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Expectations for Consumer Behavior Around Business Recovery

Revolution Digital shares expectations for consumer behavior, as well as marketing considerations, as they pertain to business recovery from COVID-19.

Revolution Digital  |  May 12, 2020
Expectations for Consumer Behavior Around Business Recovery

As restrictions are slowly lifted and we enter the next phase of COVID-19 precautions, marketers are left wondering what’s going to happen to the state of retail and how consumers will react. Will there be a major shift in buying behaviors? What will the aftermath look like for brands who’ve been forced to completely rethink their strategies? At Revolution Digital, we’re assessing the situation with two considerations in mind. First, what are the actionable steps consumers are likely to take from a purchase perspective during the recovery, and secondly, how can we, as marketers, adapt accordingly?

Utility-based buying is key right now. Why? Consumer confidence is LOW and uncertainty/anxiety is HIGH. People are buying what they need to sustain, and while they are buying a lot of it, they are being careful about what they buy because the economy is so unstable. There is little frivolous spending, with consumers focusing largely on buying products that have a direct utility to them in the moment.

Because of this current buying behavior, we anticipate two waves of thinking in the long-term:

  1. People may start to rethink what is really necessary in the recovery and be a bit more utilitarian when considering purchases.
  2. When guidelines are reduced and businesses start opening up, consumers may shift back to their normal behaviors to achieve as much of a sense of normalcy as possible, as this is something internally craved.

But on those two sides of the spectrum, we believe the pre-COVID-19 sense of normalcy consumers once knew will be hard to re-achieve. No matter how high the desire for normalcy, the uncertainty this crisis created will always remain much higher. Because of this, consumers will have a new sense of caution instilled in them that will affect every purchase they consider. And sure, there will be some that will throw caution to the wind, but we believe those that do will be under scrutiny, as this crisis has created a new social standard. Between the internal caution and the unspoken social code, we are strongly expecting consumers to adapt to the first wave of thinking, which will create a whole new framework for marketing to consumers.

In the environment as it currently stands, brands must be a utility. Brands need to show consumers that they have a purpose in this moment and tell them exactly what that purpose is. But in the longer term, there are 5 key themes that are important to consider:

  1. Hyper-rationalization
    We believe that the “want” game is out the door. The “I saw it on an Instagram ad, and I have to have it” days are, for the most part, gone. Moving forward, we are going to have to work incredibly hard to show consumers why our products are essential to their day-to-day lives. More than touting reasons to believe or personalization, there’s a hyper-rationalization that we have never seen before that is going to be vital to ensuring purchases are made. Each message will have to take careful consideration of the moment and what is necessary, and if your product isn’t necessary, it will be critical to find a way in that proves it is.
  2. Trust
    In addition to proving why your brand matters, there is the emotional element of trust that consumers need to incentivize purchase. Uncertainty/anxiety is HIGH and consumer confidence is LOW – and that breeds the necessity of trust. When it comes to CPG products that are in tall order, trust is somewhat irrelevant in the short term because of demand (because everyone can attest to how many off-brand products they have bought in the last few weeks). But in the longer term, with this ever-present sense of “is everything going to be okay?” consumers are going to latch on to brands that give them that sense of “yes, it’s going to be okay.” In other words, brands have to keep the trust equity that they have built with their consumers, or they will be replaced by other brands who take that action with consumers sooner.

    And we’ve already seen this happen. Even if a brand’s in-store and digital shelves are empty, consumers do want to hear from the brands they love the most — not necessarily for information, but just to get a sense of comfort from “someone” they trust. During this crisis, we have seen an uptick in consumer conversations outside of their typical nature: more “just to talk” DMs, more community chat threads on brand posts, and more playfulness in responses. To us, these changes in behavior are a direct attribution to the need to be heard and comforted, and that cry for comfort is a need that is essential to be addressed early and often.

  3. Adaptation
    Consumers have quickly adopted a “new normal,” and we expect habits from this time period to remain longer term, forcing brands to adapt. Consumers who once dismissed digital shopping and grocery delivery as something they rarely or would never do are now trying it – many will undoubtedly recognize its convenience and opt to forgo the “traditional” methods of shopping. Those who already enjoyed the convenience of ecommerce purchasing will likely move even more of their shopping online, and this will apply to habits that are yet to be seen. Either way, brands have to consider adopting a continued marketing model of adaptation as the trend continues to unfold and change.
  4. Listening
    It’s going to be critically important for brands to implement a listening strategy. Behavior change isn’t reflecting itself daily in industry articles or medical journals, but it’s going to be clearly seen in real-time platforms. Social media will play an essential role in understanding what consumers are thinking and how they are going to pivot next. Marketers have to be ready to capture that data and allow it to inform their next steps. Past data and insights will become irrelevant in this new normal, so marketers must learn to collect insightful consumer information in real-time in order to react and adapt accordingly.
  5. Meeting the Moment
    Overall, meeting consumers in the moment is going to be important, as consumers will likely continue to focus more on need and less on want. It will take gigantic shifts from marketers to adapt accordingly, but if done right, it can help brands become or remain a staple to consumers in this new normal.

More than ever, it’s important for brands to reassess their marketing and advertising strategies to account for changes in the selling environment and consumer behaviors. At Revolution Digital, we work with all of our clients to apply thought-leadership and insight-driven solutions to help move business forward even during the most uncertain times. If you’re interested in learning more, visit our website at, or reach out to us online or at

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