By Jonathan La Greca
I have interviewed over 100 marketing and consumer and shopper insight leaders (herein insight leaders) from a variety of categories in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry since the crisis started.
One things stood out more than anything else. The current economic impact of the crisis is a tsunami about to crash our shore in ways we have never seen before.
This situation is much different from what we experienced in 2001 and 2008 and it requires marketers to ask a whole new set of questions, which I'll share below.
If you would like the full report that has many more insights and ideas from the 100 marketing and consumer/shopper insight leaders interviewed, please post a comment below or send me a note.
A common theme across organizations is that senior management has been asking questions more frequently since the crisis started.
These questions indicate that there will be 3 distinct phases to the crisis.
We are now entering Phase 2 - the Great Repression and again, I would like to reinforce that we cannot use the same thinking that helped brands sustain profitability and market share in 2001 and 2008. This is the perfect storm of physical, emotional, and financial impact.
A recent report from McKinsey suggests that marketers need to think about 5 different horizons - Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagine, Reform. If you'd also like to get a copy of the McKinsey report, please comment below or send me a note.
To ensure that your brand remains profitable and gains it fair share in an intense fight for shelf space and salience, you will need to ask the right questions during the Resilience horizon of this pandemic and recession.
In the following sections, I'll share the key themes that leaders shared, as well the key questions you need to ask to ensure that your brands exhibit resilience as we head into this unprecedented Great Repression.
Life was turned upside down over night and immediately human beings found themselves trying to balance a whole new myriad of personal and professional duties.
One leader described it perfectly by saying, "I am trying to work through unprecedented business challenges, while also being a teacher, entertainer, and tech support for Google Classroom."
In the first few weeks of the crisis, consumers focused on satisfying the lower rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, prioritizing "safety over sustainability".
As such they gravitated to brands that elicited emotions of "safety, familiarity, and trustworthiness".
Brands that were shelf stable, center of the store, primarily positioned to meet at home occasions, and perhaps had advanced e-commerce or delivery services set up prior to the crisis performed extremely well, as shipment and consumption data sky rocketed.
Brands that came into the crisis with strong visual cues and memory structures grew their share as shoppers were limited to quick decisions in a distressed shopping environment.
An example of this was the nostalgic surge in "family classic" brands which opened up trial to new users, specifically younger cohorts.
As one leader stated, "At least for the short-term, there has been a focus on survival over sustainability, and a return to the basics, as consumers are focused on the things that truly matter."
Here were the other questions marketers were asking about consumer attitudes and emotions:
As we move into Phase 2, and the recessionary period lurks from the shadows, all brands are going to face new pressures.
Overnight, many consumer usage occasions vanished and the majority of brands found themselves in a fierce fight for the few at-home occasions remaining in their category.
As we shift from the pandemic into a recession, several leaders mentioned the work they are doing to assess the headwinds and tailwinds that their categories will face.
Whether or not your brand grew during the pandemic, in Phase 2, no brand will be safe with fewer disposable dollars available and unemployment at historic levels.
As one leader said, "Even brands that find themselves on-trend related to hygiene, sanitation, health, or indoor/backyard entertainment will soon have to deal with many new entrants attracted to their profitable categories, while nimble direct to consumer brands will also be a threat as they are able to capitalize faster on quickly changing consumer needs."
Here were the other questions marketers were asking about how the recession will intensify the fight for market share:
For fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands, the first few months saw consumers gravitate to the center of the store, while ignoring end-aisle displays and impulse products at check-out.
In the short-term, this likely won't change as consumers are herded through one-way aisles and are shopping in a distressed and fearful state.
They will continue to pick brands that reduce the friction, that they implicitly trust, and that make their choice easy. Reinforced distinctive cues and memory structures will rule the day.
What scares leaders most is that many of the shopper based design cues they relied on are gone for now, and maybe forever.
One leader said, "The days of consumers picking up a package, reading claims, or engaging senses other than sight to determine which product to pick in a category are likely gone, at least for the foreseeable future."
Now more than ever, visual identity and cues will be critical to winning your fair share of attention in these forced autopilot scenarios, so is this the time to do an audit of your shelf to see how well you are positioned in your category?
Here were the other questions marketers were asking about winning at the first moment of truth in-store:
Obviously brick and mortar shopping is at risk in the years to come which will favor brands that are "effectively and efficiently" marketed online.
One leader referenced a study that suggested that the crisis accelerated ecommerce adoption by five years.
As new behaviors become engrained, marketers cannot afford to be slow to develop their understanding of how consumers behave online.
Unlike our friends in the UK, where over 10% of sales come through e-commerce, many marketers in North America are feeling exposed as e-commerce had only driven 1-2% of total sales leading into the crisis, which means it hasn't received a lot of attention.
What is really interesting about the crisis is that it has forced consumers that would have never tried ecommerce to do so, especially consumers that were most at risk by leaving their homes.
The question is that experience converted them over the long-term and what can your brand do to position itself to win its fair share if so?
Here were the other questions marketers were asking about winning at the first moment of truth in e-commerce:
While most companies that temporarily paused their research have turned the engine back on, we have lost the ability to conduct face-to-face research with our consumers for the foreseeable future.
As one insights leader interviewee said, "We can not afford to stop advancing our understanding of the consumer."
As a result, insight leaders have experimented with new methodologies like virtual behavioral observation to avoid falling behind with category dynamics quickly shifting.
Successful pilots seemed to combine virtual environment experiments with conscious belief and non-conscious association measurement to observe "what" consumers did, followed by digging deeper to understand "why" they did it.
How might you experiment with innovative new research approaches like virtual behavioral observation to advance your brand and demonstrate innovation to your stakeholders?
Here were a few things to consider about virtual behavioral observation methodologies:
Leaders expressed excitement about the following benefits they experienced from experimenting with virtual behavioral observation as a result of the crisis:
Seismic, unpredictable shifts have impacted society and as a result have impacted shoppers and consumers dramatically. It feels like the world continues to change daily.
Unfortunately, most marketers have been locked into supply chain meetings, to avoid shorting customers and putting their brands at risk by forcing trial of competitive brands.
As a result, they have not been able to think beyond the next few weeks, but organizations are hungry for proactive and innovative longer-term planning.
If there has ever been a time for the insights function to rise the occasion and have a seat at the table, it is now.
We are fortunate to have access to bright behavioral scientists and a variety of virtual tools that allow us to observe human behavior safely, while also uncovering both explicit beliefs and non-conscious associations.
It is going to continue to be an intense time for all of us both personally and professionally.
But may you find some hope and happiness knowing that...
We are the pilots of the future economy.
Author: Jonathan La Greca is the Senior Vice President, Growth at Hotspex. He has 15 years of experience ideating, developing, and activating brands across 5 different industries, including both client and supplier side.
Source: LinkedIn Pulse
© Marketing Research and Intelligence Association