March 16, 2020

Heart+Mind Strategies Research: The Business Implications of Coronavirus

Written By: Mike Dabadie - Heart+Mind Strategies

Over the past several weeks, Partner Heart+Mind Strategies in Virginia, USA has been monitoring public opinion in the United States regarding the Coronavirus, by both doing their own research and evaluating public polls. Recently their Senior Consultants discussed what they are seeing across several business verticals and organizations. American attitudes are changing daily and in unpredictable ways, as noted in the recent NBC News survey, but behaviors are slow to adapt to the situation. 

Confidence over Confusion: The overarching message from every brand/organization/family right now needs to ladder up to instilling confidence. That is the dominant emotion and need people have right now and it’s unchanged for over three weeks.  Americans are confused with what they are hearing.  Especially as schools close and businesses move to remote working/kids to online learning, everyone wants to/needs to hear, and messages need to result in, a feeling of confidence.  Why? Because the dominant negative emotion is confusion and variations on levels of concern. But Americans want to feel Confident.

It’s Not Yet Personal.  Three weeks ago CV-19 was pollical.  Now, it’s moving closer to being personal but not fully there yet as just half are worried they/someone in their family might get the virus.  The worry over the health of my family/friends/Americans is increasing rapidly but not based on what the experts say.  As a result, you are starting to see behavior change BUT there are segments in the population who are carrying on with their own personal lives as normal; they are angry and defiant of changes they ought to make and are not making them.  Then there are others who are making changes.  This cuts to those who place priority on societal good/societal values vs what’s good for me/individual values.

Social Media Backlash Brewing.  We have very little to go on at this time for how all of this will impact social media behavior and/or viewership of media.  But about three-quarters think social media is over-hyping the issue.

Values Will Shift. American behavior, values, and needs are shifting and could be shifted permanently. Fully 40% expect their lives to change and that is just this week’s number.  An event of this nature, and data that we see/are tracking, suggests that consumer behavior will significantly change.  To what we do not know yet.  But what we can say is that you should prepare to reassess underlying brand/organization value propositions and delivery channels.  We know everyone is dealing with today, but prepare now to exit out of this crisis the right way.

Doing What’s Right; Doing What’s Good for Others.  Businesses, employees, and communities have an opportunity to discuss their social cause and responsibility practices so consumers know what good they are doing for others. Brands that last could be one’s that are seen as part of the solution….taking care of their employees, their customers, being responsive/innovative in the current climate to fulfill new needs that consumers have now.  This crisis could catapult the ways in which consumers chose to judge their relationship with brand/organizations/community groups/politicians.

Understand Human Decision Making.  Helping to understand and affect human decision making is important right now because in the US about half of the population are NOT changing their behaviors based on what the health experts are telling us what we need to do.  The threat of the virus is moving from politicization to personalization….but it’s not fully shifted yet.  Looking at the human, the market, and the cultural forces are the right factors now more than ever to help brands adapt and develop their messages/communications.

Relationships are the Source of Trust: Consumers and stakeholders want to have a conversation/stay connected with the organizations and brands they trust, and are an important part of their lives.  Do not ignore this need; set up online communities, conduct online/virtual sessions with your stakeholders, talk with your employees/operators/supply chain partners.  They want to hear what brands/organizations/institutions are doing for the good of their customers, society, community and their employees.  This is what positions you for recovery.

Verticals are Integrating Quickly.  This is especially true today with regarding to community organizations, health institutions, member-based organizations, faith based groups, schools, public-private partnerships, and NGOs/INGOs.  These groups are part of the underlying fabrics of society and people’s daily lives.  Even before this crisis, we were seeing a surge in activity with hospital systems/community health groups integrating with other verticals (such as retail grocery) to focus on wellness (physical and mental wellness).  This will accelerate.

Public Health but also Mental Health.  The need for self-care.  This is not just a public and personal health crisis but a mental health one.  Consumer emotions include anxiety, stress, worry, fear, concern, confusion; but also determination, faith, independence, and resolve.  We don’t see it yet, but this crisis is causing a mental health crisis of its own. Think of the impact on kids in schools and college students; the feelings families are having as their kids are coming home/will be home; their emotional well-being will need attention.  Even in the workplace, employers will need to address the emotional care of their employees.

Monitoring is Needed Daily: Public opinion is changing on a day-by-day basis.  Opinions based on age, ethnicity, region, income, etc. are extremely fluid.  This means that what we think is true today, may not be so tomorrow.  Opinion is changing rapidly.  Data is only as good as when it was collected.  I’ve been in public opinion research for 30 years; I’ve run nightly tracking polls in over a hundred campaigns and I have never seen data change this fast day-by-day.

Just Tell the Facts

Don’t rely on assumptions or what you think you know about consumers. The fluidity of the situation is rewriting all of that. Expect that in a time of uncertainty, with a lack of perceived control, #FOMO-driven actions (e.g., toilet paper binge buying), and high levels of confusion, there is a real need for confidence that comes from just telling people the facts.

Heart+Mind Strategies will be conducting another round of research this week. Even if the data and responses change in that research (and it’s highly likely they will), the recommendations they shared for addressing and connecting with consumers, employees and partners will remain the same. Be open, honest, compassionate and socially-conscious. Everywhere around the world, we’re all in the same position, trying to navigate a crisis and protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Written By: Mike Dabadie - Heart+Mind Strategies