11, 2020

Consumer mindsets in the second half of this year

While the entire world has suffered from COVID-19, it’s important to understand the nuances of how people are being impacted. In the U.S., where more than 95% of the population has been under some form of stay-at-home order, the experience is largely dichotomous across several different axes. The socioeconomic divide is arguably the most stark and, for good reason, the most reported on. From a consumerism angle, there are other differences in this socially distanced experience that are not only affecting emotions and decision-making today but will inform behavior for the rest of 2020. In order to better understand the dividing lines and overall sentiment as the country begins to “reopen,” McKinney conducted a nationwide quantitative study, in addition to in-depth interviews with a generational cross-section of consumers, which was first presented to the ANA Monday. The responses are all from the last seven days, providing a real-time view of the consumer mindset as states begin to loosen restrictions.

While many people admitted that they’re simply bored, the most frequently cited feelings revolve around anxiety and depression — a further illustration of the need to balance mental and physical health. These feelings are even more prevalent among adults in households with children, which is a clear theme that emerged throughout our research. Among those families with children at home, 34% with kids younger than five years old report being “overwhelmed” compared to 20% of parents with kids older than five. Households with children of any age are significantly more concerned about contracting the virus than those without kids — a data point that may change over time if more studies like this one emerge showing that children are less likely to contract or transmit COVID-19. 

Across the board, people most fearful of contracting the virus are also most concerned about a negative impact to their employment, primarily in the form of reduced hours. The level of this concern is similar among those who identified as a liberal or a conservative, though liberals were much more concerned about contracting the virus, in general. Of those surveyed who had already lost their job due to COVID-19, 40% were confident of finding  new employment in the next two months. All of the data underscores the delicate balance between mental and physical health, while having to weigh the economic realities that can negatively affect both.

The beginning of what has been referred to as our “new normal” is starting to take shape as the country eyes reopening and people are forced to consider how they will adjust. While conservatives and rural responders are more likely to support the country reopening this month, 78% of all people believe that their state should be open by July 1. By then, about half of respondents say they’ll be ready to shop in retail stores and eat at restaurants. However, it will be September — at the earliest — when that same number of people are willing to stay in hotels or attend sporting events, and even longer to get on a plane. Most of the people we interviewed said that they would be surprised if they got on a plane again this year, and all said that they wouldn’t be attending a crowded venue like a concert until well into 2021. That said, some things are universally pined for — every individual we spoke to said that the first thing they’re going to do when possible is go to a salon. Outside of some basic pampering, the majority of people in both the qualitative and quantitative research just want to be social again. When we used the phrase “social distancing” we were corrected several times that we’re practicing physical distancing — social interaction, while more often than not over a screen, has been vital during this time. As one interviewee put her challenge “People who have real hobbies are better off than me because my hobby was socializing.”

Interestingly, the signals that the country is “back” differ across party lines. Liberals are more focused on virus-related measures like large-scale testing and tracing, while conservatives are looking to social cues of public spaces opening, more people traveling, and being able to watch live sports on TV. The first demographic who will embark into this new normal are younger (18–34 years old) and don’t have children, while households with kids will respond to the reopening by spending money on things within the home. That said, the majority of people surveyed believe that the virus will come back at some point this year.

This is where brands need to focus — since we don’t know when the virus will come back or how the government will respond. Because of the unknowns, a single approach won’t work. Rather, companies need to create conditional marketing plans to prepare for an evolving reality. To do this, we recommend a simple equation: Brand Experience divided by Category Expectation. Based on what society at-large and, more specifically, your customers may face, are you able to pivot to the appropriate brand experience? This takes into account all points where a customer may interact with your brand and, by extension, your product or service. Are you clear on what your customers are thinking today, what they are feeling about the rest of this year, and, in turn, what they expect from you? Because one thing everyone in the country has been doing while under stay-at-home directives is thinking. Thinking about what they need, what they want, and what they can live without. The only way to stay in lock step is to have a conditional marketing plan ready to go when your customers emerge and pivot as the year goes on.

McKinney CEO Joe Maglio presented these findings and his thoughts on Monday, May 4, in the ANA webinar, “The Next 6 Weeks for the Next 6 Months.” You can download a copy of his presentation here and view the webinar here. If you’d like to receive a copy of the complete McKinney survey, click here.