“We’re all in this together.” “We’ll get through this and emerge stronger.”
By now, the entire nation is familiar with these COVID-19 era mantras that brands are repeating on the airwaves, social media and in stores. But have consumers had enough of COVID-19 communications? And are these messages really helping brands — not just in the moment, but also with the future in mind?
Because emotions drive consumer behavior, we need to look at how consumers are reacting emotionally to each message to answer these questions. From several major studies with thousands of consumers my firm has conducted, we’ve seen that the brands that connect with consumers emotionally, and in particular have a positive impact on how a person feels about themself, are the ones that are most likely to be purchased in general. We’ve also seen that during this period when people’s work and personal lives have been upended and worry, stress, frustration and anxiety are running high, companies that make consumers feel better are the ones that will gain market share and be recommended during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Product offerings are one way to make people feel better. Brands are certainly stepping up to the plate by providing products and services that help people feel better by fulfilling a need for indulgence, self-care and control.
Just as importantly, though, is what brands are saying and doing. Messages of togetherness and reassurance—such as in State Farm’s Ad announcing, “For now, we’re all living a new normal…we’re here to make this new normal feel just a little more normal,”—are indeed helping. So are the actions that back these messages up, such as offering 0% financing, delivery and generous return policies.
Some actions and messages are more effective at making people feel good than others. They’re the ones that will help move the needle as far as retaining and growing market share. In a study of 1,000 consumers, my team and I uncovered the following 5 things brands are saying and doing that increase the chances of purchases and customer loyalty now and in the future by making people feel good:
Saying we will get through this and emerge stronger
A full 70% of those we polled said that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind them “we will get through this and emerge stronger.” Two-thirds (66%) say they will definitely purchase the product when this crisis is over, and 45% say that hearing this makes them feel very good about themselves. Of course, there are different ways to convey this message. Guinness ads acknowledged that St. Patrick’s Day was going to feel a bit different this year, adding, “we’ve learned that over the years, we’re pretty tough when we stick together” and “we’ll march again.” This Coca-Cola ad reminds us that for every loss, there is a gain, that for all the scare mongering there is also care mongering, and for every virus, there is a vaccine–implying humans are ultimately positive and resourceful.
Offering exclusive hours for at-risk groups
It makes good, practical sense that numerous retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Publix and Stop & Shop are offering special hours to those who are most at-risk of contracting the virus such as the elderly, because these groups are less likely to leave their homes to make purchases. But these actions and the messaging behind them are also helping from a short- and long-term marketing perspective. Four-fifths (80%) of the people we polled said they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that offer exclusive hours for at-risk groups since the COVID-19 crisis began. Almost three-quarters (73%) say they will definitely purchase from these providers when this crisis is over.
Reminding consumers that we’re all in this together
This is another phrase we are hearing from brands over and over again. In just one example, Hershey’s recent ad Heartwarming at Home begins by saying that we’re in this together and that these experiences give people a chance to come together in meaningful ways. It ends with pictures of people connecting through windows, several feet away, and with family members at home, sending a clear message: you’re not alone. And it’s working. Of the people we surveyed, 73% said that since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, they have developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind them “we are all in this together, while 67% say they will definitely purchase the product when this crisis is over. Hearing this makes 42% feel very good about themselves.
Sharing reliable updates about the COVID-19 situation
Apple has released a new screening tool that allows people to determine if they potentially have the virus and if they should seek medical care. They created a new COVID-19 website and app with the CDC to help them understand how to manage the virus, and a Contact Tracing App with Google to help curb the virus’ spread. Quest Diagnostics’s website provides information about COVID-19, and consumers can sign up for email alerts for news and testing information. Althoughit’s helpful in the moment, being a resource for consumers is also likely to pay off over time: 81% of the respondents said they’ve developed a more positive opinion of brands that share reliable updates about the COVID-19 situation, 49% say that purchasing from such brands makes them feel very good about themselves, and 60% say they will definitely purchase from these brands when this crisis is over.
Reminding consumers to take care of themselves
Surprisingly simple messages such as Uber thanking people for staying home and not using their service, and Sesame Street explaining that “taking care of yourself is also taking care of others” during a campaign that features Elmo and three friends washing their hands to upbeat music are proving extremely effective for brands. A full 77% of those polled said they’ve developed a more positive opinion of brands that remind consumers to take care of themselves, and 57% say they will definitely purchase from these brands when this crisis is over.
Anne E. Beall, PhD is the CEO and Founder of Beall Research, Inc, a marketing-research consulting firm that uses research to 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 walking, Anne lives in Chicago.