As the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out, an information gap is becoming increasingly evident. Governments are tracking the disease with case reports and economic models. But that lacks an understanding of people and behavior — their psychological journey. Without understanding the consumer mindset, leaders risk underestimating how their strategies and actions will shape how people will react now and in the future. This is true for brands, as well.
How do we map the events occurring to the actions people take to the way they are feeling and ultimately how they will act? It’s clear that we’re only in the initial climb of the emotional rollercoaster that will be our world during COVID-19. What is not yet clear is how the rest of the ride will look and how people will pull through it. In other words, what will be their pandemic adaptability and how can brands better anticipate their needs?
The Ipsos Pandemic Adaptability Continuum (IPAC)
We’ve developed the Ipsos Pandemic Adaptability Continuum as a staging model of consumer changes to map how people are dealing with COVID-19, and to predict where we’re headed from lockdown to recovery. It’s a guide to understand and anticipate how consumers will feel at each phase of the crisis, and how they’re likely to behave.
That could allow companies to develop and time their creative and communications strategies — and innovations — as they plan to engage with customers at different phases of the pandemic.
To develop the IPAC model, we used our own qualitative and quantitative research in countries that have been through the initial phases. We combined this with existing psychological and recovery models including the five stages of grief and the WHO pandemic phases to project the future.
Take a look: Here’s what happens in each stage. It includes the environment within the country, the actions people will take in response to the environment, and the range of emotions that people will feel in that phase.
So far, all countries in our survey have started cycling through these initial phases, according to our survey of 28,000 people in 14 countries to see where people place themselves along the continuum:
Not surprisingly, we see people from most countries feel they are well into the Adjustment and Acclimation phases. In countries like China, Italy and Germany, many feel they have moved into the Enduring phase.
While a few countries are starting to loosen restrictions and reopen their economies, most people feel they have not fully entered into the Anticipation phase.
Our model incorporates proven behavioral science frameworks for emotional and behavioral change to help identify psychological signals of progression or regression of stages. Because these signals reflect nonconscious emotions and motivations, they predict and correlate with other later indicators, allowing us to spot societal changes earlier. If we start by understanding what people are doing and how they are thinking, we can gauge where the public is in terms of moving through the phases.
Where this model is most valuable is in mapping events that can change the continuum trajectory toward restoration. The rebuilding phases in each country will depend on infrastructure, how flat their curve has been, the state of each country prior to the pandemic, how long the country’s economy has been stagnant, and a host of other factors. Each phase will vary in length in each country. Because we know that relapses often occur with pandemics, there are multiple scenarios to consider where a country in one phase may return to a prior phase.
For example, if a country moves to Recalibration and triggers a smaller relapse or reversal of a flattened curve occurs, it will send people back into lockdown and into the Enduring phase.
But if a country is even further along in the Rebuilding phase and the virus mutates or returns with a vengeance, that could throw the country back to the Uncertainty phase. The whole process would begin anew. Brands can incorporate these contingencies into their marketing and communication plans so they’re more prepared and agile.
Modeling for the 6-Foot Economy
Brands and companies can use the model to inform a number of strategies. One is to optimize the role of digital in shopping in the 6-Foot Economy driven by social distancing. Brands can determine how best to equip their organizations, including staffing and work models, and anticipate behavior changes that will persist in a category.
It also helps companies analyze who within the majority is further behind or ahead through the continuum phases by mental state, means, or environmental factors. Are minorities disproportionately impacted? Are the wealthy further along in the stages than people with lower household income? These contrasts are key to helping companies become genuinely helpful to consumers.
Ultimately, we have been using the continuum to help our clients develop strategies in these three ways:
- To understand the critical phases consumers are in to determine how your business should act in the moment
- To understand the upcoming phases that consumers in your market will enter
- To plan your brand activities to meet your consumers where you expect them to be
We believe that by doing so, companies can boost customer satisfaction and create new brand bonds that will endure in the future.