One Consumer Need Brands Must Meet to Thrive in COVID-19
At first glance, McDonald's new ads reminding customers about the restaurant's contact-free options such as home delivery and drive-through takeout during the pandemic is a straightforward example of how brands are adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. However, the ads are a lot more clever than that.
In fact, they're speaking directly to a major — but often overlooked — consumer need that brands must fill in order to make it through the COVID-19 crisis and come out thriving on the other side: helping people feel like they're in control of their lives.
It’s no secret that this crisis is set to create a whole new generation of brand winners and losers. Companies will either have to shrink or shut down, whereas others will come out on top. Although there are obvious things that will affect a brand’s chance at success — e.g., physical location, sector of industry, etc. — there are also a whole host of more subtle characteristics that matter involving how brands make consumers feel.
Marketers have caught on quickly to consumers' needs for feelings of comfort, indulgence and a sense that they're spending wisely in these times. Muffin Break has nailed the comfort and indulgence angle with its “You Deserve It” ads. Everyday items like bath and shower products are being positioned in a similar way. By reassuring potential buyers “We understand that you want to feel safe,” a new Buick GMC ad checks the comfort box psychologically. Buick is also offering 0 percent financing for 84 months and deferred payment options to help people feel they’re making smart spending decisions.
Another clear need marketers are rushing to fill is people’s overwhelming desire to feel they’re doing something good for themselves right now. Take Calm, for example, which is running ads inviting viewers to "Join the millions experiencing better sleep, lower stress, and less anxiety.” Clearly some product categories, such as home fitness equipment, are more naturally suited to this type of message than others. See the recent advertising by ProForm that speaks to the need to do something good for oneself while feeling in control of things that are challenging — like working out at home (ProForm ad). However, almost anything that reduces stress or provides a much-needed mental break from the current difficulties can easily be positioned as helping people do something good for themselves.
The need for a sense of control is more subtle — but no less important. With life as we know it seemingly spinning out of control, products and services that boost people’s sense of control over their lives and circumstances will create a strong emotional connection.
From three major studies with thousands of consumers my firm has conducted on how emotions influence consumer purchasing, we’ve seen that the brands that reaffirm us in various ways are the ones that consumers will buy again and again. When a product or service makes people feel good about themselves, 94 percent of people are highly likely to purchase it repeatedly. In contrast, 79 percent of those who said they felt bad about themselves after making a purchase were unlikely to buy that brand again. One important way in which brands make people feel good about themselves, we found, is by lending a sense of control over life, as cited by 62 percent of respondents. Among this 62 percent, 92 percent said they would be highly likely to purchase a brand that made them feel in control again, 90 percent would recommend this brand, and 81 percent claim they're highly loyal to this brand.
The McDonald's ads reminding customers about its drive-through and delivery options augment consumers’ sense of control by seeking to soothe the frustration of not being able to go out for a meal. Like many other automakers, Buick is offering the ability to shop online and take delivery at home. Generous return policies and warranties also enhance feelings of control.
As you position your brand to convey a sense of comfort, indulgence, smart spending and self-care, remember, too, to think about the ways in which it empowers consumers to gain more control over their lives in these challenging times, and beyond.
Anne E. Beall, PhD is the CEO and Founder of Beall Research, Inc, a consulting firm that uses data and research to discover trends and create solutions for Fortune 500 companies. Author of Strategic Market Research: A Guide to Conducting Research that Drives Businesses (3rd Edition) and 7 other books on reading body language, gender dynamics, human-animal relations, and fairy tales, Anne previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). She received her MS, MPhil, and PhD from Yale University. A lover storytelling and running, Anne lives in Chicago.