by Emma Odendaal (@EmmaOdendaal) Uncertain and ever-changing lockdown restrictions require brands to plan with caution, yet act with speed. How may we walk the tightrope of achieving budget targets and demonstrating genuine empathy in this covid-19 maelstrom?

Monumental shift

Covid-19 has ushered in a monumental shift in consumer behaviour. South Africans are spending more time online than ever before, craving new content and new experiences from their couches. Kantar and McKinsey & Company have shown that time spent streaming content, playing online video games and searching for content is up more than 40%. YouTube traffic also increased by 1.34m unique visitors from February to March 2020.

Audiences are searching for recipe inspiration and exercise videos (Google Trends, March 2020), and are less tolerant of flashy celebrity endorsements. They’re shopping less often but with a larger basket size, and are more likely to experiment with a new brand when their trusty faithful is out of stock at their local.

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People are isolated, fearful, and many are lonely. Yet Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer shows that 88% of South Africans believe brands should talk about how they can be helpful in this new way of life. Consumers are asking brands to provide relief from their unique challenges, to engage, to help them connect with others and remind them of better times.

Defining characteristics

Above all, consider your brand’s role in the ‘new normal’ and how it can alleviate the worry in your customers’ lives with these defining characteristics of the new consumer psyche:

#1. Higher anxiety

Consumers are fearful in terms of their health but most are even more fearful about financial uncertainty, according to McKinsey & Company. Brands must create a sense of security, wellbeing and calm amid the fear. While it’s okay to be optimistic, your brand tone has to be tuned for clarity and action. It’s great to be human and encouraging in trying times, but the bar for sincerity and authenticity is higher than it’s ever been.

#2. Shifting value equilibrium

Many consumers will reconsider values around consumption and discretionary spending, and focus on greater good over displays of wealth. Brands have to come up with ways to re-engage the consumer in the things that they may have taken for granted. That means budgets should shift from basic price promotions to building trust, telling stories that associate the right kind of attributes with the brand.

As fear for the future continues to grow, consumers will look to businesses and brands that take a meaningful perspective on consumption. Products they choose will reflect their personal values. Communicating brand purpose therefore becomes key. Brands must deliver on immediate needs in creative ways. Focus on using your digital offering to provide useful solutions or find ways to minimise interaction while still offering product. As a brand, what can you legitimately speak about with authority? And does this resonate with your customers’ new value system, with its focus on optimisation of self, family and community?

#3. Accelerated digital adoption

Digital commerce is the clear winner out of the novel coronavirus disruption. Omnichannel strategies will remain important but the offline component is likely to be less important than before as preference for e-comm continues to accelerate. A seamless offline-online experience is crucial, now more than ever. This includes a mobile responsive website with seamless UX, as well as an effective SEO strategy to ensure that your brand is findable, through authoritative content and expertise.


Whether your brand is ripe for providing much-needed entertainment for escapism, building a like-minded, virtually connected community or exploring one of the rising interests (such as online learning or podcasts), you can be the customers’ doorway to manifold experiences and stories that address the realities of the coronavirus and the human condition.

As many of us sit in isolation, our need for connection has never been greater. We believe this need will continue long after lockdown as we enter into a ‘new normal’. Great content changes minds and lifts hearts, and forges lifelong affinities, passions and conversations. Continue having conversations with your customers by telling stories with meaning and empathy, driving a stronger affinity with your brand long after lockdown.

See also


Emma OdendaalEmma Odendaal (@EmmaOdendaal) is the digital director at John Brown Media South Africa, part of Dentsu Aegis Network. She is a digital marketer, content creator and team leader with over 15 years’ experience in communicating with customers using branded content.

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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