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Forecasting Consumer’s Future Response (and Ensuing Needs) to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Tim Barlow | April 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

MarketingBranding and Value PropositionMarketing, Consumer, and B2B Insights

It can be difficult to pull up and take stock of the scale and scope of this COVID-19 crisis. We may get glimpses of its reach from data points and charts, but the totality of this pandemic’s impact is truly tough to fathom (or stomach). How do we contend with a shift in our collective reality this sudden, seismic (and likely) long-term? And even more daunting, how do we possibly begin to market effectively within such an uncertain context. How do you plan and strategize for a new normal we can’t yet see?

While the rapidly shifting fallout from this crisis makes hitting marketing targets more challenging than ever, there are tools and approaches we can use to improve our aim. Much like a meteorologist attempting to contend with climate change, marketers must now triangulate their consumer strategy forecasts. By using established understandings about lifestage and generation, trending data from the recent past, and constantly refreshed new data, marketers can: establish a baseline, better understand the most likely path of change, and then track and gauge the rate of change.

For example, let’s say your target consumer is Millennials. This generation is now facing their second major economic crisis in their comparatively short adult lives. Since the Great Recession, they’ve had to contend with generationally-unique stressors like crushing debt, underemployment, wage stagnation and prohibitively high housing costs. On top of this, Millennials are also accommodating growing lifestage-related responsibilities, e.g., nearly half are now parents themselves with young children in the household.

These factors have in-turn impacted not only Millennials’ financial reality, but also their outlook on life. Compared to the rest of the population, Millennials are significantly more likely to live paycheck to paycheck (62% versus 46%) and significantly more likely to say they’re always concerned about having enough money (74% versus 63%). In fact, Millennials were the least likely of any generation to say they feel good about their personal finances, or the economy overall. Not only that, but Millennials are significantly more likely to say they feel afraid, distrustful, alone and uncertain than the rest of the population. These factors, and others like them, have caused Millennials to largely be operating from a position of scarcity.

And this undercurrent of scarcity with which Millennials have had to contend has also shaped their evolving perceptions and aspirations. In examining Millennials rising values, over the last 10 years, a pattern becomes readily apparent. Notably, the values of safety, serenity, thrift and relaxation have all risen significantly, signaling an increasing priority on establishing a sense of security and peace of mind. And even the significant decline in the value of discovery is indicative of a generation increasingly prioritizing the stability of what’s known over taking on the risk of something new. And that was before COVID-19 turned their collective lives upside down.

These long-simmering anxieties and growing aspirations for safety, serenity, thrift and relaxation will only be heightened amid the uncertainty and tumult of a global pandemic. In Gartner’s most recent consumer survey about COVID-19 (fielded 18-22 March 2020), the vast majority of Millennial respondents said they were “highly” or “extremely” concerned about the crisis, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this cohort was most largely concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

Unfortunately this emphasis on the financial impact doesn’t mean Millennials will be immune to the more immediate health and wellness implications of the pandemic. Perhaps due to their perception of being low-risk for the virus itself or in their effort to stave off the negative financial impacts of self-isolating, Millennials were slow to proactively change their behaviors in response to COVID-19, with nearly a quarter of Millennial respondents saying they had made no adjustments (such as avoiding large groups or buying food in greater quantities) at the time of the survey.

Pre-existing financial hardship, growing responsibilities, increasing desire for safety and security and a failure (or inability) to adequately prepare for a rapidly changing world. Given these inputs, the forecast for this generation in a post-COVID world, and the ensuing necessary response from marketers becomes clear. Brands hoping to stay connected and engaged with Millennials will need to double-down on efforts to layer their products, services and messaging with elements of security and peace of mind. One brand already delivering on this is female-oriented financial advisory and investment firm Ellevest. Over the course of this crisis, the brand’s social media feed has been full of how-to’s, interviews with experts and daily tips. The site offers free advice to the masses, tackling everything from questions about 401(k) plans to what individuals should do if they’ve been let go from work as a result of this crisis. While these efforts may seem small, they are a relatively simple way to offer empathy and a sense of confidence during unpredictable times, to a generation in desperate need of understanding support and clear, trustworthy guidance.

For more, read (subscription required)

Differences in the COVID-19 Consumer Context

2020 Update: Marketers, Solve for Consumers’ Most Urgent COVID-19 Fears

Relevance With Older Millennials: 3 Critical Components of Effective Brand

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