COVID-19 Drives Major Shifts in Consumer Behaviour

The economic and social disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue for many months and a “new normal” for business seems likely in the long run. That’s the view of Christine Moorman, marketing thought leader and T. Austin Finch Snr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, and Founder and Director of The CMO Survey, in survey published June, 2020.

The influential survey which sampled 2654 top marketing executives at for-profit United States companies, Covid-19 and The State of Marketing, published in the Special Covid–19 Edition of The CMO Survey, offers forward- looking insights regarding significant shifts in consumer behaviour, economic forecasts, and managing growth during the periods of COVID-19 and after. Drawing on the power of The CMO Survey’s longitudinal view of marketing, the marketing thought leaders develop leadership lessons that are applicable across periods of crisis and into the future.

Business and marketing environments across several industries are experiencing a period of rapid change and major shifts in consumer behaviour as the pandemic unfolds across the globe. Government imposed lockdowns and social distancingprotocols have caused far-reaching collapse of in-person marketing engagement, and businesses are scrambling to adjust.

In Ghana during the pandemic for instance, commercial banks are promoting online, mobile and digital channels over traditional branches as preferred points of services. The new imperative for small businesses is to learn to adapt to the evolving covid-19 pandemic business environment.

The insights the Special Covid–19 Edition of The CMO Survey provide may be relevant for small businesses also on the African continent as they design strategies for the pandemic era and beyond.

The very important insights and the major shifts in consumer behaviour from COVID-19 revealed in The Special Covid–19 Edition of The CMO Survey include:

  • Lower in person marketing engagement (e.g., sales/store visits, tradeshows);
  • Increased openness to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic;
  • Increased value placed on digital experiences;
  • Greater acknowledgement of companies’ attempts to “do good”;
  • Lower likelihood to buy;
  • New customers attracted to products and services;
  • More reviews/blogging/posting about brands online;
  • More online research before purchasing.

Consumers prioritize trusting relationships over low prices

Marketing executives expect customers will place the highest priority on trusting relationships, marking a significant rise from February 2009. They anticipate also that customers will pay more attention to low prices with 18.4% citing this as customer’s top priority, compared with only 10.4% two months ago. However, over time, low price is significantly less important than it was in 2009.

Marketers report that their key objectives during the pandemic are building brand value that connects with consumers (34%) and retaining current customers (33.5%), more than improving ROI (3.5%) or even customer acquisition (14%).

The executives reveal also that increasingly, resources are being shifted toward building better customer-facing digital interfaces (61%), transforming their business models (56%), expanding into new offerings (42%), and building partnerships (41%) over new markets, new capabilities, new automation, and data integration. They believe these strategies will be important long-term opportunities for their companies.

Consumers now significantly more open to new online and digital experiences

Other major shifts in consumer behaviour from COVID-19 are in the increased openness among customers to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic (85%), and the increased value placed on digital experiences (84%).

Marketing executives note an increase in Internet sales, marking it the highest level in Survey history. In consumer markets, both products and services saw jumps up to 22.9% and 25.3%, respectively. Small companies are also selling more online, with companies with under 500 employees selling 26.1% over the Internet, while companies with over 10,000 employees only report selling 12.9% online.

Although the executives expect customer behaviours to return to pre-pandemic levels in 6-12 months, they believe digital experiences would remain valuable indefinitely. They believe that owing to deeper experiences online, customers’ increased value placed on digital experience will stay high and never return to pre-pandemic levels.

It’s no surprise therefore, that spending on mobile and social media marketing spiked during the pandemic, at 70% and 74% growth, respectively, to reach 23% of marketing budgets. Marketers further anticipate that mobile spending will continue to grow over the next twelve months, while spending on social media will remain close to this new high level.

During the pandemic, firms are using social media for brand awareness and to attract and retain customers much more often than for market research, engaging employees, or other social media pursuits. Marketers report that 7.5% of their marketing budget is focused on online influencers, mostly on LinkedIn, company blogs, Instagram, and Facebook, and that they anticipate large gains in the use of influencers in the next three years (up to 12.7%). Marketers demonstrate a clear prioritization of mobile website optimization (70.1%) over app creation and maintenance (29.9%).

Again, small businesses on the African continent could find the insights from this survey crucial in designing marketing strategies. Data from the Ghana telecom industry regulator show that total mobile data subscription in the West African country as at end of the first quarter of 2020 stands at 25,479,511 and that’s about 85% of the population. The volume of mobile money transactions continue to show impressive growth.

Also, Alexa estimates show, for Ghana, is the most visited website with daily pageviews per visitor at 16.03 and 14.27 minutes daily time on site. Facebook is the fourth, with daily pageviews per visitor at 8.38 and 18.52 minutes daily time on site.

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COVID-19 and the State of Strategic Marketing Survey

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