Lauren Whitney, a mom of four was just one of billions of people experiencing her own range of difficult emotions this past week as she set out to buy diapers for her daughter. With an ex-military husband and having recently been demoted at her job, her family, like many, struggled to keep up when the panic buying set in.
In an interview with Today.com, she says, "There's so many people out there like myself that we, we don't get paid very much so, you know, we're low income families and so it's hard for us to be able to just go out and buy a large amount of things at one time."
As a parent of a toddler with another on the way, I was crushed after watching Lauren’s video. I became full of unsettling emotions: concern that it had come to this, disappointment in myself for not recognizing my own privileges when bulk buying and apprehension about my own ability to get diapers in the coming weeks as shelves continue to look bleak and empty.
As consumers, we’ve never experienced such a unique time as this: a time when more people are making decisions based on uncertainty and anxiety than ever before. When we make purchase decisions at a very foundational level, out of necessity, or comfort, or even out of pure survival, we take on an entirely different mindset than when making decisions based on our aspirations and desires. Every person is adjusting to this experience in a different way. Just as each of us had different lives before COVID-19, we are all impacted differently by it now, and we will all be impacted by it differently after.
That is why empathy has never been more important in understanding consumer motivations than right now. Eventually, the economy will bounce back and while some consumers will revert to their prior behavior, others’ attitudes and mindset are likely to change for the long term. Consider our parents and grandparents who grew up during the Great Depression. I think of my own grandmother who kept her pantry stocked for years and would cook us grandkids simple meals well beyond the decades that followed her families’ struggles during the Great Depression.
As researchers and as brands, we need to keep an ongoing pulse on how this pandemic will change our world views. Once we emerge from this crisis, some consumer behavior is going to change. It’s not a question of if brands should change their strategies, but how.
As you think about talking to consumers in the coming weeks, months, or even years ahead, consider these approaches deeply rooted in empathy and compassion:
Now more than ever, it's our job as researchers to use empathy to acknowledge that our context looks very different. But within this context, we are all tapping into similar rooted emotions: fear, anxiety, grief, and uncertainty. Whatever those emotions are, none of us are feeling them alone.