No-one has a crystal ball to predict the future. However, the latest behavioural science understanding of how consumers make choices, and how context influences behaviour, help to identify clues to how consumer behaviour has changed and will continue to change following the pandemic.
We see that during the pandemic the huge contextual shifts – such as removing access to high street shops, travel and entertainment – have undoubtedly had a large impact on consumer behaviour, forcing shoppers to move online, travel within a country, and embrace home entertainment, to name a few. What isn’t quite so obvious is the more subtle impact it will have on brand and product choice.
In late 2018, we at Kantar did a review of how consumers made decisions, reflecting on the latest academic thinking around System 1 and System 2 thinking, popularised by Kahneman. Academics such as Professor Jonathan St. B. T. Evans and Professor Valerie Thompson had focussed their efforts on uncovering more about the nature of Intuitive and Reflective thinking, and had made two important discoveries. These two ‘systems’ were in fact just different types of processing (Type 1 and 2) and both were involved in decisions such as choices. Secondly, Type 2, or reflective thinking, did vary according to the nature of the decision and was moderated by the initial ‘feeling of rightness’ of a decision and the situational, motivational and cognitive factors of an individual. Knowing this is key to understanding how the pandemic has changed, and will continue to change, behaviour… and what brands should do.
The decision-making process
Let’s take a typical decision, like choosing a hand soap, where against a need, a brand with the greatest predisposition (the most meaningful, different and salient in moment) is likely to be the one that is intuitively chosen. Whilst our more reflective (Type 2) thought processes check the feeling of rightness of this brand choice in the moment, typically, unless there is a situational, motivational or cognitive reason, rarely do we give it much further thought.
However, in a changing context, these factors of choice are causing interruptions in our decision-making process with potentially grave consequences for brands. Firstly, the brand might no longer be the one that best fits our changing needs (lower feeling of rightness). Situational factors – for example, a lack of availability – will also push consumers for the first time to try alternative brands, which might deliver a better, or more meaningful, experience. We might, in fact, be forced to reject a whole category in favour of a different type of product or experience (e.g. high street banking or overseas travel).
Meaningful brands find growth
What our consumer data has shown us is that brands that were able to pivot to become more meaningful – for example, Carex, with their antibacterial and moisturising properties – have seen great growth. Those that have adapted to the changing needs have also grown; see, for example, the growth in the in home snacking category, and brands like Nando’s and Brewdog who have continued to stay relevant despite the closing of bars and restaurants.
A role in peoples’ lives
As the context changes again and we are on the road to recovery, brands need to think about how they can pivot, recover, or maintain their role in people’s lives. Brands that have been riding the wave of change need to work hard to insulate their brands to ensure they are the most meaningful and frictionless choice as the context changes. Brands that have struggled during lockdown to attract consumer attention must work hard to develop intuitive and reflective marketing assets and strong innovations to draw people back to their brands (for example, people might be considering how much money they have saved on takeaway coffee during lockdown).
To do this, brands need to stay close to the changing context, through market research inspired by behavioural science thinking. This means that all new innovation research will need to focus more heavily on learning about the changing context around the innovation, blending social, cultural, qualitative and panel data together. Additionally, they will need to focus more on Type 1 and Type 2 approaches to understand how to develop meaningfully different propositions that present a frictionless choice in the moment.
- Brands need to stay close to the changing context of the pandemic using behaviour science-inspired research approaches.
- Brands need to think beyond System 1, and contemplate the factors that influence decision making in the moment.
- Brands must consider how to make themselves a frictionless choice in the changing moment.
This article was originally published in Kantar BrandZ 2021 most valuable global brands.