What brands are missing about women and COVID-19

Credit: Zachary Kadolph
Credit: Zachary Kadolph

Added burdens are slowing even Super Moms down, but marketers can help

COVID-19 has done interesting things to women’s minds. As a researcher and one tired Mom, I know. 

To respond, marketers need to be asking a whole new breed of questions.

While juggling the chaos of my obligations in the same living/working/learning space as my husband and children, I thought of all the women in my life. Not long ago, we were Olympic-level multitaskers and decision-makers. We moved fast and got things done. It wasn’t always pretty — but it always happened.

COVID-19 changed that. 

Remember smart snap decisions? Gone. In my field, we study cognitive loads: daily demands on the brain’s resources. Everyone carries them, but women — responsible for most purchasing decisions — have reached a threshold we need more brands to understand.

“COVID brain”

When I felt my efficiencies slipping, I reached out to a group of female friends, from professionals to full-time Moms, and discovered I was not alone. We all felt like we were losing “it” — that magic ability to make quick, clear-eyed choices. We identified three reasons why.

  1. Auto-pilot has switched to manual. No decision feels straightforward with COVID-19 quite literally in the air. Even choices that were once simple, like how closely to pass a neighbor on the sidewalk, now require multiple questions: Is it safe? Is it rude to step away? Is it negligent to pass by too closely? Going out requires wondering if everyone will wear a mask. Staying home brings no relief, either. 

  1. We’re carrying our kids’ cognitive loads, too. During COVID-19, Mom is the playdate, the teacher, and the source of all physical and emotional connection. We work overtime identifying our younger kids’ needs for them. And when work obligations intrude, or we can’t recreate school at home, the guilt is real.

    And then there are the bigger questions: How will this isolation and excessive screen time affect my child long term? How will this affect their education? 

  1. Our struggle seems invisible. God bless home delivery, but not everyone can buy their way out of COVID-19 stresses. Those that can don’t feel like brands are grasping the moment.

    Women are still seeing the same products with the same advertising. The aspirational way brands paint us used to feel flattering. Tireless Moms never miss a beat! Right now, that representation just makes us feel tired. This is a moment to help us. Do they even see us?

Slowed thinking changes decision-making

Earlier in 2020, consumers were open to trying new brands during a period we all assumed temporary. But with COVID-19 going nowhere fast, my friends and I find ourselves gravitating back to old favorites. We’re desperate for fewer questions cluttering our brains. 

Women have always embraced brands that make our lives easier and more efficient. But that means something very different now. We need brands to ask more questions, so we can be relieved of a few. What once felt important to women that no longer does? What decisions do we now avoid or skip? How is COVID Brain shaping new behaviors? 

With all of the advanced segmentation tools available in the market today, maybe it’s time to slice and dice data to understand women’s comfort for risk-taking, or how far we’ve strayed from well-trod consumer journeys. Until brands determine what’s going on, they can’t design new products or delivery systems that will meet our needs.

Moms during COVID are tapped out. Whatever decision matrix you’re working with for women no longer applies. Research and market accordingly.


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