How brands can understand the two mindsets of Americans

New spikes of the coronavirus and civil unrest across the country have Americans wavering between two mindsets.

The author(s)

  • Kate MacArthur Deputy editor, What the Future
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New spikes of the coronavirus and civil unrest across the country have Americans wavering between two mindsets. Some people are feeling optimistic and using automatic thinking about reopening the country while new infections cause others to fall back into protective mode and make careful decisions about safety. Elsewhere, some people see the protests as something to fear while others see it as a new chance to disrupt the status quo.

These frameworks translate into specific outlooks and behaviors, which behavioral and social scientists are assessing and identifying in the latest Ipsos America in Flux research. By understanding the underlying human mindsets that dictate behaviors, brands can better prepare for and respond to shifting consumer needs and actions.

For example, study participants in Arizona were beginning to navigate toward the later “recalibration” stage in the Ipsos Pandemic Adaptability Continuum. But a sudden jump in reported COVID-19 cases caused a number of these participants to revert two to six phases back in their attitudes and approaches towards the virus.

Kelly, a 63-year-old, white Arizona participant describes himself as being “the complete opposite” of how relaxed he’d felt just a week before when he “let his guard down,” and restarted dining out, planning travel and participating in BLM protests. But with infections rising sharply, the retiree now reports being extremely cautious, taking no risks, and having more anxiety and fear than during the initial pandemic outbreak.

In Seattle, Wash., two other study participants show the duality in mindset. Alison, who is age 39 and white, says the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) makes her “concerned” about her “[17-year-old, biracial] daughter’s future.” Meanwhile, Angela, a 21-year-old Korean American, is more hopeful, saying that the CHAZ has been portrayed badly in the media and she “can’t wait to see how it all plays out.”

The comprehensive, longitudinal research from Ipsos’ U.S. Ethnography Center of Excellence and Behavioral Science Center uses respondent-recorded video and weekly videocalls to follow 25 households in Washington, Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia and New York. Ipsos anthropologists, ethnographers, and behavioral scientists examine how everyday people’s behavior and beliefs are evolving through the COVID-19 pandemic and how they might settle out in its wake.

The research is exploring multiple categories, including food and beverage, finance, beauty and grooming, the home/home improvement, retail, health and wellness, and media and technology. By assessing people’s actions along with what they say, researchers can have a more complete picture of how people behave, the contexts in which they operate, and the mindsets in play. These latter orientations are what help shape people’s attitudes and behavior.

These unspoken rules apply to how people are navigating once mundane activities that have become a minefield of fun and risk. This includes how people approach dining in restaurants. Some participants say they’re enjoying the novelty of dining in again.

But the lack of spontaneity, from needing to book ahead to following new rules and procedures once inside, feels like punishment to others. Brandice, a 40-year-old black single mom in Georgia, was tired of cooking and excited to eat out with her 11-year-old son, Kendrick. However, their dinner at a favorite burger joint wasn’t as enjoyable as she had hoped. “It just was not fun...We had the place to ourselves as it was empty, there were no condiments or napkins on the table, if you want refills they give you a new cup each time, and they basically tell you where to sit in order to practice social distancing.”

Ipsos researchers explain that eating out is now a more deliberate, ultra-hygienic occasion, and while these measures reassure and reward those hesitant to leave home, they are pain points for diners seeking ease and escape.

Other occasions, such as eating at home, have taken on new meaning. Nancey, a 53-year-old Hispanic single mom in upstate NY, is no longer frequently eating at diners with her 15-year-old daughter. Instead, they are cooking and eating dinner together at home – with their phones left in another room. They’ve experimented with different ingredients and dishes, in the process discovered a love of turkey burgers. In this instance, the pandemic created a new shared experience of experimentation, self-sufficiency and bonding.

All these examples of lockdown deprivation making an old activity new again or creating a new experience give people a fresh perspective and new rewards, which could shape their behavior in the future.

The author(s)

  • Kate MacArthur Deputy editor, What the Future

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