The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour. But have you?
Tay Ling
General Manager, TBA Hong Kong

Eventually the pandemic will go away, but its residue will remain in the form of radically changed patterns of consumer behaviour. Brands of all kinds are still learning how to respond to these new habits and expectations. Below, we will look at three of the most dramatic changes of consumer behaviour and offer insight on how brands can boost ROI in this new landscape.

Personal safety becomes the focus of brand-audience communication

All the mask-wearing, disinfecting, social distancing and travel restrictions of 2020 have left consumers hyper-aware of their personal safety. In fact, according to the latest COVID-19 Pulse Survey by KPMG, it is now one of the top three purchase drivers, influencing everything from choice of suppliers to channel usage.

Brands therefore need to ease their audiences’ apprehensiveness about in-person interaction. Trust must be established. Communications should be proactive and include the practical actions taken to assure safety – from sanitising venues to at-home services to bookable shopping sessions. When a brand can give consumers some peace of mind, consumers will be confident in joining in the brand’s events and campaigns.

Pico’s new exhibition centre in Jinjiang, China hosted the Quanzhou International Auto Show in October. Accordingly, stringent health measures were in place for the four-day exhibition. As a result, the exhibition – at which more than 70 car brands exhibited in a 30,000 sq. m. area – concluded with an impressive result, with more than 30,000 visitors. Many of the measures were in line with those used in many other Pico-managed events, including a range contactless and touchless solutions, and carefully design crowd controls.

In Hong Kong, a venue that seems tailor-made for safety amid COVID-19 is The Grounds. Located in Central district, it is an outdoor space suitable for events ranging from live music to movie showings to comedy acts, and offers enough area to allow even large audiences to maintain social distancing. The venue also offers private ‘pods’ for up to 4 persons and contactless ordering of F&B. Importantly, as well as offering all these virtues, The Grounds has effectively communicated them to consumers, explaining clearly just why and how they can protect their health. Despite that the venue is temporarily closed from 2 to16 December 2020 to cope with the latest anti-epidemic restrictions of the Government, it already sets a good example of COVID-responsible entertainment venues for the industry.

The ‘stay-at-home’ consumer economy is mainstream

While some countries such as China have seen a relatively swift return to in-person activities, many others remain unable or unwilling to mingle, at least until the health risks are fully abated. In these regions, a new economy has emerged in which the home is the main hub for entertainment and shopping.

For brands, the obvious response is to ensure that their online offerings are in line with the rest of their channels. Engagement strategies geared toward at-home customers should become a higher priority.

At a partner event, HP Inc. Malaysia unveiled several key new products via live webcast. In an example of effective personalised marketing, the audience could use their own mobile phones to trigger AR effects with more information about the new products. A similar solution could be applied to other online product launches and promotions. The audience watching product intro livestream could even use a link to purchase online in real-time.

Pandemic didn’t dampen the desire to travel

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has generated a fierce desire among consumers for a change of scenery. In a Travel Leaders Group survey of nearly 3,000 American and Canadian frequent travellers, 99% said they were eager to travel again, with 70% stating plans for holidays in 2021.

With pandemic-related restrictions still in place in many countries, travel for pleasure will often be necessarily local. Some brands have successfully addressed consumers’ psychological need to travel by offering novel experiences close to home, even integrating the concept into their marketing campaigns to stimulate local consumer take-up.

‘We Miss Japan’

In Hong Kong, one hotel group offered frustrated would-be travellers to Japan the next best thing to a trip to Tokyo – a Japan-themed hotel ‘staycation’. The ‘We Miss Japan’ deal included a gift pack with popular Japanese snacks and souvenirs, a chance to dress in a yukata, and even a yukata photo-op with a purple flower backdrop in an adjoining mall.

'Going abroad' in VR

Rail commuters at Shibuya Station in Tokyo could instantly find themselves in Taiwan by making a special connection through a giant suitcase. Inside, VR headsets offered an immersive three-minute tour of Taitung beauty spots, courtesy of the Taitung county government in Taiwan. The attraction has proved popular enough to create buzz online and in the media, effectively promoting the destination for when international travel may resume.

Also in Japan, an entertainment company has tapped into consumers' longing to travel by offering a VR airliner cabin experience. 'Passengers' get a window view of famous destinations, and a cabin crew is even on hand to serve meals. Bookings for the flights to nowhere are up 50% since the start of the pandemic. 

Find opportunity in the realities of now

With the foreseeable future still gloomy and paths to recovery varying by market, brands and event professionals need to make an extra effort to keep up with changes of consumer behaviour in different regions. The more accurately a campaign can be targeted, the better the outcome will be.

The article above was first published in M&C Asia on 1 December 2020.