Written by Rachel Catanach

Over 90 percent of consumers say it is important for companies to show they are committed to doing the right thing, according to a recent seven-market study by FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice. The report, COVID-19 Mindset: The Collision of Issues, analyses the inflection points taking place around the world as consumers’ thoughts and approaches to their health and finances shift, and expectations of their government, community, employers and each other change.

Covering China, Canada, Germany, Italy, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States, the study shows the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed people’s outlook and how they live. Half of those surveyed predict it will take anywhere from five months to more than a year to return to normal. In China, not surprisingly, the time is considerably shorter, with most consumers believing it will take 13 weeks till normal and only 18 percent predicting it will take longer than five months for normality to resume.

A significant 80 percent of those surveyed globally say the pandemic has changed how they see the world. They are bracing for lasting impact and don’t expect to forget the pandemic any time soon.  The pandemic has irrevocably altered their beliefs and priorities, and what they value.

Globally, this shift is causing consumers to seek more meaningful relationships and activities. Spending is being evaluated carefully with 44 percent saying they would delay big purchases in the next 12 months and 64 percent have ceased purchasing non-essential items and will continue to do so post-pandemic.

Consumers are also recalibrating their financial health, with 54 percent saying they will save more and 52 percent are committed to financial planning in the next 12 months. In addition, they are delaying non-essential healthcare with nearly half of consumers saying they will postpone routine doctor’s visits or elective procedures and 40 percent intending to make telemedicine or telehealth appointments.

So, what does this mean for business? In essence, the collision of issues has increased scrutiny of companies, brands and leaders.

First, consumers believe that shared responsibility, shared innovation and collaboration, and shared values are the expected path companies should take to solve societal issues.

The actions a company took during the height of the pandemic matter. Some 63 percent of  consumers will look into a company’s behaviour during the pandemic before purchasing their product and 58 percent will have a deeper relationship with brands based on how they behaved during the pandemic.

Second, consumers expect companies to take a stand on issues that are important to them. Discrimination and equality is the No. 1 issue at 72 percent, and 59 percent of consumers expect companies to take a stand on it. Other important issues include public health risks and data privacy and security. Companies who sideline these issues do so at their peril.

Third, consumers and employees also expect CEOs to rethink more than just financial expectations and immediate challenges. They are looking for acknowledgement of their challenges rather than overly optimistic promises of an undefined future. And they are expecting a new, values-led conversation between brands and consumers, as well as employers and employees moving forward. Just over 40 percent of consumers think CEOs should show how the company’s values support the values of their communities, customers and employees. And 36 percent think CEOs should show how their company is partnering with other organisations to find solutions to solve for societal issues.  And it should be done with compassion and empathy.

Finally, consumers and employees are surrounded by uncertainty. They are watching and want organisations to do everything they can to support their workforce and contribute to a safer world. At the very least, they expect companies to deliver honest and simple information about the company’s plan to provide customers with safe conditions in their public spaces. But they also want companies to develop innovative new ways to deliver products and services that increase convenience while maintaining health and safety measures.

It’s a challenging time for companies, but those who get it right – who really build trust by being committed to doing the right thing and putting people first – will win consumers as they seek to regain their sense of control.

About Rachel Catanach

Rachel Catanach

Rachel Catanach is an Advisor at Shared Value Project, and Senior Partner and President of FleishmanHillard Greater China.

Her role at the award-winning global public relation company includes people development, cultivating existing client relationships and securing new business through cross-market collaboration.