Q&A with Associate Professors of Marketing Melissa Archpru Akaka and Ali Besharat
Almost overnight, the pandemic changed consumer behavior. How are marketers responding? How should they respond? And how might marketing change after the crisis? Melissa Archpru Akaka and Ali Besharat, associate professors of marketing in the Daniels College of Business, shared their thoughts with the Daniels newsroom.
Q: How might we see consumers’ behaviors and perceptions change after the pandemic?
Akaka: In some situations, consumers will be excited to return to normal but also wary about social interaction. Leaders will need to assess the broader situation and understand the perceptions and behaviors of their specific customer segments.
Besharat: Many current behavioral trends could persist toward touchless payment systems like mobile payment and tap-to-pay at the payment portals. Consumers have returned to cable TV, streaming media, online entertainment, the internet and social media and will likely turn to more subscription services like media services, gyms, healthy eating, delivery services, etc.
Q: Do you believe the pandemic has already changed consumers’ views of marketing? If so, how?
Akaka: Some consumers are leery about how marketers will target and promote products as solutions to the many problems consumers currently face. However, markets are providing needed resources, like toilet paper, through production, supply chains, promotions and retail, which clearly help consumers maintain their quality of life.
Besharat: Yes, absolutely! Consumers will monitor, remember and appreciate brands’ empathy like donating to food banks, providing free products for medical personnel, or continuing to pay employees, especially those on the front lines. Americans, particularly millennials and Gen Zers, have increasingly demanded companies to be moral leaders. They will lose trust in a brand and sometimes even boycott it if they see the brand favoring profit over people.
Q: What might be the long-term impacts of the pandemic on consumers’ views of marketing? Are there any precedents of consumer behavior after wars or natural disasters, for example?
Akaka: We can already see many companies adjusting their messaging, incentives and value propositions. They will certainly adapt to whatever situation is to come, hopefully in innovative and inspiring ways.
Besharat: I definitely believe so. After the 1918 influenza and the Great Recession, consumers adopted an anti-materialistic perspective and subsequently switched to value-priced brands. Loyalty to more upscale and prestigious brands may diminish and consumers will start appreciating value-pricing practices.
Q: What are the early lessons from the pandemic for marketers?
Akaka: Companies have to continually seek out ways to engage with customers and provide multiple avenues, brick and mortar and online, for example, to do so. Organizations that limit themselves to one type of engagement will have a harder time adjusting. Another lesson: understand the perceived value of particular products and services and how it might differ among consumers, and vary from company views.
Besharat: First, external crisis could negatively impact businesses due to irrelevant associations–zero locus of control and responsibility. For instance, Corona beer and Chinese manufacturers have suffered during the pandemic. Second, corporate messages with emotional framing are more successful as they appeal to individuals’ emotions by using drama with subjective and evaluative properties. Finally, marketers should promote how their organizations are exhibiting shared sacrifice during the pandemic such as CEOs taking zero pay or Facebook donating $100 million.
Q: You both oversee the Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC). How might it be able to help companies now and after the pandemic?
Akaka: The Center can help companies develop ways to increase brand engagement and long-term customer relationships. We help companies understand their underlying business problems and identify research questions that can provide important answers. Then researchers design instruments, collect and analyze data and make recommendations for data-driven decisions.
Besharat: CiBiC can help develop timely market intelligence and consumer insights so companies can quickly recognize and respond to consumers’ shifting wants and gather accurate and timely environmental knowledge to fuel the right decisions.