COVID-19 Behavioral and Perceptual Shifts booklet

May 13, 2020

Behavioral and perceptual shifts from COVID-19

At this juncture, there is a responsibility for companies to deliver value in new ways — a call to arms to play a more meaningful role in people's lives, today and tomorrow.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has created seismic shifts within our culture for individuals and companies alike. In mid-March, VSA decided to start tracking and predicting sociological changes in this global crisis. The goal of this study was not to report on the obvious and immediate shifts in spend, lifestyle, and habits brought on by social distancing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak — we see those as ephemeral, reactive symptoms. Instead, we wanted to understand how our individual lenses may be shifting through the collective experience of this pandemic, and hypothesize its implications for the future.

We used a social listening tool to analyze tens of millions of digital posts (December to April) as well as dozens of industry reports released within the first month of social distancing (March to early April) to identify the tectonic patterns of behavioral and perceptual shifts happening through the varied experiences of Americans.

COVID-19 Behavioral and Perceptual Shifts metrics

At the macro level, we found the largest topic was ‘Government Handling’ which was mostly attributed to a growing distrust of government and institutional leaders. In that thread of conversations, we also saw a desire and an expectation for companies to play a larger role in helping and supporting people in not only combatting the virus, but also adapting to a new way of life.

COVID-19 Behavioral and Perceptual Shifts statistics

And although we are all coping in various ways, there were several universal shifts that we are all experiencing to some degree that have the potential to fundamentally shape our post-COVID reality:

  • We are rapidly adapting to new constraints with the help of brands that have taken on expanded roles in our lives, including figuring out how to create a new ‘normal’ with less physical proximity in our social interactions, reacting to an increased reliance on technology and devices, and living with an inability to plan for the future.
  • We are imbuing new meaning to the words ‘valuable,’ ‘essential,’ and ‘necessary’ in the context of quarantine, shifting power and importance to populations and products previously overlooked.
  • We are less trusting of large institutions, and more reliant on community-level organization, with our level of trust correlated to perceived brand selflessness.

As we think about the future of our business and our clients’ businesses, we see this as a tremendous opportunity for companies to play more meaningful and potentially new roles in customers’ and employees’ lives as important conduits to the new ‘normal.’ A massive global disruption is ripe for rapid innovation and brands that rise to the occasion can and will emerge stronger and more valuable to daily life than they were before.

Our report details how companies must disrupt their own businesses by redefining:

  • The value you deliver
  • How your value is delivered
  • Who are your most valuable customers and stakeholders

We are already seeing a new class of brands forming: quick service restaurants hosting virtual parties with high-profile celebrity programming, technology companies known for charging fees and overages providing free services to all customers, and delivery services creating coalitions with their competitors to keep restaurants in business. These leaders are rising to the top through their ability to be nimble, responsive and selfless to exceed expectations in meeting their customers’ changing needs.

When we work with companies, we break out their response capacity into two categories: operational agility and strategic adaptability. As defined by Gary Hamel, operational agility implies an ability to respond quickly to shifts in demand or customer preference within the boundaries of an existing business model. Strategic adaptability, by contrast, refers to a company’s capacity to reconfigure its underlying business concept by dramatically rethinking the existing business model. This includes massive alterations of key structures — everything from its core mission to its pricing model to even the basic way in which it produces products and services.

This crisis has become a true test of both a company’s operational and strategic agility. As businesses undergo immense change, it can be tempting to limit strategy to just keeping up with the surface-level demands of the present. Our data-driven framework creates a game-plan to move companies beyond just playing defense (with reactions tied solely to the here and now), to curating a strong offense position within the competitive market. By utilizing these tools, companies can meet marketplace changes with agility, and set their business up for a stronger, more resilient future.

To read our full perspective, download the PDF.

Ariadna Navarro

Ariadna Navarro

Chief Strategy Officer

Ariadna helps clients identify growth potential by identifying the intersection between brand and business strategy, human needs and customer experience. She oversees a team of 18 strategists at VSA, and uses analytics, experience design, innovation and brand and business strategy to find unique opportunities for clients from IBM to AT&T. Ariadna is relentlessly curious, whether it’s figuring out the future of Quantum computing or deeply understanding how a new acquisition fits within a company’s portfolio. While solving problems is what drives her, she is particularly passionate about portfolio strategy, brand strategy and unearthing powerful human insights. Ariadna joined VSA after heading up strategy at Interbrand. She is originally from Venezuela, but has called New York home for a very long time.

Fay Scott

Fay Scott

Strategy Director

Fay has over a decade of experience producing award-winning and commercially successful brands, products, and campaigns. She has worked with clients such as Google, Coca-Cola, IBM, PepsiCo, AT&T, Levi’s, Facebook, TD Bank, LVMH, and TELUS Communications. She thrives in the complexity of solving enterprise problems and lives for the thrill of elegantly designed systems and solutions.