How COVID-19 has changed consumers’ entire view of the world—and their own country

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

The coronavirus has upended culture in every way, but the psychological impact of the pandemic may be the most impactful. Eye-opening new research from the TRUE Global Intelligence practice at comms giant FleishmanHillard reveals how COVID-19 is profoundly reshaping our perceptions, behaviors, values and societies.

“This crisis has clarified what really matters to individuals,” said Natasha Kennedy, senior partner and global managing director of FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice, in a news release. “Consumer behavior has changed, and for many, those changes will persist past the pandemic. For example, consumers are signaling a seismic shift in their future buying behaviors for products and services they deem important. With a clear understanding of how the crisis has changed our expectations and beliefs, organizations can make decisions and communicate relevantly and meaningfully among employees, customers and communities.”

For the firm’s latest study, COVID-19 Mindset: How Pandemic Times Are Shaping Global Consumers, simultaneous surveys of the U.S., China, Germany, Italy, South Korea and the UK provide a snapshot of various stages and expectations of the crisis, voiced by a cross-section of the population including healthcare workers, people at medical risk and those considered essential workers (65 percent of working adults), all of whom seem to feel the impact more acutely. While these countries are at various stages of the pandemic, the study illuminated some common experiences, which the agency will continue to track in subsequent studies as attitudes and behaviors shift over time. These include:

Consumers are most confident in their governments, least confident in their employers

  • Across markets, national government receives the best rating (47 percent) for its performance compared to other institutions, but while 79 percent of Chinese consumers rate their national government “excellent” or “great,” their counterparts in the U.S. (34 percent), U.K. (50 percent), Korea (43 percent), Italy (39 percent) and Germany (37 percent) all give their national governments much lower ratings.
  • Major corporations are also receiving higher satisfaction in China (66 percent), but ratings range from a high of 28 percent (U.S. and Korea) to a low of 17 percent (Germany) across the other markets.
  • Employers of all sizes perform the worst, with only 29 percent rating their response “excellent” or “great.”
  • Across these markets, seven out of 10 feels that other individuals are doing “excellent,” “great” or “good” in fulfilling their role in this crisis, though some still need to understand the importance of cooperating—12 percent reported they’ve ignored shelter-in-place requirements.

Individuals are planning for the long-term and aren’t planning to snap back to “normal” life

  • A return to “normal” life varies by country, with the average individual in China believing it’s as few as nine weeks away. Individuals in other countries believe it will take longer: 15 weeks on average in the U.S.; 17 weeks in South Korea and Germany; and 22 weeks in the U.K. and Italy.
  • More than one in five believe it will take between five months to two years to return to normal.

While most understand there will be layoffs and furloughs, 89percentexpect employers to be generous and creative in mitigating the impact on workers

  • 91 percent expect companies to take steps to help workers stay healthy—providing them with protective equipment and hand sanitizer, making sure they have breaks to wash their hands and making physical changes to space and operations to allow social distancing, among other steps.
  • 78 percent understand that some companies will need to furlough and lay off workers, a majority that holds across these countries (59 percent in Korea, the lowest, and 86 percent in the U.S., the highest).
  • 52 percent describe employers taking better care of their employees as “very important” right now.

Consumers are willing to help organizations support their employees

  • 71 percent will find ways to continue to patronize businesses, such as opting for delivery and pick up (50 percent) or through holding appointments by phone or online (44 percent).
  • 34 percent will purchase or pay for things they can’t currently use, like gift cards (19 percent), and continue paying for memberships and services (17 percent).
  • 14 percent are willing to tip more and 9 percent are willing to pay higher prices.
  • 17 percent will donate to employer-administered funds that support workers.

Consumers plan to be cautious, even when the spread of the virus subsides—with substantial implications for economic and social recovery

  • 95 percent of consumers want companies to implement physical protection and distancing measures to help keep them healthy.
  • 65 percent are currently postponing purchases and travel, and 52 percent intend changes to their buying behaviors to continue.
  • 34 percent are postponing major life decisions, and 26 percent will take planning for major life decisions more seriously after the pandemic.
  • 27 percent are currently saving more than they normally do, and 26 percent plan to save more in the future than normal.

The pandemic has changed what people value, and they want new benefits and policies to endure

  • 68 percent report the pandemic has changed the products and services they once thought were important, a phenomenon even more widespread in China (86 percent) and Italy (73 percent).
  • 63 percent of employees want new benefits offered during the pandemic to be made permanent.
  • 71 percent want some of the positive government policies created during the crisis to be made permanent, including: 69 percent of Americans; 89 percent of Chinese; 77 percent of global millennials; 76 percent of workers deemed essential during the pandemic; and 77 percent of healthcare workers.
  • 21 percent of people (26 percent in the U.S.) who would normally need to be at their place of business to do their job now expect to have the option of working from home.
  • 26 percent of employees say they will be looking for another job with an employer that supports its employees, will no longer be loyal to their employer because of their actions during the pandemic, or will look into how an organization treated its employees when considering new employers.
  • 63 percent of America’s Republican Party demographic base and 68 percent of the Democratic Party’s demographic base say their view of the country’s political system as a whole has changed.

Nearly everyone has felt the impact

  • 98 percent have undertaken some new practice or postponed or canceled plans or purchases, and 90 percent report enduring changes in expectations and behaviors after the pandemic ends.
  • 78 percent are concerned for their health, and 74 percent are concerned for their financial situation; this level of concern is consistent across demographics.
  • 18 percent have a family member or friend whose health has been impacted by COVID-19, including 5 percent whose family member or friend died of the disease. In China and Italy, one-third (31 percent and 33 percent , respectively) have a family member or friend whose health has been impacted by the virus.

“Our research underscores the indelible importance of the actions taken by organizations now,” said Peter Verrengia, senior partner and head of FleishmanHillard’s global Recovery and Resurgence practice with deep experience in helping organizations emerge from crises, in a news release. “The study shows the bigger the threat, economically and socially, the more important it is to create a foundation of confidence based on accountability, transparency, frequent updates and realistic, incremental goals. Well-structured communications, based on values and actions, can acknowledge the pain and challenges we all face today, while helping to improve and even accelerate better outcomes for individuals, organizations and society.”

Around the world, despite different systems and experiences, individuals are being united by this common experience.

“What we have seen so far as cities in China begin their early stages of recovery, is a sense of purpose and determination, and a recognition of personal responsibility,” said Rachel Catanach, chair of FleishmanHillard’s COVID-19 Taskforce and president and senior partner for Greater China, in the release. “Workplaces are arranged to maintain healthy distances while still enabling operations to resume. Employers can acknowledge concerns about the health and safety of their employees and customers, but still create an expectation of progress, even if there may be occasional setbacks. With ongoing communications to inform and engage all stakeholders as the return to work rolls out, we believe that organizations can encourage productivity and shared innovation that can speed a sustainable recovery.”

The FleishmanHillard study, COVID-19 Mindset: How Pandemic Times Are Shaping Global Consumers, unveils how the virus is reshaping our perceptions, behaviors, values and societies.

FleishmanHillard’s new Recovery and Resurgence practice is utilizing the data and insights from the study to provide guidance and communication expertise to organizations as they navigate the current situation and plan for a return to operations.

TRUE Global Intelligence, the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, fielded an online survey of 6,566 adults 18 and older in China (n=1,057), Germany (n=1,131), Italy (n=1,093), South Korea (n=1,043), the United Kingdom (n=1,123) and United States (n=1,119) from March 30-April 3, 2020. The data has been weighted by gender and age in all markets as well as region in the United States. The margin of error is ±1.2% for the global total, approximately 3% in each market, and higher for subgroups. For reference, 10% of respondents corresponds to 151.9 million adults across these six countries.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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