Writing a new future for marketing: Consumer behaviour trends in the ‘next normal’

Writing a new future for marketing: Consumer behaviour trends in the ‘next normal’
Hamza Khan is a partner at McKinsey & Company.

As governments gradually remove pandemic-induced restrictions, there’s a sense that we might be on the verge of returning to “normal.” That is unlikely. During the months of lockdown and self-isolation, we have been, in fact, writing a new future.

This has important implications for marketers trying to build lasting relationships with customers. Granular monitoring of data and trends in consumer behaviour has always been important to planning. Given the nature of the pandemic and the profound changes it is resulting in, we believe that harnessing imagination will be just as critical. Marketers will need to think hard—and differently—about what the consumer in the next normal will think, feel, say, and do.

We have observed six potentially important changes in consumer behaviour in recent months. Some of them are meaningful accelerations of existing trends, some are only emerging now. What follows are suggestions for how marketers can begin to respond to them.

1. Shopping: the great digital migration

Consumers are turning to digital and reduced-contact ways of accessing products and services. This shift is likely to stick, to a large extent because e-commerce is often more efficient, less expensive, and safer for customers than shopping in physical stores.

For marketers, this means rethinking how to manage today’s new wave of data and how to use it to better personalise offers and messages to ever-narrower customer segments. Analytics will play a core role both in assessing consumer preferences and behaviours at increasingly granular levels, and also in enabling rapid response to opportunities or threats.

2. E-services: for consumers

People are not only increasingly buying online; they expect to be able to perform other tasks and access services online as well – from telemedicine to education to For marketers, this increasing consumer confidence in the use of e-services suggests a potential surge in demand and an opportunity to create new connections with people. One area of particular focus for marketers should be on developing partner ecosystems—both public and private. As services proliferate, it will be important for marketers to think through the role of their brands in interconnected service “platforms.”

3. Home: the new ‘command centre’

The crisis has made the home a multifunctional hub, a place where people live, work, learn, shop, and play. This will be especially true as a growing number of global organisations and employees attempt to sustain some of the advantages of working remotely that they have now experienced.

For marketers, they will need to engage with smart devices and interfaces across the home. In addition, marketers will need to rethink their media mix across a larger set of channels, such as videoconferencing platforms, virtual reality, and—for the right segment—video games. The key issue for marketers in navigating this “homebody economy” is in integrating it into the proliferating service and products anchored in the home.

4. Community: Localising the experiences

The near-total shutdown of travel and other current lockdown constraints have made local neighbourhoods much more important – including an increase in local social networks.

Businesses seeking to expand their connections with consumers, therefore, can benefit by localising their marketing.

Managing this hyperlocal activity and engagement will require marketers to rewire their operating model to provide a more granular presence at scale. This approach will need to build on many of the capabilities developed around personalisation (particularly analytics, trigger-based messaging, and agile test-and-learn approaches), and also require scaling content production and rethinking performance management.

5. Trust: health and security

Personal health and economic wellbeing are top-of-mind concerns for people1- and will likely continue to be. Foot traffic in stores will only return when people trust that spaces are safe and virus free. Marketers will therefore need to think through a much broader range of shopping experiences, which will require greater coordination with sales and operations teams across the business.

Added to this, the increased use of sensitive health data—from publicly taking temperatures as a condition of entry to wearable devices that transmit health information—has already created privacy concerns and heightened issues around sharing data. There is a sharp division of attitudes over the idea of trading privacy for freedom of movement and the opening of the economy. How marketers maintain customer trust on data and privacy concerns can become a point of differentiation and even a source of competitive advantage.

6. Purpose: Holding brands accountable

Socially conscious values have been in focus in recent years, and the current crisis will likely accelerate this trend. This means marketers must communicate a strong sense of their brands’ purpose—a cause that the brand stands up for, or an area where the brand aims to make a real difference. But take note: brands will need to make clear and authentic commitments to causes they believe in, or risk newly empowered consumers calling them out.

While no one knows what the exact contours of the next normal will look like, we do know that things will not go back to the way they were. Marketers will need to systematically monitor trends and indicators, commit to bold changes in marketing strategy and investments, and build agility into the organisation to respond to the world that emerges.

Editor’s note: The author would like to thank Arun Arora, Peter Dahlström, Eric Hazan and Rock Khanna for their contribution to this article.

Read more from McKinsey: How performance branding is reinventing marketing ROI

Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash

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