Choice, context and post-pandemic behavior

How behavioral science in market research can help understand shifts in consumer behavior and what they mean for brands.
05 August 2021
Understanding consumer choice, context, and post-pandemic behaviour
Nicki Morley
Dr Nicki
Morley

Head of Behavioural Science and Innovation Expertise, Insights Division, UK

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No-one has a crystal ball to predict the future. However, the latest behavioral science understanding of how consumers make choices, and how context influences behavior, help to identify clues to how consumer behavior has changed and will continue to change following the pandemic.

We see that during the pandemic the huge contextual shifts – such as removing access to high street shops, travel and entertainment – have undoubtedly had a large impact on consumer behavior, forcing shoppers to move online, travel within a country, and embrace home entertainment, to name a few. What isn’t quite so obvious is the more subtle impact it will have on brand and product choice.

In late 2018, we at Kantar did a review of how consumers made decisions, reflecting on the latest academic thinking around System 1 and System 2 thinking, popularized by Kahneman. Academics such as Professor Jonathan St. B. T. Evans and Professor Valerie Thompson had focused their efforts on uncovering more about the nature of Intuitive and Reflective thinking, and had made two important discoveries. These two ‘systems’ were in fact just different types of processing (Type 1 and 2) and both were involved in decisions such as choices. Secondly, Type 2, or reflective thinking, did vary according to the nature of the decision and was moderated by the initial ‘feeling of rightness’ of a decision and the situational, motivational and cognitive factors of an individual. Knowing this is key to understanding how the pandemic has changed, and will continue to change, behavior… and what brands should do.

The decision-making process

Let’s take a typical decision, like choosing a hand soap, where against a need, a brand with the greatest predisposition (the most meaningful, different and salient in moment) is likely to be the one that is intuitively chosen. Whilst our more reflective (Type 2) thought processes check the feeling of rightness of this brand choice in the moment, typically, unless there is a situational, motivational or cognitive reason, rarely do we give it much further thought.

However, in a changing context, these factors of choice are causing interruptions in our decision-making process with potentially grave consequences for brands. Firstly, the brand might no longer be the one that best fits our changing needs (lower feeling of rightness). Situational factors – for example, a lack of availability – will also push consumers for the first time to try alternative brands, which might deliver a better, or more meaningful, experience. We might, in fact, be forced to reject a whole category in favor of a different type of product or experience (e.g. high street banking or overseas travel).

Meaningful brands find growth

What our consumer data has shown us is that brands that were able to pivot to become more meaningful – for example, Carex, with their antibacterial and moisturizing properties – have seen great growth. Those that have adapted to the changing needs have also grown; see, for example, the growth in the in home snacking category, and brands like Nando’s and Brewdog who have continued to stay relevant despite the closing of bars and restaurants.

A role in peoples’ lives

As the context changes again and we are on the road to recovery, brands need to think about how they can pivot, recover, or maintain their role in people’s lives. Brands that have been riding the wave of change need to work hard to insulate their brands to ensure they are the most meaningful and frictionless choice as the context changes. Brands that have struggled during lockdown to attract consumer attention must work hard to develop intuitive and reflective marketing assets and strong innovations to draw people back to their brands (for example, people might be considering how much money they have saved on takeaway coffee during lockdown).

To do this, brands need to stay close to the changing context, through market research inspired by behavioral science thinking. This means that all new innovation research will need to focus more heavily on learning about the changing context around the innovation, blending social, cultural, qualitative and panel data together. Additionally, they will need to focus more on Type 1 and Type 2 approaches to understand how to develop meaningfully different propositions that present a frictionless choice in the moment.

Key takeaways

  1. Brands need to stay close to the changing context of the pandemic using behavior science-inspired research approaches.
  2. Brands need to think beyond System 1, and contemplate the factors that influence decision making in the moment.
  3. Brands must consider how to make themselves a frictionless choice in the changing moment.

Get in touch to discuss how Kantar’s behavioral science and qualitative approaches uncover true consumer motivations and decision-making.

This article was originally published in Kantar BrandZ 2021 most valuable global brands.

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