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Insights & Innovation: Cautious Optimism: Understanding the post-pandemic mindset

One of my favorite quotes is “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you are going.” After a year living within pandemic times, it’s important to understand our current mindset and the best ways to address consumers as we move toward a semblance of normalcy.

To do this, Vox Media worked with the Circus, an insights and data storytelling consultancy, to survey 1,500 consumers to analyze how they are evaluating their post-pandemic life and its implications for marketers. This paper will highlight our key findings which include:

  • Rather than pretend like nothing has changed as things gradually return to “normal,” brand messaging and products should recognize the hardship, present solutions to the negative impacts they have experienced, and guide consumers through the recovery process.
  • Consumers who reported the highest level of satisfaction with their lives were those who were able to pivot their lifestyles and mindsets during the pandemic despite experiencing drastic changes.
  • Consumers are approaching the reopening through the “post-pandemic prioritization funnel”: Personal > Local > Practical > Passion.

THE CONSUMER MINDSET: A LOT OF WORK AHEAD

The last 12 months have negatively affected a vast majority of people’s mental, physical, social, and emotional health. The hardest-hit audiences among those we surveyed were moms, those 40+, and those with a household income lower than $50K.

Additionally, Latinx and Asian Americans reported feeling a more negative impact from the pandemic when compared to their white and Black counterparts.*

When asked about the effect of the pandemic on various aspects of survey respondents’ well-being:

Of those surveyed, 50% noted that their social well-being was negatively impacted. When evaluating consumers’ overall sentiment and what we might attribute to these negative changes in their overall health, particularly social, we see concerns around society, their community, and loved ones at the top; followed by finances and career. Many consumers noted that the pandemic intensified existing stressors, signifying that these issues are top concerns that will persist long after reopening.

The intense disruption of the past year caused many to put their lives on hold. As many places in the U.S. approach reopening, many cautious consumers who canceled plans will be evaluating how and when to reinvest in these moments.

80% of consumers stated the pandemic forced them to forego a meaningful event or plan. The most cited disruptions included:

  • 45% did not go on a planned trip
  • 39% didn’t take vacation
  • 20% had an event they planned impacted, like a wedding and retirement

WHAT BRANDS CAN LEARN

It’s important for all brands to recognize the toll the pandemic has created for many of us. Rather than pretend like nothing has changed as things gradually return to “normal,” brands, through messaging and products, should recognize the hardship, present solutions to the negative impacts experienced, and guide consumers through the recovery process.

THE RESILIENT CONSUMER

Regardless of the upheaval in their lives, we did see significant resilience across demographics, with 72% of people citing they are generally satisfied with life overall.

Some of the groups that showed the greatest satisfaction:

  • Millennials seem to be living their best lives, with 80% being very satisfied.
  • There was nearly a 2X difference when it comes to higher income versus lower income groups.
  • Parents (82%), despite the chaos, show much higher levels of satisfaction versus non parents (64%)
  • Males (76%) are showing higher levels of satisfaction than Females (67%)
  • Vox Media consumers (87%) are showing higher levels of satisfaction vs. Non Vox audiences (64%)

Interestingly, individuals who reported higher levels of satisfaction also experienced disruption, such as: They are more likely to have gotten Covid (22% vs. 3%), had to dip into their 401Ks (11% vs. 7%), and received government assistance for a business (6% vs. 2%). They were even significantly more likely to have missed a meaningful milestone they had planned prior to the pandemic.

What’s clear is that within the chaos, those who were “very satisfied” with life seem to have pivoted and embraced the change. This group was also significantly more likely to have made changes during the pandemic in the following ways:

  • 3x more likely to have bought a new vehicle
  • 3x more likely to have relocated their home
  • 3x more likely to have an important life moment accelerated like a wedding or retiring from their job
  • 2x more likely to have had a career change or moved jobs

THE VOX MEDIA CONNECTION TO LIFE SATISFACTION

THE REOPENING: CAUTIOUS AND ABOUT PEOPLE

While there is much to look forward to and cause for optimism given the seemingly positive vaccine outcomes so far, consumers are easing in gradually to pre-pandemic activities and plans. Consumers are showing a very distinct pattern in terms of how they will be approaching the re-opening and the amount of risk they are willing to take. We are calling this evaluation process the “post-pandemic prioritization funnel” and it looks like this:

  1. People - reconnecting with loved ones
  2. Local - shopping, dining out, going to the movies or a sporting event
  3. Practical - working in an office or volunteering time
  4. Passion - going on vacation or to a convention, museum, concert, or comedy club

AS SOON AS POSSIBLE OR WAITING JUST A BIT

The majority of consumers (~60%+) are open to re-engaging with the things they used to do before the pandemic,even if it means waiting just a little bit. As shown in the visualization below, most people are looking forward to celebrating a holiday with family and friends, having dinner at a friend’s, and hugging someone they love “as soon as possible.” Later on, they are looking forward to expanding their activities and spending. But there is definite interest in chasing that lost vacation, and 1 in 4 consumers are itching to go to that missed concert, sports game, or comedy club as soon as possible.

It is important for brands and marketers to understand the “post-pandemic prioritization funnel,” how consumers are evaluating these various stages and therefore their purchasing decisions.

WHAT DO THEY PLAN TO SPLURGE ON?

Consumers also have a very practical sense of where they plan to splurge with the reopening. There’s a desire for us to support our local restaurants, celebrate the holidays, and create experiences to allow people back into our homes.

Travel will also play a significant role on where we plan to splurge next, and the numbers are especially strong for those wanting to plan travel domestically across the U.S. Before we plan on going back to events like concerts and sporting events, it looks like we need to get some new clothing.

Q: Which of the following activities, if any, do you plan on splurging on when the nation and world re-opens?

When looking at where consumers might splurge, there were no differences with what is a top priority for all people: we our focusing on people we love. But those who were “very satisfied” with life were significantly more likely to focus on the passion part of the re-opening, with more likely splurges on sporting events, concerts, vacations, festivals, comedy clubs, and even conventions. The reopening of life appears to be the next pivot for these consumers. It’s not just a pivot but an expression of what they love and are passionate around.

The pandemic has been difficult, but 49% of people believe it will change themselves for the better in the long term and only 10% believe the changes are all negative. As we enter the reopening, brands and marketers have the opportunity to capitalize on the optimism and eagerness of consumers by addressing their concerns with understanding, clarity, and new models for solutions.

Authors: Edwin Wong, Abigail Aronofsky, & Sasha McTernan

Methodology
A survey was commissioned to 1,500 consumers in March 2021. Our partner, The Circus, is an insight and data storytelling consultancy that specializes in original trend research, thought leadership, and strategic brand positioning rooted in a human-data centric approach.

Edwin Wong is Senior Vice President, Insights & Innovation at Vox Media, the leading independent modern media company known for building the best media brands and the technology that enables them. He leads research to identify key trends in consumer behavior and help advertisers capitalize on these trends to effectively connect with their core audiences. He has been studying digital consumer behavior for nearly 20 years and has held previous roles at BuzzFeed, Pinterest and Yahoo.