By Max Wiggins, Insight and Innovation Lead at VERJ | A LAB Group Agency
We don’t need science to tell us that the world has irreversibly changed since the coronavirus entered our lives. Shifts in the environment have naturally created shifts in our psychology and behaviour, and it’s made the common phrase “‘you want what you can’t have” seem ever more poignant.
Here at LAB, back at the beginning of the first nationwide lockdown, we used Comparative Linguistic Research to delve into the brain of hundreds of thousands of Twitter users. We selectively looked at tweets where people discussed desires and frustrations.
The first lockdown undoubtedly produced an undercurrent of widespread cravings among the UK population, with thousands of tweets confessing “I just can’t wait to…” as a prefix to any activity we freely enjoyed in a pre-COVID world. But lockdown also magnified and accelerated people’s frustrations, driving (in some cases) people to the point of no return with final-type statements such as “I will never understand/forget/buy/use X again.”
Knowing about such anomalies in sentiment and subtle transformations in consumer habits offer a treasure trove of insight that brands would benefit from unlocking.
The rise of decluttering
Thousands of people across the UK decluttered their homes during the first lockdown. The newfound abundance of time at home gave people the opportunity to tick off all the jobs previously pushed down to the bottom of the priority list.
As people have been affected by this ‘cleaning introspection mode’, other complementary home habits might be picked up without friction going forward. New behaviours might include craftsmanship, cooking and gardening. Strategies can be shaped to ride the wave of these new behavioural habits. To give an example, recycling and waste-reduction campaigns would no doubt achieve vast success moving forwards.
Companies in the homeware industry would benefit from signposting the cues that trigger this introspective-tinkering behaviour as it has inevitably stayed with us post-lockdown. Framing marketing strategies in this way will no doubt result in an uplift of sales as consumers want to relieve the stress tied to the incomplete tasks that they have put off for too long.
Interestingly, the decluttering behaviour that we have witnessed may symbolize a wider movement towards minimalism. The inability to interact socially with others may have led to a fall in people’s perceived social pressures. Lower social exposure naturally comes with lower social judgment. It could be inferred that consumers may gradually learn that they need and even want less stuff to be happy.
Emerging distrust for the media and anger for the unknown
A lack of clarity and explanation from media and political members during the first lockdown resulted in people experiencing widespread frustration and even switching off from particular news outlets and reporters. In fact, they were twice as likely to mention ‘journalists’ and ‘stopped watching’ in final-type twitter contexts.
These findings from the last few months tell us something incredibly useful about the nation’s psychology during the lockdown. More than ever before, people want openness. We hate being in the dark and unclear about the news we are hearing. These frustrations are so high that people ‘will never’ go back to their normal habits, such as watching Good Morning Britain.
Lack of clarity, bias and misinformation has tarnished the once gleaming perceptions enjoyed by many individuals in the media and indeed media businesses themselves. Crucially, the data shows us that obscurity between people/companies and their actions can bring about a strong torrent of frustration.
Trust levels for the media are at rock bottom, and this means that individuals don’t want to feel unclear about their recreational habits. This is why customers may require extra sources of assurance from the one thing they can control: their spending habits. Companies will have to carefully adapt their marketing, design and communications using behavioural science to rebuild the toppling wall of consumer confidence.
Looking forward to surprises is a thing of the past
Prior to coronavirus, people tweeted profusely about how they couldn’t wait for a number of things, both for future time-frame markets (e.g. March, April, etc.) and unexpected/surprises, with people mentioning phrases like “I can’t wait to find out.”
As we discovered from earlier insights, people detest uncertainty and the unknown. It then makes sense that the future looks distinctly foggy currently, people may be less excited for future dates on the horizon. As a result, fewer people are planning surprises now than pre-coronavirus, and potentially explaining the observed drop in positive sentiment in this area.
But what are the effects on well-being of not having anything to look forward to or discover? People are buying more online because they cannot shop in-person. Compared to the same first-quarter last year, Amazon’s revenues were up nearly 22%, working out at a stonking $10,000 every second. Might the absence of authentic serotonergic future surprises be filled by immediately gratifying substitutes in other places too? Think of the rise of TikTok at a time when we cannot see people in real life.
Are we seeing a movement from slow, built-up experiences (and advertising) to fast, quick hitters? Is this a cultural leaning towards more immediately gratifying things resulting in wider production of immediately gratifying marketing/advertising? Will this over time alters our brains’ reward centres to crave more immediately gratifying things? And could this be a closed loop that we see over the next few decades?
Companies must consider what the data here is telling us about how people appear to have fewer things to find out in the future. Introducing the act of digital discovery may fill the void that customers once couldn’t wait for. Dissolve to reveal digital features or countdown email presents and offers might prove fruitful in restoring people’s excitement for surprises that were once expressed pre-coronavirus.
Audience behaviours have shifted greatly because of the coronavirus pandemic. People want things immediately. They have decluttered and have few things to look forward to. All these insights were discoverable through comparative linguistic research, shedding light on the nation’s state of mind. The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them and gain a market lead. With the right use of innovative research, it’s possible for brands to pull ahead in that race.