Research: Consumers looking for practical messaging, not optimism-oriented advertising

Fresh Qualtrics consumer sentiment survey shows what Australian consumers want from brands during the crisis

Australian consumers are looking to brands to share practical messaging around how they’re helping customers and the community and are less interested in messages of hope and optimism, a fresh report has found.

A new Qualtrics survey, based on the responses of 510 Australians between 24 – 29 April 2020, found the majority believe it’s important for brands to take care of employees and customers and not using the crisis to maximise profits. Key behaviours identified as increasing brand trust, for example, were taking care of employees (43 per cent), not taking advantage of the crisis (43 per cent), and taking care of customers (40 per cent).

This emphasis on proactivity and trusted behaviour also shone through the types of messaging consumers are looking for brands to use at this time. Less impactful messaging according to Qualtrics’ survey included messages of hope and optimism (13 per cent), or statements about strong moral principles (16 per cent).

Instead, when it comes to brand communications, Australians are more interested in the operational impact of COVID-19 compared to sales and promotional marketing. Top of the preference list was hearing how businesses are responding to the crisis (66 per cent), followed by messaging on the impact on distribution (48 per cent), and information on products and services (45 per cent).

Qualtrics brand experience and research lead, Lisa Khatri, told CMO she was slightly surprised consumers were still looking to brands to detail how they’re responding to the COVID-19 crisis given we’re over a month into restrictions.

Yet Qualtrics’ Text iQ tool made it clear consumers continued to be interested in practicalities and proactive efforts and were receptive to messaging around things like Woolworths’ special trading hours for essential workers or seniors, or social distancing in stores.

“These are very tactical things that are useful at this time,” she said. “There’s an element of proactivity consumers are looking for, and they want to know brands are taking care of them.”

The report also looked at preferred channels of engagement, and found email the most preferred by consumers, followed by TV advertising, Facebook and online media. Bottom of the list were Twitter, WhatsApp and TikTok.

Qualtrics also found one-third of consumers felt trust in the brands they regularly engage with had lifted during the COVID-19 crisis. Government was a big winner here, with 44 per cent of respondents saying their trust in Federal Government had lifted, and 43 per cent saying the same for state governments.

These figures lie in sharp contrast to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer released prior to the COVID-19 crisis biting and based on responses at the end of 2019, which showed Australia at an all-time low when it comes to trust in our institutions, from government to business, media and NGOs.  

What’s more, the latest report highlights the importance of brand actions now on how they’re perceived in the future. Two-thirds of Qualtrics respondents said brand actions in a time of crisis will have a major impact on brand trust post-crisis, while just 8 per cent said brand actions had no impact. Again, taking care of employees and customers is paramount here.

“The importance in trust now has changed because our environment has changed,” Khatri said. “When we look at Asia, just for context, there has always been more of an emphasis on trust, particularly regarding product quality. It’s interesting to see it’s now important for everyone now because of those hygiene and safety concerns coming up.”

Khatri also noted a not surprising sensitivity to pricing. “We have seen price sensitivity in the past, but people now are more mindful of how people are spending their money. And we have seen some industries drop in terms of their appeal… such as luxury goods, which makes sense.

“So that perception of value and how marketers are going to convey value is even more important in messaging.”

For Khatri, the Qualtrics findings make it clear trust will have fundamental role to play as businesses begin to reopen their doors and rebuild operations as the COVID-19 crisis abates.

“In these uncertain times, high levels of trust mean consumers can feel confident in choosing to engage with your brand,” she commented. “While the operational impact of the restrictions is temporary, their influence on consumer behaviours and attitudes will be long lasting.

“Over the last month, we have seen huge changes in the way consumers engage with brands, and these will continue to evolve each time restrictions change.”

Key to businesses remaining relevant is keeping a pulse on consumer behaviour, the drivers of brand preference, and how their actions at each stage can positively influence how the brand is viewed, Khatri said. Importantly, it’s then about being able to act on these insights as well as being personalised and responsive in your messaging. Because it’s clear clusters of people will reflect different levels of consumer confidence as the crisis progresses.

Of course, it’s not easy, and Khatri acknowledged the unease marketers are feeling around what messaging to put out to market and the fine balance between being useful, and being opportunistic. She also suggested many organisations are struggling to determine the right practical information to take out to market. This is where consumer sentiment pulse and behavioural insights play a significant role.

“Our perspective is why don’t you test? Within a day, you can get feedback from your customers employees or the market, and understanding if your messaging will alienate people before going more widely with those campaigns,” Khatri said. “There is an authenticity that needs to be there, but it’s the practical application that’s key.”

Khatri also agreed marketers have struggled with disseminating the wealth of information available to them while also facing increased channel fragmentation.

“The challenge is understanding the consumer mindset, behaviour, confidence and listening, then having the mechanisms to act on that,” she said. “More than ever it’s even more important to get an in-the-moment pulse.

“Speed is one of those things that’s now fundamental.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

      

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