Understanding and Shaping Consumer Behavior

Consumer beliefs and behaviors are changing fast. To keep up with and perhaps even influence those changes companies must leverage deep consumer insights. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted nearly every routine in day-to-day life. The extent and duration of mandated lockdowns and business closures have forced people to give up even some of their most deeply ingrained habits. In ordinary times, consumers tend to stick stubbornly to their habits, resulting in very slow adoption (if any) of beneficial innovations that require behavior change. But the COVID-19 crisis has caused consumers everywhere to change their behaviors rapidly and in large numbers. Even though the impetus for that behavior change may be specific to the pandemic and transient, Consumer companies would do well to find ways to meet consumers where they are today and satisfy their needs in the post-crisis period.

Five actions can help companies influence consumer behavior for the longer term:

  • Reinforce positive new beliefs
  • Shape emerging habits with new offerings.
  • Sustain new habits, using contextual cues.
  •  Align messages to consumer mindsets.
  •  Analyse consumer beliefs and behaviors at a granular level.

Reinforce positive new beliefs
The set of beliefs that a consumer holds is a key influence of consumer behaviour. Beliefs are psychological so deeply rooted that they prevent consumers from logically evaluating alternatives and thus perpetuate existing habits and routines. Companies that attempt to motivate behavioural change by ignoring or
challenging consumers’ beliefs are fighting an uphill battle. The COVID-19 crisis has forced many consumers to change their behaviors, and their new experiences have caused them to change their beliefs about a wide range of everyday activities from shopping to exercising to socializing. When consumers are surprised and delighted by new experiences, even long-held beliefs can change, making consumers more willing to repeat the behavior, even when the trigger is no longer present (in this case COVID-19). In other words, this is a unique moment in time during which companies can reinforce and shape behavioral shifts to position their products and brands better for the next normal. An effective way to reinforce a new belief is to focus on peak moments specific parts of the consumer decision journey that have disproportionate impact and that consumers tend to remember most. Peak moments often include first-time experiences with a product or service, touchpoints at the end of a consumer journey (such as the checkout process in a store), and other moments of intense consumer reaction. Some companies have focused on enhancing the consumer’s first-time experience. As the consumer journey has changed, so have the peak moments, and it’s crucial for companies to identify and optimize them. For example, a peak moment in a grocery store might be the discovery of an exciting new product on the shelf. In the online journey, however, a peak moment might instead be on-time delivery or the experience of taking the delivered items out of the packaging.
When consumers are surprised and delighted by new experiences, even long-held beliefs can change, making consumers more willing to repeat the behavior.

Shape emerging habits with new products

Companies can nudge consumers toward new habits through product innovation. For instance, the COVID19 crisis has spurred consumers to become more health oriented and increase their intake of vitamins and minerals. Unilever reported a sales spike in beverages that contain zinc and vitamin C, such as Lipton Immune Support tea. These company are therefore rolling out such products globally. They’re also aligning their innovation priorities with consumers’ emerging health-and-wellness concerns.

Sustain new habits, using contextual cues

Habits can form when a consumer begins to associate a certain behavior with a particular context; eventually, that behavior can become automatic. To help turn behaviors into habits, companies should
identify the contextual cues that drive the behaviors. A contextual cue can be a particular task, time of day, or object placement.

For example, companies are keeping hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes near entryways for ease of access and as a reminder to keep hands and surfaces clean. Product packaging and marketing that reinforces this behavior can help consumers sustain the habit

Align messages to consumer mindsets

Companies need to ensure that their brand communications are tuned to consumer sentiment. The quality of a company’s communication and its ability to strike the right tone will increasingly become a competitive advantage. Some consumers for instance pay attention to how companies demonstrate care and concern for people. This has implications for how brands connect with consumers and what types of messages will resonate. That said, consumers will see through and reject messages and actions that are performative and that seek to commercialize social issues. A company’s understanding and shaping of consumer behavior must align with its purpose. Otherwise, the messages won’t ring true.

Analyse consumer beliefs and behaviours at a granular level

Consumer beliefs, habits, occasions, and emotional need states will continue to evolve, for companies to stay abreast of these changes, monitoring product sales alone won’t be sufficient. It is necessary to also conduct primary consumer insights work, with a focus on identifying changed behaviors and beliefs to get a comprehensive picture of the changing consumer journey. Data-gathering and monitoring techniques such as social-media “listening,” and artificial-intelligence-driven message boards will be vital tools to help companies understand emerging behaviours and contextual cues. These insights will generate new thinking within the organization and help refine product offerings and marketing messages accordingly.

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