Sales & Marketing

Understanding the New Consumer Behaviours

As a Marketing & Communications Consultant, I’m privileged to spend quality time to observe, listen and work with current and future leaders across diverse sectors. The observations below are based on attending some of the finest webinars hosted from across the world, speaking to some thought-leaders and working with home-grown brands across sectors from the region.

As we grapple with the disruption COVID-19 has brought into our lives, here are three significant changes all of us are experiencing which will impact business across key sectors and which may force organizations to relook and change current business models in the coming months, some for years, and some forever, thus making it The New Normal.

  • Acceleration of digital lives: Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is transforming how we lead our daily lives and therefore how businesses are run across many sectors. Here are some examples:

Retail: Across fashion to electronics, to home furniture to grocery, to medicines, we are rapidly changing the way we shop. And the change lasting several weeks due to the locked-down lives across major cities in the world, leading to some potentially semi-permanent and permanent implications. The biggest change witnessed undoubtedly is Grocery, a short-term winner due to the crisis. Thousands of customers who shied away from online grocery buying are soon adopting this new experience and are quite liking it. Online grocery businesses have witnessed 300% to 800% growth in the first 10 days of lock-down. Leading automobile manufacturers claim that 80% of their customers who walk into their showrooms have already chosen the model to buy from research online. Retail banking is already ahead of the curve with little scope for branch banking. 

It’s the same with the Money Remittances market, with the white-collared segment who prefer the convenience of Digital. Luxury or fast fashion, electronics or furniture irrespective, all have witnessed tremendous growth in its online sales pre-COVID-19 as physical stores struggle even given modernization or up-gradation. The writing on the wall has never been more profound. The future is Online. So while the overall eCommerce businesses across sectors are witnessing triple figure growth, the multi-channel players who most quickly phase out their physical store presence and strengthen their technology and supply chain capabilities to fulfil customer expectations online, will be the winners. No one is predicting the death of physical stores. Physical stores in the large cities at key locations will remain but largely for the purpose of ‘brand experience’ and complement the Online business with ‘Omnichannel value’ rather than for ‘sales’’. And striking the right balance of physical and digital stores from region to region will be key to profitability and sustainability of businesses.

Education: This sector has undergone the biggest change, only second to Grocery shopping. While millions of students from primary to advanced studies are forced to learn online and teachers and tutors had to quickly adapt content, methods and tools to teach effectively in what we call ‘a 2D world’, the verdict for the future is a clear NO. All stakeholders of schools, universities and institutes (students, parents and teachers) who have migrated by force prefer the physical world of classrooms. Having said so, Digital classrooms have come a long way especially for distance-learning. Certified courses are thriving on the concept of virtual learning. We have access to the best knowledge, tutors and professionals from anywhere in the world to up skill ourselves in our chosen areas of passion. So overall, a mixed bag.

Healthcare:  This sector has been the most active during COVID 19 and most admired considering the incredible front-line duties performed by the Doctor & Nursing community. But with elective treatments severely affected, leading brands are quickly moving to Telehealth as patients choose to consult and be treated online rather than spending hours at clinics or hospitals. Similar to physical retail, they lack a good-enough reason for a visit and suffer the same pain points when it comes to convenience and experience. While they will co-exist for life-saving surgeries and critical treatment, this industry is expected to embrace digital quickly to cope with changing customer needs.

  • The must-have vs good-to-have. 

As with every depression or recession, the world is forced to evaluate and choose between needs and wants. The longer these spells last, the more we tend to let go of the good-to-haves. Humans are social by nature and hence the transition from the current social distancing back to socializing of the past is a matter of time. God forbid a second wave or another pandemic but irrespective, the magnitude of COVID and the impact it has made to our lives and our behavior will make us review our choices. All the excesses with an attitude to ‘live for today’ which resulted in limitless holidays, to overcrowded wardrobes to cluttered homes to weekly brunches will take a back-seat as we value savings and liquidity more than ever. The worst-hit businesses during COVID-19 – Airlines & Hotels – are concerned about the expected drop in Business travel as Virtual meetings are being experienced as more effective, time and cost-saving. Luxury brands world-over are reviewing their product lines as customer profiles (Chinese vs others) and preferences are bound to change post-COVID 19.

  • Content is king but Context will be the queen: COVID 19 has also helped accelerate the need for Content marketing as much as Contextual communications from brands. 

While Paid media has taken the brunt of the budget cuts across sectors, the call to shift focus to Organic has never been more urgent. Today marketers and agencies who strongly believe in this, the value of optimizing search and first-party data are the ones who are busy delivering incremental value to stakeholders. On the Context piece, while we do see several examples of brands successfully adapting their tone-of-voice and key messages keeping their customer sentiment in mind, there are plenty of ‘business-as-usual’ cases, pushing products and sales with aggressive discounts as if nothing has changed in the world. The fundamentals of knowing your customer well, how they think, and how they feel to be able to have a meaningful conversation on what they need is now more valued than ever before.

The New Normal is around us. All businesses need to do is to- Observe. Orient. Decide & Act. This OODA modern military model is timeless and the perfect recipe for success in our war to fight in these times of uncertainty and danger.

Article originally featured in Campaign ME, with thanks to Shyan Sunder

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