Talking to people during Covid were a neat reminder of these 4 consumer truths

Spring/Summer 2020….a period of unexpected and unprecedented change. We’re going to be reflecting back on how our lives changed and the world shifted during that period for a long time.

Consumer insight agencies across the globe were busy staying in touch with people, trying to understand their experiences of our rapidly changing world….and I was no different. Hence, the overflow of information which many of you have told me you are now ‘drowning’ in… so, for now at least, let’s take a step away from the Covid lens.

Instead here are 4 take outs about human behaviour with direct relevance to research and marketing, which were true before Covid and which will remain true post-Covid, as and when we get there…

1. We are all hugely unreliable narrators to our own experiences, especially when heightened emotions are involved

Why should I care about this?

2. Building narratives around emotions is key to their longevity…..

Why should I care about this?

3. We look out for things to back up our belief system and we filter out things that don’t support it

Why should I care about this?

4. Routines and habits are more consistent and stable than simple consumer preferences

Why should I care about this?

If you’d like to talk more about the consistencies and inconsistencies of consumer behaviour in our dramatically changing world, do get in touch

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1. We are all hugely unreliable narrators to our own experiences, especially when heightened emotions are involved

Why should I care about this?

Speaking to people week on week was a very loud and clear reminder of how quickly emotions and preferences change, or indeed, can be forgotten altogether. Thus, the importance of the importance of finding qualitative methodologies which don’t rely on recall alone.

It may not always be cost or time effective to track attitudes and behaviours but there are short cuts we can employ – for example asking people to look back at messages and social media posts is great ‘access point’ to how they were feeling a few weeks or months ago.

2. Building narratives around emotions is key to their longevity…..

Why should I care about this?

You may have heard of the 90 second rule …. in a nutshell it states that no emotion lasts more than 90 seconds when allowed to run its course. What makes emotions more persistent are the thoughts, and in particular the narratives, that we build around them. This ‘rule’ is typically referred to in the sphere of behaviour change and controlling negative emotions, but I’ve always thought it has a lot of relevance for brands, marketing and advertising – after all, isn’t the aim of all branding and marketing to create a specific and persistent emotional reaction within a target market?

Speaking to consumers during Covid I noted time and time again of how the thoughts and narratives we build around fleeting emotions is what makes them persistent and grow.

The takeout for branding is obvious – essentially, it’s your brand story that will always be the driver of emotional connection with consumers, and clearly any decent brand research needs to come from this perspective too: we need to be exploring – is your brand narrative coming through, is it ‘sticking’, is it in line with the stories that your audience are telling themselves….and on that note…on to takeout #3

3. We look out for things to back up our belief system and we filter out things that don’t support it

Why should I care about this?

This is known as ‘confirmation bias’ – that we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and over value evidence that confirms them. As with all of these take outs, this isn’t a ‘new’ insight but the context of Covid threw up so many examples of it.

In the world of marketing, we always need to remember that ‘facts’ however clearly presented, often won’t be enough to convert people to your way of thinking – a point I’ve often made to naturally frustrated comms teams during research debriefs. That said ‘facts’ from brands which people see as aligned with their own identity and values, are much more likely to be persuasive.

We need to remember and be on the look out for this in research too – for example noting what ‘filter’ are consumers are placing on comms, and exploring why some ‘facts’ are sticking whilst others are being dismissed.

4. Routines and habits are more consistent and stable than simple consumer preferences

Why should I care about this?

Research which simply asks consumers about likes and dislikes often comes under criticism….our preferences can be incredibly fickle and situational, hence the age old problem of endorsement not always neatly translating to sales.

Routines and habits however, once established, are significantly more consistent and stable. During the spring/summer of 2020, I saw so many examples of consumers trying to stay rooted to their old habits and routines, even as the world around them dramatically shifted.

The headline take-out for marketeers – aligning your product to rituals and routines is a reliable route to longevity. If it creates, enhances or fits with rituals and routines, it’s less likely to fall foul of consumer whims.

And the take-out for researchers: we always need to be thinking beyond whether NPD is simply liked or disliked, and focus more on whether it fits with rituals/routines and needstates.

If you’d like to talk more about the consistencies and inconsistencies of consumer behaviour in our dramatically changing world, do get in touch