Newton’s Law of Inertia Has Struck:
Time to Conduct a Consumer Checkup
by Clay Dethloff
Before I got out of my car to go into the grocery store for a few last-minute items for our family’s dinner, I grabbed my mask from the cubby where I had been keeping it since March and put it on.That's when it really struck me: how much of a “routine” putting my mask on before going into a store had become. This time last year, this now-routine act would have never occurred to me or anyone else I saw walking into the store, but now it’s a part of our lives.
In talking with my wife when I got home, we mentioned other changes that are now “normal” to our family: dining out is basically going through a drive-thru and then driving to a park or other area to eat; we do curbside pickup for groceries and many other items. We talked about the savings we’ve gained from using less gas and the lack of toll charges since we’re not driving to work. We laughed at how we’ve divided up the house for work areas, and about the “do not disturb” signals we use when someone is on an important Zoom call. In addition to these immediate impacts, we recognize that there are long-term implications for many we know; for example, we are constantly hearing of more and more businesses that will permanently adopt some form of work-from-home aspect.
As consumers and citizens, we’ve each found our own workarounds and trade-offs during the pandemic. Whether they’re the ones I’ve described, or ones other people are pursuing, changed behaviors like this are being played out in almost every home and organization around the globe.
That brings us to Newton’s law of inertia. As a reminder, this law basically states that an object at rest will stay that way and that an object in motion will continue with the same speed and in the same direction unless that object is acted upon by an unbalanced force. For the purposes of the discussion that follows, I’m considering the COVID-19 pandemic an unbalanced force that has acted on two objects: consumers and organizations.
In the past, consumers were often on ”autopilot” until a new product, new service, or new product attribute came along and changed our opinions or perceptions about a brand or category. Changes were often slow or a long time in coming. We can think of this as inertia. But this time is different. The pandemic has continued for longer than most us had expected. As a result, each and every one of us has had to modify our lives. We can think of the pandemic as the unbalanced force that’s changed our speed or direction.
Many of us have developed new habits and behaviors and our minds have become “wired” to these new ways of doing things. As a result, organizations need to think about conducting consumer checkups and revisiting consumer motivations, feelings, and actions to see whether pre-pandemic behaviors and practices are still relevant in today’s environment. We have to ask what life in general will be like after the impact of the unbalanced force.
Over the summer, my colleague, Felicia Rogers, had a post titled “Jumper Cables For Your Brand? Yes, They Do Exist. 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now To Restart Your Business”. In it, she emphasizes that “companies must look to their end users to obtain a clear understanding of current attitudes and needs. To address these critical issues, consumer insights are, perhaps, more important now than ever before.” Building on that idea, and as the pandemic has continued, it is critical that organizations do not automatically default to a “back to normal” mentality in their consumer outreach efforts or assume that consumers will also go back to their pre-pandemic normal. Maybe consumers will return as before, maybe they will for some products and services, or maybe they won’t at all.
At Decision Analyst, we often refer to the consumer-brand connection and we work with our clients to understand the relationship their brand has with their customers and potential customers. The unbalanced force of the pandemic has definitely had the opportunity to disrupt, change, or modify that connection. Paraphrasing a quote from Dale Carnegie, When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. In other words, consumers may not act as we expect them to or as we would act ourselves, especially when hit with an unexpected and unbalanced force. For this reason, checkups should include a review of past research to understand current relevance, as well as additional research to understand current consumer feelings, motivations, decision-making processes, and actual behaviors, and they will be key to success in the future.
As we (hopefully) see the end to this pandemic, organizations should begin to think of regularly conducting consumer checkups to understand the status of their ongoing connection with consumers. Organizations need to understand who their current customers are and the issues that are important to them at this time and in the future so that marketing efforts will be relevant and will resonate in the market. Now is the time for organizations to re-establish and reinforce the consumer connection and, in keeping with Newton’s law of inertia, align with the new speed and direction of the consumer.
About the Author
Clay Dethloff (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Senior Vice President, Director of Qualitative Research at Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.
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