The COVID-19 pandemic has left magazine publishers and their advertisers uncertain about how and when to communicate with their audiences. Advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach has surveyed over 1,000 Australians to provide some insight into what consumers want from brands right now, and how to get the messaging right.
In March, Roy Morgan reported that Australian consumer confidence had fallen by 27.8 per cent to a 30-year low. Since then, confidence has been slowly returning, but it’s left many brands confused about when and how to promote their product and services.
Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) wanted to quell this uncertainty, and surveyed over 1,000 Australian consumers to find out what consumers need or want to hear from brands during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DDB has released the results of the survey in a report titled Australian Consumer Sentiment toward Brand Communications: Seven Lessons from Lockdown.
The agency referenced the IPA’s 2008 study, Advertising in a Downturn, which found that switching off communications during a financial downturn can take brands between three to five years to return to previous sales levels.
“But, the big question is, what do consumers need or want to hear from brands right now?”
DDB explains that it helps to understand the four emotions or behaviours consumers experience when encountering a crisis: panic, acclimation, recovery and return.
DDB’s survey was completed between 2 and 4 April 2020, which it says fits into the late panic and early acclimation phases.
So, what did DDB find?
Consumers do want to hear from brands
DDB’s data suggests that 66 per cent of Australians want to hear from brands during the COVID-19 isolation period.
“…while consumers are staying at home, they also want to stay connected, whether that’s connected to real-time information, connected to ideas that will help and enable them, or to merely fill the social void with some entertainment,” the report says.
“The positive news is that they perceive brands to have a role in keeping them connected, empowered and entertained across this period.”
But communications needs to add value
DDB’s results suggest that Australians are expecting more relevant and value from the way brands are engaging with them.
“When you view this through the ‘Panic’ phase of the journey, you can understand why messages that don’t align with survival instincts around safety, family and authority might be deemed irrelevant or confusing,” says DDB.
The agency says that messages during this time need to fit how the brand is currently perceived, otherwise it will be deemed inauthentic or confusing. Communication should be around offering support to your audience in ways that are most valuable to them – how can they engage with your brand or consume your product from home?
“Value might just be from reducing the boredom with some light-hearted fun, such as joining the social conversations we are seeing take place through the sharing of different memes,” DDB says.
Communication from food, wellness and travel brands most wanted
The brands consumers most want to engage with during the pandemic are those that provide survival necessities, for example groceries (50 per cent), and food and beverage (35.4 per cent).
DDB says that 47 per cent of consumers also want to hear from retail brands.
“This suggests a move toward ‘Acclimation’, where Aussies are looking for ways to stablise and normalise,” the report says.
Health care, fitness and wellness is also a priority with 27.8 per cent of consumers interested in hearing from these brands, while 26.1 per cent of Australians are seeking information from travel and tourism brands to start planning for the future.
Be open about your safety measures and demonstrate empathy
DDB found that consumers want to know that brands are looking out for the safety of their workforce and community.
“Not only do people want useful information to help them to continue to buy and shop, they are also interested in how they are being cared for as customers. How staff are treated indicates how much a brand really believes in the saying of ‘We’re all in this together’.”
For example, DDB says that consumers see the most meaningful initiative being put in place by a brand has been supermarkets providing a time for elderly and vulnerable people to shop, followed closely by Qantas’ arrangement to have its stood-down baggage handlers employed at Woolworths packing shelves.
Discounts and deals are still of interest
DDB found that 75 per cent of Australians will want to hear about promotions.
“This may be a reflection of Aussies inherent love of deals, but it is no doubt also a reflection of the economic fallout for some as they wait for the Government initiatives to help support the day-to-day.
“We suspect it is also a desire for a sense of normality; that the world has not completely stopped turning. Brands satisfy deep emotional needs for people, and in a time of crisis, the familiar is comforting.
“It’s easy to think that selling at times like these doesn’t feel appropriate but our evidence suggests that people would still like to keep buying. And with a bit more time on their hands, they will be able to seek out the best deals in the market.”
Getting it right reaps long-term benefits
DDB explains that it’s important to understand the shifting conversations and changing consumer emotions during a crisis, because the right brand response during these times can build positive associations that are much harder to replicate during normality.
“[Consumers] are expecting brands to think more holistically about the community and its survival so that it can effectively rebound when things improve. As a result, Aussies are wanting brands to demonstrate action by creating safety nets and initiatives that will help keep everyone healthy both physically and financially.
“Leaning into the brand-building power of an Emotional Advantage, even for a short-term tactic, is the most certain path to continued growth.”
DDB’s report Australian Consumer Sentiment toward Brand Communications: Seven Lessons from Lockdown can be found on DDB Group Australia’s LinkedIn page.