A New Reality

For more than two months, most of us have been social distancing, far from friends, co-workers and even family, in an attempt to squash the spread of novel coronavirus. Though most states have begun to reopen, experts warn we may be in for social distancing measures on and off through 2021. As we all try to reimagine what that kind of life might look like, here’s our take on what will matter to consumers in the months ahead, and how brands can prepare.

 

Trust and transparency

While some folks are ready to embrace the post-social distancing era, many will reemerge cautiously, keeping their circle of trust small as they wait to see how relaxed measures affect contagion levels. Customers will be paying close attention to how vigilant brick and mortars are about cleanliness and safety measures. Though Texas restaurants and some retailers were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity as of May 11, Austin businesses like the Peached Tortilla and milk + honey spa opted to open on their own schedule once they could develop their own health and safety guidelines. Businesses who are transparent and enjoy a history of customer trust will have a leg up.

 

A healthy lifestyle

Until there’s a vaccine, COVID-19 will remain a threat, and preventative measures to preserve health and boost immunity are fast becoming a priority. Supplement makers like HumanN have reported spikes in sales of immunity strengthening-products including vitamin C and elderberry extract. With people eating at home as much as 50% more often, sales of organic produce went up 22% in March alone (compared with 1.8% in January and February). At-home gardening and chicken farming are both on the rise, too, with egg wholesalers reporting a rise of up to 600% in purchases. Click and Grow, who sells smart indoor gardens, is selling out as soon as they restock. Health and wellness brands stand to benefit here, as do businesses who can pivot their products in this direction.  

 

Save or splurge?

With so many job losses (and the threat of more looming), consumers have seriously curtailed spending. Out of necessity or uncertainty, many will remain frugal, cutting out whole categories of expenses (mani-pedis, for instance) and depending more on value brands like grocery store generics. At the same time, people are desperate for comfort and finding it in relatively inexpensive things like alcohol and sugar: purchases of beer, wine, ice cream and cookies all boomed in late March. As the economy reopens, those who can afford to will be primed to splurge, but the tension between spending and saving will remain. What was once considered a necessity has now become an indulgence, with hair cuts currently topping both lists. Be prepared for less expensive treats to outsell splashy purchases for a while yet.

 

Connection, connection, connection

Socializing has never been as strictly curtailed as it has been lately. In the absence of safe opportunities to gather in small groups of friends, large groups of strangers or virtually anything in between, maintaining virtual connections has become more critical than ever. Individuals report bumps in screen time that range from 33%–185%. In Italy, Facebook Messenger calls with three or more people increased by more than 1,000% in March and both Instagram and TikTok reported a 25% increase in engagement in the same month. So did Zoom, who rocketed to the top of Apple’s App Store downloads, breaking previous records. Finding ways to create connections between people, such as with a Facebook Live Q+A or demo or a TikTok challenge, is where brands need to be. Chipotle launched Chipotle Together, a series of virtual lunches with celebrities that allow fans to connect over a shared experience. It’s the same reason why we put together the Social Distancing Channel: to help folks find free online content like concerts and classes. 

 

Less celebrity, more real

Watching Oprah cook and drink wine can make us feel like we’re all in this together, but the lockdown has also underscored the vast chasm between the well-to-do and the rest of us—for example, the Twitter backlash inspired by videos of JLo and A-Rod qurantining inside his posh Miami compound. On the other hand, celebs like soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who is holed up with partner Sue Bird in her Connecticut apartment, is broadcasting content like The Wine Down on Instagram Live to entertain people (including themselves) and raise money for Hunger: Not Impossible. Now is not the time to partner with out-of-reach celebrities, but to focus on celebs, micro-influencers and social media stars who we can relate to as real people. 

 

A social conscience 

If ever we needed local companies to step up and meet the needs of our communities, now is it. Local restaurant and butcher Salt & Thyme has reinvented itself as a pop-up grocery store. Democratic candidate Julie Oliver has reached out to folks here in District 25 to offer support in the form of food delivery or errand-running. Chipotle gave their employees a 10% raise and more paid sick leave, and donated 200,000 burritos to healthcare workers on the frontlines. Offering free value-added educational content is another form of community giving; think of the many salons and stylists doing online tutorials so customers can DIY. Those companies, too, are poised to reap the rewards of customer loyalty whenever business gets back on track. The kind of behavior that has been considered nice-to-have in the past will become the default by which companies big and small are judged.

 

Advertising 101

A quick recap of the basics: recent research found that only 8% of people believe companies should stop advertising. When you do, focus on streaming TV and social media, including gaming and live content. AR and IR have a role to play as long as social distancing continues (for-sale house tours, anyone?) and you can get away with a lot less polish when it comes to production value (see also: Parks and Rec’s recent episode and SNL at home). One cool new ad venture worth mulling over? Quibi. They’ve bet big on mobile-only short form content with mega stars like Chrissy Teigen, Liam Helmsworth and Cardi B signed on for 10-minutes-or-less snackable shows, but with their on-the-go millennial and Gen Z target audience stuck at home with nothing but time on their hands, some industry analysts think it may have hit at the wrong moment. Only time will tell. 

Business not as usual