Covid-19 and the fear of the unknown: the science behind uncertainty.
Do you feel a sense of helplessness when you look at mainstream news and social media reports about Covid-19?
You certainly wouldn’t be alone.
For a long time, we’ve been using behavioural science to analyse how people think, feel and behave in different scenarios. We never really expected to be applying those principles to something as extreme as a global pandemic; but it highlights the importance of using our knowledge as marketeers wisely.
How brands, public information services and governments choose to communicate with us during this time is of critical importance. Applying behavioural science insights to designing messages from brands and other organisations can be an effective way to reduce uncertainty and fear. We need to address the dynamics of uncertainty.
Walnut Unlimited’s Understanding The Nation Study which tracks consumers over time proved that, last weekend, 14-15th March 2020, before Boris Johnson’s announcement, over 1/3 of the nation currently feel uncertain and worried. Bearing in mind this data was captured before the more stringent social distancing advice came out, we are planning a follow-up wave of research to see just how this has changed.
We fully expect feelings of uncertainty and worry to have increased.
It may also be possible that confidence and calm increases accordingly as people feel reassured by the steps being taken.
We certainly feel worried, as, we are sure, do you.
What exactly is it that is making people so worried?
Clearly in a pandemic situation, there are many facets of our lives that could be impacted. We discovered that our physical health is our primary concern, just nudging ahead of our financial situation and our mental health. Physical health is a concern, not only concern for contracting the virus, but also in surviving through potential food shortages.
Physical Health is our ultimate survival instinct. Despite the indication that Covid-19 has a potentially more fatal impact on older generations, our data shows that the level of worry around our physical health actually crosses all age groups – young and old.
The feeling of vulnerability is equally high across groups. We need to be mindful of this worry and empathetic with what everyone is going through.
Mental Health has long been an important focus, both in the workplace and outside. Good mental health is often linked to having a good connection to people and a sense of certainty and control. This is clearly at risk during this period of social distancing and self-isolation.
Our data shows that Covid-19 will likely have an impact on our mental health as a nation. To what extent remains to be seen. However, behavioural science will help us to find ways as marketeers to help to manage this.
We know that seeking order from disorder can help in times like this. Brands need to be clear and concise and offer credible, factual information and provide reassurance. There is a space for brands to respond quickly to what people need now, to understand how people’s priorities might have changed and fathom the potential new role they will need to play for consumers. There have already been many excellent examples of this, such as the recent customer note from Tesco.
Bringing togetherness and keeping people connected, is the way we can make them feel that we are part of something bigger, a psychological need that requires to be fulfilled to improve this sentiment and gain the emotional engagement.
Covid-19 is going to have a big impact on the economy.
We asked our consumers how concerned they felt about their financial situation, and concern is much higher in the younger age groups. How brands talk to younger shoppers in the near future needs to take into account the fears and motivations of a group who already were feeling stretched and insecure.
Young generations that have grown up with all the information at their fingertips, likely now feel overwhelmed by information of which they can’t determine the credibility.
We found that nearly half of the nation have already changed their general personal hygiene habits , amongst other behaviour . This is a remarkable outcome for something that can often be, under normal circumstances, a difficult thing to change.
From years of research in behavioural science, we know that humans are reluctant to change and that maintaining new behaviour can pose huge challenges. The very clear messages around hygiene have gone a great way towards effecting the change.
The question now is will it be sustained and how do we support a long-term behaviour change?
Will enough time pass for the new behaviour to become a habit, or do we need further ways to simplify and incentivise good hygiene in order for this to stick? Could this be the famous “survival” response in action?
It is hard not to feel that these are hard times. If we compare our data vs last year (when all we had to worry about was Brexit and the political uncertainty) we are already feeling significantly less positive vs last year.
There is a dip in how people feel about their current physical health, mental health and work prospects compared to last year. Are we surprised by this? Of course not.
But as an industry, marketing and insight must join forces to find ways to communicate and provide services that address this decline in our outlook and help people to navigate these difficult times.
We know that mental health is going to be a big priority, how can brands help in this given time?
Is this an area that can brands have a role? These are questions that do not have an easy response or a quick fix, but we all need to reflect on this for the great impact that the potential lock down and absence of freedom will have in our lives.
Messages that create feelings of positivity and hopefulness are important. But they must not come across as being insensitive. Authenticity is still key, as any non-genuine commercial movement of a brand could be extremely damaging.
Only marketing that is grounded in proper human understanding will be able to read the public mood carefully and in a timely manner will be able to activate behavioural change.
Things are changing fast at the moment, that’s for sure, at a pace that nobody could have thought about before.
Therefore, pulsing the nation is more important than ever.
Stay safe and stay sane.
Walnut Unlimited is planning further waves of Understanding The Nation. Many of our clients want to get a quick pulse of how the nation feels. We are taking client subscriptions to Understanding The Nation – to add your questions and have the ability to analyse those against the full set of Understanding The Nation analysis, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.