We may be several months into 2021, but day-to-day life still feels similar to what we experienced in 2020 – staying close to home, wearing masks, panicking at even the slightest hint of a cough (just me?). However, while 2021 might not have brought much of a lifestyle change, it has introduced a new emotion: hope.
Likely driven by the pace of the vaccine rollout in the U.S. and declining case numbers, the percentage of respondents to a recent Gartner Consumer Community panel that said they are “very” or “extremely” concerned about the pandemic was at the lowest number we’ve seen since we started measuring concern levels in March of 2020. Similarly, when we asked respondents to tell us what emotions they were feeling, “hope” “optimism” and “relief” were among the most common. More than a year removed from initial lockdowns, people are finally feeling like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
But CMOs and marketing leaders must remember that we are still in the proverbial tunnel. And, despite the optimism of the current moment, a “post-pandemic” world is still a long way off. In fact, even being fully vaccinated does not equate to a return to normal in consumers’ minds – in our consumer panel, while about two thirds of respondents expected to be vaccinated within 6 months (or already had been), only 30% said their life would return to normal in that same time frame.
In fact, in some ways, consumers tell us that at this phase of recovery, they’re feeling a sense of uncertainty similar to what they experienced in the early days of the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, as COVID started to spread across the U.S., social distancing and special shopping hours for seniors and complete closures were implemented inconsistently across different regions, states, cities and even individual stores, leaving consumers confused and unsure of what to expect and how to plan their shopping trips. Now, we find ourselves in another period of transition. Reopening is on the horizon (or it’s happening already), and again, consumers find themselves confused and uncertain about what to expect when they leave the house. It’s in these times of transition that information becomes incredibly important.
Marketers may assume that consumers are tired of all the talk of sanitation and social distancing, but in reality, they still find it incredibly valuable. In fact, location-specific safety considerations (sanitation policies, social distancing guidelines, vaccinated employees) are more influential in consumers’ willingness to engage in pandemic-restricted behavior than the individual’s own vaccination status. And only 5% of consumers say that it’s not necessary for a company to clearly articulate health and safety protocols to customers. In short, this is not time to back off of safety messaging – in fact, it may be more important than ever.
It remains to be seen what long-term impacts COVID will have on consumer behavior, but in the near-term, marketers must focus on managing consumers’ expectations in a rapidly evolving landscape. Helping connect consumers to the information they need to make decisions and prepare for scenarios in which they need to interact with others outside their household will position a brand as a helpful partner in (apologies in advance) these unprecedented times. For more, see our recent webinar: Align Your Marketing Strategy to 2021’s Changing Consumer Behaviors.