July 25, 2020

As Americans continue to cope with the uncertainty of health risks, economic downturn and restrictions in day-to-day living caused by COVID-19 and intensified by flashpoint events highlighting systemic racism in the United States, nearly half (45%) say their brand preferences have changed. Close to three quarters (74%) said the recent protests against racial injustice have made it more important to support businesses that improve diversity and inclusion, according to new research by global communications consultancy Ketchum.

Ketchum’s study, Brand Reckoning 2020: How Crisis Culture Is Redefining Consumer Behavior, Loyalty and Values, surveyed Americans in mid-June – three months into the U.S. pandemic — on their actions, their openness to reengaging with the outside world, and the extent to which this period has redefined their values. The study also is being conducted in the U.K. and Germany.

The study showed that recent events have driven Americans to revisit their relationships with brands. ​Nearly half of those surveyed (45%) report they have changed at least one brand preference already, and a majority (62%) expect that their brand preferences will change permanently before the pandemic is over. For some, the importance of brands will be diluted; 63% report they will purchase more private label items in the future.

Ketchum’s Brand Reckoning 2020 study also shows that the culture crisis is changing how corporate behavior is judged. An overwhelming majority say it is now more important to them than before COVID-19 that businesses prioritize customer safety (90%) and employee safety (90%) and that they communicate effectively (88%). Eighty-eight percent say the coronavirus has made it more important that companies behave ethically. And, amid nationwide protests against racial injustice, 72% say it is more important to support minority-owned business through their purchases.

Meet the Crisis Culture Personas

Based on how open they are to reengaging with the outside world and how much their values have changed during this phase of nonstop disruption, Ketchum’s analysis of the data shows consumers can be divided into one of four types:

  •     Retro Reengagers (33% of consumers) are ready to return to the world as it was. Politically conservative, they are most likely to feel very comfortable visiting shared spaces, most likely to believe face masks shouldn’t be required in public, and less likely to prioritize diversity and inclusion in choosing brands.
  •     Open-Minded Explorers (22% of consumers) have new priorities as they return to a world reopening. Politically polarized, they are most likely to change brand preferences post-COVID, more likely to be urban and educated, and more likely to be influenced by advertisers, social media and bloggers.
  •     Worried Withholders (20% of consumers) are not easily influenced: they prefer their comfort zone. Politically centrist/somewhat conservative and the oldest persona, they are more likely to feel somewhat uncomfortable visiting shared spaces, least likely to have changed their brand preferences during the pandemic, and likely to consider advertising less influential now than before COVID-19 hit.
  •     Cautious Questioners (25% of consumers) keep their distance until they know more. Politically liberal, they are twice as likely as the average American to feel very uncomfortable visiting shared spaces, most likely to have an underlying health risk, and most likely to feel positive about companies prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

“Never has it been more relevant to understand your target audience’s current mindset,” said Mary Elizabeth Germaine, partner and managing director, Ketchum Analytics. “In our work with many of the world’s leading brands, we’re seeing massive consumer behavior shifts that are likely to persist. We now have access to data that lets us apply precision marketing techniques to communications, enabling us to target based on evolving behaviors and beliefs and thus drive higher brand relevancy.”

In addition to surveying consumers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany on behavior, loyalty and values overall, Ketchum’s study also examines these related specifically to health care, wellness, retail, travel, consumer packaged goods, food and technology, as well as employees.

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