Capitalizing on long-term changes in consumer behavior
In this series, we’re not just showing you how brands are responding today to COVID-19. We’re looking to the future and anticipating what actions brands can take today to meet the new norms of the next few years.
Last time we looked at how temporary changes can have serious implications for your brand. But what if those changes are here to stay? We’ll be exploring that question in this post in the top right quadrant of the New Demand framework: Disrupt. Brands that find themselves asking these questions are those in remote tech, like Zoom and Microsoft, or food delivery, like DoorDash and Uber.
How to know when to Disrupt and thrive off of new consumer behaviors
This quadrant of the New Demand framework is characterized by the speed with which industries and audiences have adopted new behaviors. These new attitudes and habits are very unlikely to go away anytime within the next couple of years. Short of a vaccine arriving tomorrow, these new behaviors are likely to become an ingrained part of life and business.
Brands in this group were well-prepared for a world of quarantine and physical distancing. Today, they’re key to providing the only form of sanity people can get. They’re actively building on the disruption to define the new status quo. The quandary for those in a Disrupt scenario is how to keep that momentum.
Scenario 1 – You’re struggling to keep up with the new demand
Maybe your brand provides an essential service. Maybe you’re a remote working tech brand. Perhaps you’re a yeast brand and amateur bakers are flooding your inbox. No matter which one, if you’re a Disruptor then you’re experiencing demand like never before. But you may not be able to match the demand. This is completely understandable; we are in a global pandemic after all. But how can you meet the rising requests?
Problem: There’s too much demand and you physically can’t keep up.
Action: Collaborating with other brands can help carry the load. It’s a nice way to spread wealth, prevent any shortcomings, and aligns nicely with the current cultural narrative of togetherness. The key to success is ensuring that brand values are similar. A mutually beneficial relationship and mutually aligned values generate enduring goodwill.
Example: DoorDash is one of the biggest operators in food delivery, having made a name for themselves with a brand promise of impossibilities delivered. Now, they are in more demand than ever. People want their goods and they want them now. But many restaurants are closing, with nearly one in five predicted to close permanently. In addition, many are claiming delivery companies exploit vulnerable restaurants with exorbitant delivery fees. This could mean fewer restaurants for DoorDash to source from, and those that are around may refuse to use their service. Fortunately, DoorDash has found a convenient answer in 7-Eleven, Wawa, Circle-K. In short, convenience stores. On a regular day, convenience stores are designed to have most everything you need. In a pandemic? They are mythical oases, dangerous to reach but full of everything you desire. So DoorDash capitalized on a growth opportunity and expanded its proposition to include “essential options,” sourced by national and local convenience stores. By continuing to deliver the impossible, DoorDash maintains their momentum and guarantees their name stays top of mind. And convenience stores remain convenient.
Future: With shelter-in-place orders extending, lingering fears of large crowds, and an exultation in easy use, delivery habits will become more entrenched. Will home delivery push categories like medicine and groceries to return to a 1940s vision of home visits and milk deliveries? How will smaller companies without larger infrastructure keep up with bigger competitors? Will the “gig economy” of drivers turn into a full-fledged workforce, union and all? How will autonomous vehicles affect that? Will a delivery option become a necessity and not the perk it is today? The only certainty is that COVID-19 has brought delivery to our front doors in a big way.
Scenario 2: The spotlight now shines more brightly on you and others like you
Thanks to the massive ways in which our lives have been upended, the ratio between power players and upstarts in many categories has shifted. Established brands that weren’t well-positioned for this current state are now being replaced by Disruptors. Whereas these newer brands, or alternatives to the mainstream options, used to have a much smaller piece of the pie, they now have a massive chunk and need to share it with other brands in their position. The forthcoming issue is not how to create more pie (there is, after all, a flour shortage) – it’s how to get a bigger slice.
Problem: You want to differentiate yourself when the competition is more magnified than ever.
Action: If everyone is essentially doing the same, focus on doing it in a different way. Use your brand values to guide a distinct and differentiated user experience. Ensure that whatever you create springs from what you believe and say about yourself. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.
Example: With the decline of cable and the near extinction of movie theaters, streaming services were already becoming more commonplace. Yet they still weren’t the default. The current increase in time at home has changed that. “Adoption of streaming is at a tipping point. Linear cable may not be the first option anymore. The economics are changing.” (New Behaviors Research, April 2020). And competition has just gone up a notch.
With top players already synonymous with streaming (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video), private studios launching their own platforms (Apple TV, Disney+), and cable companies entering the fray (Peacock, HBO Max), it’s fiercer and more concentrated than ever before. How to stand out? The first step is to develop a killer user experience that combines the best of streaming habits with your brand values. Take, for example, Movies Anywhere. As a cloud-based digital locker, they’re in a stream-adjacent category and are the movie lover’s dream.
The only thing cinephiles love more than watching films is sharing films, passing them along and spreading their enthusiasm. So Movies Anywhere launched Screen Pass, a new feature where users can share up to three films from their library a month. It is a unique experience in the category that stays true to the brand proposition. It gives movie lovers more of what they want
Your brand values should also lead in the creation of your content. And that’s where Netflix and Hulu currently shine. Their brand positionings prioritize quantity over quality, but only just. They have tons of content, and most of it is pretty decent. Almost every original show becomes a cultural touchstone. But the studio streaming services have an edge in that their brand can act as a guarantor of their quality.
The content of Disney+, for example, is held in high regards in large part thanks to the Disney brand. HBO Max will have the prestige television halo effect from the groundwork laid by HBO’s premium content (though how it will differ from HBO Now remains to be seen). We’re seeing content drive adoption and soon people will have more than the current average of 3.4 streaming services. Bundle packages and streamlined access to lots of content are going to be the next wave of streaming services. And so, like in many other categories, all roads seem to point to Amazon.
With their ability to add streaming channels à la carte, Amazon Prime Video is continuing to deliver on Amazon’s brand promise to provide Earth’s largest selection and is clearly setting itself up to become the streaming option with the most choices.
Future: As we look ahead, will the world of streaming come full-circle and reflect the diversity of cable television? Will viewers have the patience, and the bandwidth, for all these services? And what happens to streaming and production-related services when new content doesn’t come out? Will we soon be bingeing a teen COVID-19 comedy filmed in isolation? The thread throughout all these questions is now that you’re on top, how do you stay there?
Scenario 3 – You want to win back trust
No one could have been fully prepared for this pandemic. Even if your products or services are in high demand, you’ve had to adjust. And maybe that adjustment wasn’t enough. Maybe you’ve let some audiences down during this very stressful time. And now you want to address it. First of all, kudos to you. Many want to avoid owning up to their faults. You’ve decided to reach out and are now wondering how to do so in an empathetic, authentic way that mitigates any harm to your brand and even builds a richer engagement with your audiences.
Problem: You need to communicate and apologize for any delays, disruptions, or other inconveniences.
Action: Humanizing your brand and the internal team is a great way to communicate transparently and empathetically. Because chances are, your audiences are people with jobs who are themselves working under stressful situations. Emphasize the human cost and appreciate the human effort of your own team so that audiences can connect on an emotional level. The first step? Check in on your brand voice. Is it authentic, personal, realistic? If so, it can go miles towards a resonating message and build deep loyalty.
Example: COVID-19 has brought Zoom to people around the world in a whole new way. In the last four months, daily participants skyrocketed from 10 million to 200 million. Not surprisingly, they’ve come across some performance issues, most notably security concerns. Instead of ignoring criticisms, Zoom decided to address the issues head-on. They obviously fixed the issues, but they didn’t stop there. Their CEO, Eric S. Yuan, issued an apology and detailed plan for how they’re going to fix the problems. But he also illustrated how Zoom got into this situation in the first place and announced a freeze on future features, dedicating his teams solely to resolving current issues.
What strikes a different chord here is not the actions, but the tone. It isn’t trying too hard to be witty or overly emotional. Zoom is a tech company run by people and the letter sounds like a person . . . who happens to work in tech. Every blog post and tutorial strikes the same balance of human and professional, true to this brand’s personality and tone of voice. Understanding that these changes are here to stay, Zoom used an authentic brand voice to keep the users who have come to trust them.
Future: Brands like Zoom are presently a necessity. But what can they do to ensure they remain that way? Maybe they’ve made drastic adjustments to handle the demand now, but what if that demand disappears as abruptly as it appeared? How can they become entrenched and synonymous in other ways? Will a continued solid brand voice be the rock upon which the world rebuilds?
Combine your brand value with new consumer behaviors to be unbeatable
Disrupting isn’t just about being in the right place at the right time. These scenarios are about maintaining the momentum and ensuring your brand can thrive post COVID-19. Essentially, futureproofing your position. You want to capitalize on your current success with an intentional and confident look to the future. Your biggest tools in that effort are your brand values. They can lead you to mutually beneficial partnerships, guide your user experience design, and establish authentic content. Your brand voice is instrumental in winning trust. Let your brand building blocks point the way towards a vision where COVID-19, for all its flaws, was a catalyst and launchpad for your business.
“It’s a matter of understanding that service is, and needs to be, malleable, but brands and values need to be bulletproof. And it’s a matter of not wavering, not chasing the instant money.” (New Behaviors Research, April 2020).