The crisis has shifted habits: Do you know your consumer anymore?

Are your 2020 planning insights now obsolete?

Science posits that it takes 66 days to build a habit. So if your consumer has been quarantined for 55 days (like I have, as I write this), you’re about 11 days from not knowing your consumer.

The affluent status-seeking car buyer is now a penny pincher. The restaurant aficionado has a new grocery delivery cycle. The business traveller is picking out a year’s worth of Zoom backgrounds for sales calls.

As each day passes and COVID cases spread stubbornly, Americans settle into new habits under the guise of a new normal. From cooking more to trialing new brands, according to a recent GoodQues study, 84 percent of people plan to keep habits and routines they started during COVID even after the crisis is over.

So, forget everything you think you know about your consumer. "Stay at home" is shifting to "safer at home" as States ease COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, and a notable number of people remain reluctant to rejoin the world they left behind. In fact, from Gallup: 71 percent of Americans say they would "wait and see what happens with the spread of the virus" when asked how quickly they would return to normal life.

This prompts a need to question business fundamentals. Are your 2020 planning insights now obsolete? Has your long-term strategy been subverted by a changed world? How can you provide value for people if you’re not sure you know them anymore?

It’s because you don’t know these people anymore (and you really don’t) that you need empathy to rediscover them.

Here are some major ways in which people have changed most drastically, which demonstrate the need for greater understanding to advance your business.

People Realized They Like Saving Money

According to a Harris poll, just more than three out of four Americans worry the coronavirus will trigger an economic recession. Research polls and public forums are leading to the same consumer conclusion: how great it feels to save money.

In response to the question, "What has self-isolation taught you?", one Reddit user writes, "It's taught me to save a lot of money. I already knew if I didn't go out that I would save money...I'm getting used to being a homebody and that I don't need to go out as much…" From eating out less to making coffee at home, we can expect to see people looking for new tactics to save. An empathetic brand will benefit from understanding how consumer spending changes, or even exploring how to help people save more.

DIY Changed From a Necessity to a Hobby

When services and shops closed as a result of COVID-19, people were forced to "Do It Yourself". Months later, from home renovation to beauty routines, for many, what started as a necessity is now turning into a hobby. 

DIY has sparked something in people, whether the motivation is to combat anxiety or simply fill the time, the hobbies are sticking. According to on-demand consumer research platform Suzy, 50 percent of people agree they will continue their new DIY activities once COVID-19 has passed. For empathetic brands, this could be an opportunity to enter people’s homes in a new and meaningful way.

The Virtual World Has Become More Appealing

As the real world became more stressful, people turned to virtual worlds to recreate social gatherings, concerts, birthday parties and even memorial services. As people expressed their personalities through their Zoom background, the software inched further away from a virtual meetings solution and closer to a social media platform. 

COVID-19 has accelerated a widespread adoption of virtual shared spaces, and even in the post-COVID world, consoles that were bought during COVID will remain in-home, older generations that learned to video chat will retain the skill, allowing people to seamlessly continue their habits. Empathy tells us: we can maintain elements of valuable virtual elements as the world moves forward – not backward. 

People are Expressing a Willingness to Try New Brands

According to an MIT study, 54 percent of people surveyed reported they had made purchases from "brands that were new to them" and that new brands accounted for more than 30 percent of their shopping carts at checkout. Shoppers branched out to try new brands across all categories, with the highest trial rate for new brands in CPG.  

There is no precedent for how consumers will behave once this is all over; what will brand loyalty look like? 

This is the tip of the iceberg – and  the perfect moment to go beyond the surface, practicing empathy to improve your brand’s relationship with your consumer. Feed your team with knowledge about how people have shifted their relationship to your industry, your brand, your distribution channels and more. Don’t make the mistake of freezing with anxiety or narrowly focusing on brand to-do’s. Save yourself time, save the company money and avoid setting important business decisions on fire when you reacquaint yourself with consumers. Get to know them again, for the first time.

Maria Vorovich is the co-founder of Goodques.

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