It’s fair to say 2020 isn’t shaping up like anyone had hoped. The Coronavirus outbreak has significantly altered the face of business, and the economic impact of global lockdowns is likely to be felt for years to come.

Are we heading for a UK recession?

Unfortunately, the short answer is yes. The European Commission is forecasting that all of Europe’s economies will fall into a deep recession during 2020, but is expecting to see significant bounceback during 2021. The UK is predicted to be one of the hardest hit economies so the challenge for business will be to navigate the rest of 2020 to stay afloat throughout this initial period of recession.

For business owners to be able to pivot effectively, an understanding of how consumer behaviour and spending have changed (and are likely to continue to change) is crucial. Having assessed the likely impact, management consultants and marketing strategists have been penning their various thoughts on a post-Covid-19 world.  

Consumer Behaviour and Digital Strategy

The impact of the Covid-19 disease had a profound effect on both consumer behaviour and that of business operations. Consumers who wouldn’t normally shop or communicate online began doing so, and those who did before the pandemic began doing so more. We can only expect this to continue over the next 12 months as consumers remain cautious about limiting in-person contact, and an increased awareness of their personal finances makes finding the best deals to become an even higher priority.

Many companies have had a somewhat forced digital transformation to enable secure remote home working, and those which already could have demonstrated that it’s possible to do so for an extended period of time, too. 

Clearly this is of major importance to strategic marketers at this time, as with in many cases new opportunities present themselves all the time, when you’re looking in the right places.

Looking beyond the initial impact, I’ve used this article to explore the lasting impacts on consumers and businesses during the recession.

I’ve included the best research, observations, and opinion, along with our own, so that marketing strategies during a recession can be as informed as possible.

The Impact Of Recession On Consumer Behaviour

Almost all market analysts are commenting on the fact that the short term shock of the distancing and isolation measures in all countries around the world will have a lasting impact, and will adjust consumer preferences slightly in the long term. Here’s just a round-up, with data, on the ones we’re expecting to see, plus a few of our opinions and observations too.

1. Digital media consumption

Consumers will be using and consuming much more digital communication forms, including consumers who previously would not have touched video as a communication medium. This is particularly evident from the recent rise in popularity of the app Houseparty, and the growing demands on platforms like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and TikTok.

Growth in digital media usage: COVID-19 Barometer – Kantar

2. Digital and video communications

Consumers will be much more open to digital meetings at work and digital (video) communication at home among families and friends. Some services have publicly spoken out about the dramatic increase in demand on their infrastructure in recent weeks. This is likely to continue to connect families and friends for some time. 

3. Growth in ecommerce and online groceries

There will be a larger market in the UK for online shopping, with online grocery retail seeing the largest impact of this in the shorter term. Most importantly, this includes never-before online grocery shoppers who have turned to the internet during this crisis. Casual usage may also increase among occasional users, however that is yet to be seen. While this does present an opportunity for brands to nurture new customers and turn them into brand advocates, their loyalty may prove hard to win without offering the best deals or vouchers. 

Ipsos survey data — the growth in ecommerce and online under Covid-19

4. Increased attention on personal finance

Consumers feeling the impact of the recession who are worried about personal finance will turn to online information sources and digital services more regularly following this period. With banks only allowing in strictly necessary customers, consumers are turning to online services more. This opens the opportunity for consumers to reach new products not offered by their current bank, especially in the savings and investments arena. 

Kantar and FACEBOOK research (Asia) showing increase in “financial planning” consumer concerns
Kantar research showing particular increase in demand in financial products online

5. Better financial security for gig workers

Consumers who work in the gig economy and can weather the financial impact of recession are likely to come out of 2020 with a brighter future ahead of them. Self-employed workers are more likely to have more similar benefits to the full time employed in the UK as a result of economic support packages and changes to taxation released to ease the impact on the economy. In the US economy, even more people are beginning to use task-based apps like Task Rabbit and the differentiation between gig workers and contractors is closing rapidly. 

The impact on this, in the medium term, could be more income stability and therefore higher discretionary spending from this group of consumers.

6. Reduced commutes, travel time and pollution

Consumers are likely to contribute less to traffic and pollution after the pandemic ends. The AA argues that UK government funds would be better spent on digital infrastructure rather than roads — an interesting perspective but one worth considering nonetheless. With more and more companies proving they’re able to work remotely, it’s more likely employees will be given an increased opportunity to work from home either occasionally or regularly. 

Clearly the availability of this will depend on each consumers’ job role, however for those who have the option, the increase in leisure time may lead to an incidental increase in discretionary spending. 

7. Change in consumer delivery expectations

We have become used to immediate availability through services like Amazon Prime, however during this pandemic it’s clear that an element of perspective has been seen by many. We’re now happier to wait for a few days for product availability, and even more open to pre-ordering goods and services. This ties into the increasing proportion of consumers being willing to order online, too. This may also have a positive impact on those businesses using the subscription model, such as subscription food, recipe boxes, health supplements, and those in grooming, hair and beauty. 

8. Shop small, shop local

“Shop local” campaigns have been running for decades, but the convenience of supermarket stores is usually always a better alternative for price and availability.

During the pandemic it’s been the local companies who have either had availability or unfortunately have closed. In times of economic hardship, consumers make a concerted effort to support small businesses where possible, so for those who are able to re-open rather than being shut permanently, there’s likely to be a surge in shopping (and dining, drinking, socialising) local rather than in larger establishments. 

Local businesses are nimble enough to capitalise on the emergence of grassroots local delivery services via social media and online platforms. These new ways of selling will in some places remain popular with consumers beyond Covid-19.

9. Increase in streaming video, and VOD

In the short term, we’re going to also see an increased consumption of streaming video (“Video on Demand – VOD”). This is a widely known fact in marketing circles already. The benefits here is that with the additional viewing hours, comes additional ad inventory. Increased supply can have a downwards effect on inventory price which is great news for advertisers. 

Still less than half (44%) of the population use a video streaming service, falling to 22% among those aged 55 or over (Mintel’s Media Trends Spring – UK, March 2020 Report [paid]). There is a lot of room for growth for all subscription streaming services and now, during the pandemic, could be the moment where more people sign up.

Whilst the increased supply may not last forever, we do know that the subscription purchases that are in part driving this will continue for some time due to their purchasing nature. Plus it’s a fair assumption that some individuals, demographics and age groups will slowly return from social distancing at a slower speed than others, leaving some additional lasting demand. 

The Effects Of Recession On Businesses

On the commercial side of things, there’s going to be arguably even larger impacts. Digital Transformation for many larger or older organisations has been much of a pipedream for some time. 

I really like this recent post by @AlexOsterwalder about the true drivers behind Digital Transformation: 

Who led your digital transformation? CEO, CTO… COVID-19? 

What is digital transformation? Digital transformation is the integration of technology and digital services into all areas of a business. This will impact IT aspects such as cloud computing, remote working, hosted cloud software, voice over IP (VoIP) calling, the removal of physical on-premise servers, and the policies relating to and enabling all of this. This also extends to marketing — by accessing the many benefits of advertising on the internet and on devices. 

It’s true that for many of the above categories, Covid-19 has forced our hands a little bit. Here’s a few of our observations on the business impact of late: 

10. Increased video conferencing in the business setting

Businesses will begin to utilise video conferencing more than before. The increasingly popular Zoom application, along with other providers like Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams 365, Skype and others are all benefiting from this increased usage at the moment. 

11. Increase in remote working

Remote working will continue to rise in popularity. It’s true that remote working won’t work well for everyone, especially at the moment with other family members in the house all of the time, but the longer term benefits are great for our health, wallet and the environment. Many companies which were previously unable to work in such a way have had to adopt this practice very quickly. Once the issues are ironed out (by necessity) it’s very possible to see remote working rules relaxed a little more into the future. 

Remote working will continue to become more available as the other aspects of a business’ Digital Transformation is rushed through, too. 

12. Higher uptake of cloud productivity software

Cloud productivity services like Google Suite and Microsoft Teams among others are all doing their part for the battle against Covid-19, with many offering extended Enterprise “access-all-areas” free trials to cover this period. These productivity platforms really enable companies to maintain much of their day to day workflows from any device, from anywhere, with automatic backups and plenty of similarly neat features. 

It may not be the right solution for all companies, and of course it’s not practical to force the rollout of such a mission-critical suite of software to all employees remotely, but for smaller agile companies who are up for the challenge, it presents a great opportunity to learn the benefits of cloud computing. The benefits over this pandemic will be very clear, given the alternatives aren’t possible. 

13. Increased demand for laptops, and Cap-Ex v Op-Ex

Devices as a service might increase. Established companies are likely to rely on desktop hardware and may not be fully equipped with mobile devices, like laptops, tablets and company smartphones. On lease agreements, there’s a large industry of “hardware as a service” suppliers which rent out production-ready laptops and devices at a cost similar to your monthly depreciation values. 

A recurring theme in digital transformation is the shift of IT being Capital Expenditure (“Cap-Ex”) where items and their value degrade over time, to rented Operating Expenditure (“Op-Ex”) where there’s no balance sheet line item, but the service doesn’t degrade over time. Usually these services can be dialled up and down according to strict demand, too, so you’re never over-specifying a piece of hardware and paying the price for that “headroom” up front. 

14. Moving servers out of the office

Cloud computing servers aren’t new but not all IT teams have had the budget, know-how or freedom to fully deploy them, instead having to rely on costly in-office, on-premise IT hardware. Like the point above, these costly capital expenditure (“Cap-Ex”) items degrade over time, as opposed to rented “as-a-service” operating expenditure (“Op-Ex”) items. 

Remote servers can be of any size but are almost always going to be better specifications than those in offices today, due to the nature of the data center industry. Private clouds are available for security conscious firms who can’t or won’t use public cloud services, too.

15. Software in the cloud, as a service

There’s also a shift to cloud software and cloud licensing, too, along the similar vein of moving large costs to operating expenditure.

This is true for creative marketing software like Adobe Creative Cloud, Sketch for Teams and others. Again, these licenses can be dialled down in times of less demand when you don’t want to be paying for more than you need. But on the commercial side of things, these licenses demand a marginal amount of direct costs to scale so is a great business model to shift to.

Subscription services were originally growing at approximately 30% per year before the pandemic, and in the medium term this is now expected to grow even higher. TrustRadius recently found that of all companies surveyed, 66% of companies would be spending either the same or more on software due to the crisis.

TrustRadius research, 1600+ business participants, 66% spending on software

16. Telemedicine and sectors set to benefit from the pandemic

Telehealth and telemedicine are in a particular sector, one of many, which are forecast to directly grow as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Providers are being forced to go online, with even local GP practices taking telephone consultations rather than in-person meetings, where possible. With many non-essential stores closed, some consumers are going online for their supplies for the first time. 

For companies who can provide a relatively frictionless and satisfying online experience, it’s likely that this will be a viable route for distribution into the future.  

Similar sectors destined for growth in these times include (but aren’t limited to) remote learning and e-learning providers, HR software-as-a-service platforms, staff engagement and survey platforms, among many many others. We’re big fans of this huge graphic (link) by Stackline although it’s for the US, mostly retail categories, and not all of our data matches it verbatim, but it does make for good reading, to show the vast number of industries and product categories set to benefit from the pandemic. 

Post-pandemic, travel is also likely to see a large surge, perhaps even with staycations set to rise until the global situation stabilises further.

17. The changing events landscape post Covid-19

The face of events is changing. Gala dinners, expos and award ceremonies are just a few formats that will probably stand the test of time, but breakfast briefings and smaller educational events are likely to be more likely to be found on Zoom, Webex or Hangouts looking into the future now. Some of the benefits to companies include lower costs and administration time around event organisation, and for both parties the time, cost and environmental savings are great, too. These aspects are only going to become more important as businesses navigate a period of recession.

Some events companies have also taken the opportunity to innovate, too, and are experimenting with 3D virtual events, and other aspects that can bring virtual events to life for attendees. Watch this space! 

18. The benefits of digital advertising over traditional during and after Covid-19

(We just had to include this one!) Digital marketing will of course continue to benefit from increased investment and attention through this period. I’ve covered the studies and facts behind the benefits of digital marketing during a recession or pandemic here, and that’s echoed by popular Forbes commentator Bernard Marr here too in his piece Why Companies Turn To Digital Marketing To Survive COVID-19

Businesses willing to experiment more in, or have their first foray in, digital marketing during the recession will see the impact of the relatively lower cost of entry. Newer entrants will also for the first time see the measurability of campaign performance and in some industries even early-mover advantages of less direct competition. It’s been proven that an over-proportionate increase of share of voice during a recession leads to tangible market share growth in the years ahead, so it’s worth considering for new entrants, or those businesses sat on strong balance sheets. 

19. Brand and activation marketing vs performance

Also on marketing, for those companies who typically only invest in direct response or “performance” activity, now is a good time as any to invest more in building some brand affinity “activation” work. Display and video costs are falling due to the increased ad inventory caused by higher internet usage as consumers are sat at home. Those brands with relevant propositions (in the unaffected or positively impacted sectors) should be capitalising on this.

Kantar research showing the huge increase in usage across the FACEBOOK platforms

Kantar’s recent research shows just how much platform usage has increased, showing just how much the display and video inventory has increased recently. 

This late March 2020 Kantar survey showed that consumers in the UK and USA shows only 8% of consumers think brands should stop advertising. Life as we know it will eventually resume and in the interim plenty of products will retain much of their demand. For some, ads are seen as a small reminder of reality amidst the current backdrop. 

Next steps

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, I do hope it’s been an insightful roundup of the consumer and business trends shaking us all at the moment. If you have any thoughts on the impacts you’ve seen or read about, please share them below or on twitter and tag me @aarondicks. 

If you’ve been inspired to consider Impression helping you with your digital marketing during these ever-changing times, please get in touch with our team

Aaron Dicks

Managing Director

Managing Director of Impression. Search engine optimisation, paid media and web analytics consultant. Also web developer and digital all-rounder. @aarondicks

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