Consumer behavior has changed drastically and local merchants are trying to understand how that will impact their business. The latest wave of a multi-phase survey of Americans ages 18-64 on how the pandemic has impacted them offers a roadmap for radio sales teams as they plot marketing strategies with advertisers and hone in on the categories that are most prone to spend during the current phase of the crisis.
Many Americans are eager to resume some of their normal activities, albeit while taking precautions to remain safe, according to the study conducted by marketing and research consultancy SmithGeiger and its Elevate division, which tests 1,000 pieces of creative each year. Within the first month after restrictions are lifted, more than half of respondents (52%) said they intend to shop at a local merchant, 45% plan to get their hair styled or cut, 41% want to meet friends for coffee and 37% plan to dine indoors at a restaurant. On the other hand, far fewer want to attend an indoor sporting event or concert, get on an airplane or take a cruise.
After months of sheltering in place, large numbers of Americans intend to complete purchases they planned before the pandemic began but were unable to finish. Spending lots of time at home has inspired home improvement purchases, like buying a mattress, which 44% anticipate completing within the first three months after the pandemic and 69% within the first six months. Other home improvement categories that scored high include completing a furniture purchase (32% within three months, 54% within six months), making home repairs (41% within three months, 59% within six months), buying insurance (42%/60%) and enrolling in a vocational school, technical school or university (43%/66%).
“From the universities and schools we’ve been speaking with, they are very hungry to figure out how to navigate these waters,” Elevate founder Nicole Bergen said during a Radio Advertising Bureau webinar Wednesday. “So there's a real opportunity to bring them into your fold and help them succeed.”
The study suggests that staycations are the new vacation as Americans look to drive to a local destination or visit an area theme park rather than getting on an airplane or taking a cruise. Nearly three in ten (28%) of the total sample and 33% of Millennials anticipate going on a local staycation within the first three months after COVID-19. The numbers jump to 47% and 53%, respectively, within the first six months.
“If you don’t feel safe getting into a hotel room or a rental car or getting on an airplane, you still need your vacation,” said Andrew Finlayson, Executive VP, SmithGeiger. “And fundamentally staycation types of destinations are local advertisers. They’re the people that are within the range of your signal.”
Within the next six months, 43% of total respondents said they “can’t wait to get out and go shopping.” And in a telling data point to share with advertisers, 56% will be looking for advertising on special deals, while 59% want to hear how companies will adjust their shopping experience to keep customers safe and 55% plan to take advantage of great deals offered by retailers.
For ad buyers and sellers looking for the right way to activate consumers, the data shows nearly half (48%) see the availability of a discount as a reason to purchase non-essential items. The percentage grows to 55% among 55-64 year-olds.
Messaging Pivots As Crisis Evolves
The research showed three distinct phases of the crisis, with each requiring its own unique marketing message. The shock and confusion of March gave way to a sense of regaining control in May. The latest wave of research uncovered a cautious optimism as consumers decide what is safe and carefully plan to enter public and social life. When it comes to creative messaging in the current phase, 55% of survey participants say they want to hear how brands and local companies are taking action to improve or assist in the situation.
“You cannot take advertising messages from six months ago, dust them off the shelf and put them on the airwaves today,” said Bergen. “You have to be mindful of the sentiment.” That means it’s time to toss creative that uses phrases like “during these unprecedented times” and “we know you feel…” and replace them with messages that address safety measures or promote deals or simply say, “We are open.”
“When you’re talking to clients about messaging or copy, the deal needs to return to the message,” said Bergen. “The availability of a discount is critical to Americans.”
Among other top takeaways from the webinar: Consumers want to hear from brands and local companies. Advertisers need to be specific about how they can help consumers. And re-open messaging should focus on deals and the fact that the business is open.
The research from SmithGeiger/Elevate reinforced the role of radio in providing reassurance to weary listeners. “We want to be the caring station, not the scaring station,” said Finlayson. “We need to show that we’re responding to the situation but not aggravating the listeners, who already have enough frustrations, worries and fears in their own life. They want to hear from brands because it reassures them. That an important part of what local radio has always done, it’s been that voice that people can trust to listen to and connect with and feel like there’s somebody who cares about me. That's a reassurance that a lot of people need.”