The outbreak of the worldwide Coronavirus has rapidly altered the way we conduct business and at least some of the changes may be here for a while. In fact, COVID-19 may have changed CPG forever.
Consumer packaged goods are in a whirlwind regarding relevancy and safety. With social distancing measures in place throughout many countries and communities, consumers have had to adjust their purchasing patterns. And this has had a stunning impact on how CPG manufacturers operate.
Online is More Relevant than Ever
Connecting online and conducting business by way of hangouts or meeting apps such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom has become a necessity to keep business going. But it’s a short-term fix for a potentially long-term problem.
Every brand should have a crisis plan in the hip pocket – but few have a “move everything online” contingency plan for responding to a global pandemic. And with the news changing daily, an agile crisis plan, at that, is critical. That’s why top brands lean heavily into next gen AI to develop their course of action. And to create new ways of working remotely to accommodate shifting worker/consumer needs, whenever possible. It’s really contingency planning on two fronts at once – and that requires real-time insight.
Businesses are doing what they can to not only shift work to virtual environments, but to keep employee morale up as well. One of the stark realities coming to light due to this shift is that there are a good number of potential online workers – and students – without internet access/home computers, for example. A troubling realization in our digital age:
And CPG brands must rethink how they may need to shift operations and resources to accommodate not only consumers, but in-store employees as a result. This may not hit brands’ radar as soon as it needs to if they aren’t engaged in social listening. And this insight is crucial, particularly as days “down” have turned to weeks and now months.
Brands can’t fight/adapt to accommodate what they don’t see though. And there are just so many layers to this battle.
Many Layers of the COVID Crisis
Shifting back to consumers – as they change their habits, businesses have to stay on top of their needs, assess them and react relevantly when they can. The market reaction to COVID-19 has been all over the map thus far, as retailers have been forced to meet new demands in the marketplace, including:
- Consumers have diligently adhered to social distancing for the greater good. Many have lost their income as well, which has significantly changed their purchasing trends as they wait for unemployment assistance. Brands have tightened their belts and stopped promoting luxury items, as a result, knowing it’s not only tone deaf but insensitive to attempt a business as usual approach. And their marketing, thus far, has been around expressing support for displaced workers and worried consumers. This does not move product though, and they’ll need to get that moving again soon.
- Customers are not going to physical stores unless they have an essential need. So brands are creating delivery and pickup options, as well as in-store social distancing protocols to create mindful purchase processes. This is entirely new and requires additional headcount at a time when essential work is scrutinized and every penny counts.
- When people do make purchases, they are often buying in bulk. Or they’re seeking out online retailers/using grocery delivery services to avoid contact with others. Brands are doing their part to flatten the curve by adding deliveries to their already overtaxed businesses, whenever possible. And again, creating additional line items where they’d normally be cutting them. Sorting out consumer needs vs wants will need to happen, and become part of brands’ new normal, very soon.
And all of this can be sorted out with consistent social listening.
Becoming Proactive with Social Listening
Overall, brands are reacting to embrace the needs of society and modifying their production to meet market demand. They’re modifying most things, in fact. And the savviest among them have realized that long term, proactive planning is in order – or the end is near.
Wuhan, the epicenter where the virus broke out, just lifted restrictions to stay in place, so the definition of “long term” is really anyone’s guess. And it’s a safe bet that the general public is going to be hyper-sensitive to safety precautions for the foreseeable future. So, brands need to be ready to adapt on numerous fronts.
CPG Brands Taking One for the Team
Many CPG brands have pivoted temporarily and begun producing PPE products and ventilators.
It’s hauntingly reminiscent of a time when work was shifted to the war effort during WW2. This is a world war after all, but the bullets are invisible. And the outcome is far from clear. Experts and “smart, macro thinkers” from every sector have a variety of opinions, but that’s about it, as solid ground is scarce with a virus that keeps changing.
And consumer sentiment is changing along with it.
COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Shift
Consumer values have shifted exponentially from luxuries to necessities, from hope to fear and back again, and it follows the news cycle. For example, when hoarding initially hit, it was everywhere:
The public will be exercising extreme caution when restrictions are lifted. Brands engaged in smart social media monitoring will be in the best position to meet fluctuating consumer needs as the market evolves.
Using the snapshot filter in NetBase allows us to take a look insight from precise moments in time to act as a baseline against which we can measure current campaigns.
And this will be crucial insight as we may need to revisit the panicked consumer mindset of last month to review what worked/did not if things take a turn for the worse; versus the optimistic purchasers of two days ago.
And it’s worth its weight in gold to set alerts to monitor industry trends, consumer sentiment and explore how other successful brands have reacted.
Just a few short weeks ago, moving product with speed was a given. Now the concept of agility has taken on a much more foreboding feel, with an accompanying ‘adapt or die’ warning that cannot be ignored. Everything is in a state of flux and powering through is the only option.
Industry leaders rely on social media analytics to spot trends, track consumer sentiment and analyze the competition. And just as we know that brands that aren’t using social media listening tools are missing out on profits – today they’re missing out on mission critical changes that can sink their entire operation. There isn’t time in this market for hiccups and missed opportunities.