Much has been discussed regarding how the pandemic will impact our behavior in the coming years. For some, we have entered a “new normal” phase of consumer behavior. For others, the pandemic will be viewed as just an outlying, unique year.
Sean MacPhedran, SCS director of digital strategy, has released a whitepaper that suggests that we are entering an entirely new post-COVID-19 era that has implications for our business.
Charlene Weisler: What are the different sources that you used, and why?
Sean MacPhedran: I dove into literature around various subjects relating to COVID, consumer and business trends for about two weeks to get on overall sense of what was going on, looking for macro trends in the content available.
Good sources of information were McKinsey, The New York Times, hospital publications and a lot of charts and tables from around the web. I stayed mainly in the consumer-facing content rather than diving into the weeds of journals for the sake of efficiency in research time, though I did dive into a few here and there. A full list of references is available in the white paper.
We put together a paper around key messaging trends at the beginning of the epidemic. It was designed to help marketers get a sense of how consumers were thinking, their anxiety levels and so forth. We also put a similar paper out last summer, and find that many of the trends remain the same.
Weisler: What are the key takeaways?
MacPhedran: On the consumer side, the key takeaway is that consumers are anxious and dealing with the desire for escape from captivity in different ways. Some are turning to exercise and health, creating a boon for those businesses, some are opting for comfort food, others are opting for escapism through games and digital media.
On the business side, the key insight is that it’s time to invest heavily in digital service offerings, even if that means pivoting your business model somewhat. There are strong indicators that COVID is here to stay, with variants that emerge in the future requiring new vaccine boosters.
Businesses should be ready for the long haul in these shifts of consumer behavior, particularly with everything shifting to ecommerce, but also in experiential businesses like concerts, which are beginning to be replaced by digital versions. A good example of that is Travis Scott’s concert on Fortnite, which drew millions.
Weisler: Do you think these takeaways are permanent changes?
MacPhedran: Yes, with the caveat that they will be semi-permanent. Business travel, for example, is forecast to return slowly.
Ecommerce as well is another trend that we already saw growing, and forced isolation has only accelerated it. Many of the changes happening now were already underway, and have simply been implemented by necessity of the pandemic.
Weisler: What are the key recommended actions for marketers?
MacPhedran: The main recommendation for marketers is to heavily invest in digital business models and digital consumer experiences that provide more immunity against the virus. Second is to stay agile, as despite the ongoing vaccination program, variants may appear that are resistant to current vaccines and we may still see further waves.
Weisler: How important will gaming be going forward after COVID passes?
MacPhedran: Gaming has been and will continue to be very important. It’s one of the few business sectors that remained highly profitable in the early stages of the pandemic. I think that sector is relatively independent of the epidemic. Gaming remains the new frontier of entertainment and social interaction. It’s a place where people can be creative and make friends, not just a place to blast aliens. As Apple begins to roll out their VR platform in the near future, I think we’ll see another tipping point in the space that makes it even more unmissable.
Weisler: What are the major gender differences you see?
MacPhedran: Research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science had an interesting report that women in general around the world are more likely to perceive COVID as a serious health risk and opt for stronger community measures against the virus.
Economically, in Canada at least, where I’m from, women have been harder hit. At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, more than twice the number of women lost their jobs than men. About half of this decrease, according to Stats Canada, was in the service and care industries, which are often part-time and low paying roles.
Weisler: What do you think your 2022 report will reveal?
MacPhedran: I expect that we will do another report once more than half of the population has been vaccinated to start exploring what a real reopening means. I’m not sure what it will reveal, but I hope that it uncovers optimism similar to the Roaring ‘20s that occurred after the Spanish Flu.