Managing Behavioral Contagions from the Coronavirus

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  • 3/18/2020
    The impact of COVID-19 has led to strange times for marketers. We’re seeing new paradigm shifts every day, and at thunder::tech, we are working hard to help you navigate its impact on your business. This content is one of many resources we are creating for marketing and management in the midst of the coronavirus.
    As things continue to change, we’re helping by providing marketing advice, fresh perspectives and strategic planning for companies during and after the pandemic. For a full list of our COVID-19 resources, click here.

    As if these times haven't been strange enough for marketers, now let's throw the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic into the mix.
    Trends we’ve been seeing - like ordering nontraditional products online and economic developments (supply and demand, bear and bull markets) - can be managed from tool kits that marketers have evolved. And while this coronavirus may seem insurmountable, it is a shock to business at the moment primarily because of the speed at which it has occurred, but that we will figure out how to manage over time. 
    As a result of the rapid spread of the virus and the news and information that has followed it, we are now experiencing rather fast behavioral contagions that are affecting consumers. A behavioral contagion is defined as: 

    Behavioral contagions can lead to either fixed behavioral shifts or be fleeting in nature. Two examples that we are experiencing currently: 
    1. Think about how fast the 20 second hand washing rule has spread. We all (I hope!) washed our hands before this virus, but now we see posters about it, constantly see it in the news and it has become a socially acceptable topic to discuss. This is a behavioral contagion that has spread quickly in reaction to the virus and due to the importance of the activity. Given the time in which which we have become consciously aware of it and the number of times we are all repeating the practice, this behavior change will likely stick around for a long time.
    2. There are other practices such as hoarding supplies that have also become contagious as a result of consumers not wanting to be left behind, induced by panic and fear. A client in the retail segment has reported record sales in their decades-long history, however, this is not a contagion that will stick. There's only so much we can consume and normal practices will come back as the virus threat settles down.

    The key for marketers is identifying consumer behavioral shifts on both ends of this spectrum and figuring out how to manage and take advantage of them. 
    So what's a marketer to do? While this virus is dealing a lot of bad news to businesses, there's many silver linings if you follow your consumers' changing behaviors. 
    Some of these longer tail behavioral changes have been in the works for years, but not all brands are ready for the spike in need:
    • Home delivery of....anything - Depending on the length of the virus crisis, it may become more widespread and entrenched in our consumer preferences.
    • e-Commerce of...anything - This crisis will only deepen this behavior and brands have been given their last warning to figure this out.
    • Agility of organizations to change with trends and crisis's - This is bigger than marketing, but we must lead the charge to adapt our brands faster to shifts and more frequent shocks.
    • Social media as a primary news source - this communication outlet is mature and the sensitivity during a crisis must be expertly managed.
    • Social media as a primary customer service outlet - many large brands are already here but mid market brands are on their heels still.
    • Building demand at a one-to-one scale that is only accomplished through digital means (CRM, email, programmatic advertising) - only the best are here and are going to weather the storm by knowing who to market to and how.
    The weeks to come are critical for all brands to be assessing the short and long-term implications of consumer behavior shifts from this current contagion. Just like an actual virus, if you follow the trend lines and data behind it, you'll make better decisions on how to manage the situation. 
    What type of behavioral contagions have you been seeing during this strange time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
    About the author::Jason Therrien is the president of thunder::tech. He is a fan of entrepreneurs and trailblazers, a proud dad and he liked scotch before Mad Men made it cool.
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