Justin Peyton
Mar 30, 2020

Planning for uncertainty as consumer patterns change

Consumer behaviour in response to COVID-19 fears and self-isolation differs in markets across APAC, says Wunderman Thompson research.

Planning for uncertainty as consumer patterns change

With 2.1 billion searches registering on Google News as of the 20th of March, it’s fair to say the virus is all people are talking about, all people are thinking about, all people are worried about. And with good reason. People are worried about families far away, people are worried about their countries, people are worried about their businesses as behaviours are changing by the day.

We all understand and share the pains of this moment and the challenge of just surviving the moment. What plans can we make as people, as businesses and as brands? What will we need to do and change to ensure that we are delivering people services they value and opinions and content they can trust?

The truth is that brands today need to be true to themselves. More than at any other point in history, a brand must be able to walk the talk; promise alone is not enough. The challenge is that everything is moving and changing so fast that it feels hard to know where to start. But as marketers if the job to be done now is to put purpose into action, then this is the time to lead.

So with all this volatility, the job of the market is complex but vital. It requires:

  • Finding clarity within the massive volumes of data and reports
  • Listening to consumers and being sensitive and helpful to their needs
  • Modeling scenarios that account for different potential outcomes from this global crisis and how people’s needs and behaviours may change as a result
  • Making decisions faster.

To help find some semblance of solid ground from which to build, our agency launched a digital webinar series that uses data from dipstick surveys across five markets in APAC (China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Australia) to uncover and understand changes in sentiment and behaviour. 

And while much of the data would come as no surprise to you—such as the 50% increase in social media usage, or the 44% increase in content consumption through news programs—other elements are quite interesting. These include elevated levels of fear associated with higher social media consumption, or the fact that it is young people who are most willing to self-isolate (with 50% of those who reported themselves as self-isolating being below the age of 35).

What’s potentially more interesting though, is the impact on consumer behaviour that we are starting to see. In Thailand for example, only 4% of people said they had been quarantined or were self-isolating. However, over 50% said they had significantly reduced how often they take public transport or go to restaurants, malls and supermarkets. This is well above the levels reported by consumers in other markets with low levels of self-isolation, which may reflect the beginning of longer-lasting behavior change.

In fact, when asked about future behaviours, roughly 50% of respondents said that after the COVID-19 crisis passes, they would still be travelling less, going to restaurants less, shopping in stores less. And while this may seem intuitive, the data becomes interesting when you look at how it differs between age groups, such as younger people (18-34) are most eager to get back to the way things were before. This group actually had between 16% and 19% of people saying they would be doing all of those activities more than they had previously.

Is this a sign that people took these liberties and possibilities for granted and now want to make sure they truly appreciate every opportunity in life? Is this about the need to just reconnect with community?

One last interesting finding to leave you with is the impact COVID is having on community. While in many instances it is separating people physically, 78% of respondents in China said that it was bringing people together as a community, versus only 16% of respondents in Australia (47% in Australia said it was separating communities). Is this just survivor syndrome bonding people who have faced a common struggle? Is this process more advanced in China, as it is at a different stage of the outbreak, but Australia will potentially get to the same place if the impact there continues to accelerate? Could we see a world connected by survivor syndrome as every country is facing the same challenges? Will people have an affinity for the brands that were by their side during the crisis? Which behaviours will stick with us for the long-term?

These are the questions we hope to help everyone answer.


Justin Peyton is APAC chief transformation and strategy officer at Wunderman Thompson. 

The agency will be releasing new insights and data every two weeks through an open webinar to leverage information and tools to help plan as everyone moves forward with this crisis. Wunderman Thompson will announce when the next episode airs on its LinkedIn page.  

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