As we are in an unusual year, it stands to reason that consumer attitudes and behaviors have shifted. But by how much, and is this shift more or less permanent? Burke Inc. and Seed Strategy launched a study that, according to Chief Research Officer Jamie Baker-Prewitt, aimed to “help businesses better understand consumers’ mindsets and evolving behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The study broke down the population into eight distinct segments with different attitudes and purchasing patterns:
The Wayfinders (Concerned youth who fear missing out on what they want their life to be today and in the future).
The Determined (Young Americans trying to maintain their independence and current lifestyle, despite a setback).
The Isolated (Worried seniors who have reluctantly sheltered in place to protect their health).
The Frazzled (Stressed families struggling to juggle work, childcare, and financial obligations).
The Enlightened (Secure older adults who use their experience to help others navigate these challenging times).
The Protective (Vulnerable family units staying safe at home due to health concerns).
The Bold (Independent thinkers who want businesses to get back to “normal” despite the risk).
The Empathetic (Thriving households that feel a serious responsibility to care for both their family and their community).
The conversation has been edited slightly for context and brevity.
Charlene Weisler: Can you give me a brief overview of the methodology?
Jamie Baker-Prewitt: First, we fielded a 30-minute survey with over 2,000 American consumers who shopped in at least three of five major industries or product categories in the previous month. We balanced the survey sample to the U.S. census on age, gender, income, and ethnicity.
Next, we conducted 30 follow-up video interviews with segment members. This qualitative research allowed us to hear more detailed descriptions of how people feel and what they’re doing, which creates a rich picture of how they’re coping and adjusting (or not adjusting).
Weisler: What were the main takeaways?
Baker-Prewitt: Despite the occurrence of a sweeping, global, historic health crisis, all American consumers aren’t experiencing it in the same way. The variations in experiences relate to life circumstances, including household composition, personal health, age, and other factors, as well as individual belief systems and psychographics.
Across these segments, perceptions and behaviors are different, and the stickiness of changes during the pandemic will likely vary based on a number of personal and environmental factors. Some people will find that their new habits have become their new normal.
For example, online shopping and consumption of entertainment from home might become so routinized that people see no reason to return to their previous ways of living.
While you will find each of our eight segments represented in all parts of the United States, there are some regional nuances. Where there are contrasts, we see them most pronounced for a couple of segments’ prevalence in rural areas versus large cities.
Weisler: Would you expect these attitudes or behaviors to evolve over time, or to remain after the vaccine is commonly available?
Baker-Prewitt: We expect the existence of these consumer segments to be stable through the pandemic and even beyond, because they have durable elements underpinning them: life circumstances, core beliefs, and psychographics, for example. We do expect that the size of the segments will shift, and time will tell how many of the pandemic-“induced” behavior changes remain once a vaccine is widely available and societal restrictions subside.
Weisler: How can certain stressed ad sectors such as hospitality/travel use these segments to better target?
Baker-Prewitt: The pandemic has certainly hit some industries hard, and the solution for these categories is not simple. Innovation and substantial pivots are paramount to persevering through this challenging time. The restaurants that have made it work are the ones that can reconfigure their physicality and rethink their processes.
Some consumer segments have health risks and health concerns due to age that make them more vulnerable to the virus; others segments do not have these worries. The travel industry can target younger, healthier travelers as a more receptive target for business.
However, given that the airlines in particular are dependent on business travelers, and that activity is largely grounded right now, the travel industry has a long road ahead in terms of its recovery. And so goes its advertising.
Weisler: What do you recommend as next steps for companies?
Baker-Prewitt: First, understand that the landscape of American consumers is not homogeneous, and learn how it’s segmented. Then zero in on the segments most pertinent to your company’s product offering.
After that, really understand how consumer segments are enduring this pandemic differently. Take a walk in their shoes; empathize with them. Knowing their core tensions will help brand managers and marketers see what functional and emotional needs consumers have, and that will uncover product and service opportunities, as well as ways to develop effective messaging.
Weisler: Will you repeat this study to see any changes over time?
Baker-Prewitt: The short answer is YES. In 2021, we will check in with our segments through additional research to understand how the size of the segments might have shifted, what new worries these consumers have, how their behaviors have changed, and how they see the future unfolding.