VaynerMedia head of strategy DuBose Cole
VaynerMedia head of strategy DuBose Cole
A view from DuBose Cole

Rethink or restore: how brands can tap into new post-pandemic consumer trends

Consumers are moving in one of two directions when it comes to post-pandemic behaviour – there are those looking to rethink their lives and those looking to restore their previous lives, new research has found.

The height of the Covid-19 pandemic created a moment of cultural singularity. Around the country, people were essentially doing the same thing, as lockdowns limited their days at home to watching briefings, bingeing on Netflix boxsets and clapping for carers. But as restrictions have eased and daily life has returned to nearer pre-pandemic normal, people’s behaviour cannot be considered post Covid. 

It’s clear there won't be one set point where we all come out of Covid together – instead we will journey country by country, person by person out of it, all shaped by circumstance and resource. 

What we will see is a broadening of behaviour as people react differently to life post pandemic. It will take people in one of two directions: those looking to rethink their lives and those looking to restore their previous lives. 

Consumer perceptions of the current pandemic situation (both globally and locally), as well as its individual impact, heavily dictate where people sit on the scale of “rethinking” or “restoring”, according to our research “Stretching the post-Covid gap”. On the scale, a neutral or unsure middle extends into one of four post-pandemic groups: Rethinkers, Left Behind, Rebuilders or Thrivers. 

  • Rethinkers – 18%. Predominantly pre-family, Gen Z and millennials. Unworried about themselves, or the world, after Covid. They are optimistic and secure and are looking to build new lives and change after the pandemic. Brands can help them reorganise their lives, inspiring and empowering them.

  • Thrivers – 4%. Mostly pre-family millennials, stretching to Gen Z. They are opportunistic – so while they may be worried about the world, they are personally secure, and their lives have been spared major disruption. Brands can help by empowering individual success or encouraging support for others. 

  • Left Behind – 13%. Predominantly average to lower income or non-university educated. They are worried about their own situation (financial and/or health). They feel the world is recovering from Covid and worry about missing out. Brands can show how individual recovery can be boosted with their help and offer ways of simplifying the return to more normal daily life. 

  • Rebuilders – 5%. Mainly older and empty nesters. They are worried about the world and their own lives due to Covid. They are looking to restore what was there before. The brand role is in offering a sense of security and restoration – helping piece together normalcy again. 

These groups can serve as a lens for brands, helping them understand how different issues will be viewed, from travel to security, finance or returning to work.

In the UK, the majority of people are currently neutrals/unsure but as restrictions have loosened and freedoms gained, it will likely have a galvanising impact on pushing citizens into different segments. At present, there are two defined camps on each end of the spectrum: 22% of the public falling into “rethinking” or “thriving” in the post-Covid world and 17% “rebuilding” or feeling “left behind” in it.

These segments are particularly important for brands considering what their brand role is and who they want to prioritise. Based on heritage, sector, product and communications strategy, brands can be for more than one of these, stretching across neutrals to cater to different segments as they grow and change.

While it may not seem relevant for British Airways to look beyond Rethinkers or Thrivers – those most likely to be open to international holidays – it can still deploy secondary communications to those looking for support, educating neutrals or the Left Behind about easy ways to travel.

Elsewhere delivery brands, faced with restaurants open once again, may prioritise those less likely to return to dining out quickly, including Rebuilders or Left Behind, who are most likely to have lingering fears about infection in indoor public spaces.

While every country and person will have an individual journey out of Covid, we can assume that, with time, the middle of those uncertain about its impact and the world will shrink, so that the defined segments will grow, creating a clearer split between Rethinkers or Rebuilders.

The fortunes of each country post Covid may change these proportions, with those emerging stronger, wealthier and more secure providing a foundation for its citizens to dream, while those disenfranchised instead seek security. Recovery is likely to lift people into more positive segments such as Thrivers, looking across a more threatened world and feeling opportunistic, or Rethinkers, translating stability into change. However, cultural inertia, regardless of Covid status, can act as a ceiling on how many want to change their lives and how dramatically.

Whatever the path forward, or backwards, depending on the virus, from here, there is a clear challenge for brands to play at scale, while also reflecting an understanding of the individual’s post-Covid world. The only certainty is that things won't go back to the way they were, so the way we do business can't either.

DuBose Cole is the head of strategy at VaynerMedia London