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What Pandemic Video Trends Tell Marketers About Consumer Behavior

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Matt Wujciak
08/28/2020

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Social media tells us a lot about culture, habits, and patterns. For many, digital platforms that were once meant to simulate social, human inclusion are becoming the forefront of daily interactions, communication, news, education – or any other window to the outside world. 

Google has been paying particularly close attention to all of the ways that people are using online video platforms, specifically. They found that consumers are using video platforms to cope with social isolationreplicate essential servicesindulge their passions, and simply find community. What consumers are searching for on platforms such as YouTube or Instagram or how they’re engaging on tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams displays insights that marketers and customer experience analysts should be aware of, in order to appeal to these behaviors through product marketing and service design. 

Susan Kresnicka, a U.S.-based cultural anthropologist who studies the relationship between fundamental human needs and consumer behavior, and her colleagues have developed a framework for understanding consumer behavior as it relates to three core needs that all people experience: self-care, social connection, and identity. 

Consumers are prioritizing self-care

Self-care has become a buzzword but it really “refers to the whole range of needs associated with sustaining and nurturing the individual, embodied self,” Kresnicka told Google. “When the pandemic upended life as we knew it, many of the ways we were used to meeting our needs became untenable. So people are learning new techniques to soothe their anxious minds.”

On YouTube, Google analysts have seen this play out with audiences gravitating to videos that help them confront new stressors, like sleep disruption for example. Viewership of videos related to “nature sounds” increased 25% as people looked for something to help calm them. The concept extends beyond consumers generally wanting better sleep.

Food related content is also seeing a huge uptick, expressing consumer interests in healthy or personalized cuisine products as restaurant availability remains scarce in many parts of the world. India has been a particularly strong focus of this trend, with creators like CookingShooking showing that emulating restaurant cuisine allows people to feel both the comfort and luxury of dining out without leaving home.

Consumers' uptick in browsing history and YouTube searches (or interest) of healthy cuisine is consistent with the surges in healthy meal subscription services such as Freshly, HelloFresh, Home Chef and more. 

HelloFresh, for example, jumped 122% at constant exchange rates in the second quarter as consumers are embracing healthy food delivery in the face of the coronavirus, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Sleep/meditation guidance and healthy meal delivery subscriptions serve as just two minor  examples. However, the concept is that many digitally driven, or easily accessible services that align with consumer self-care habits are surging. Marketers who can recognize these emerging trends in consumer behavior, such as self-care, can design more appealing products and experiences. 

Consumers are desperate for social connections. Virtual experiences have been a “fix” 

Similar to Zoom happy hours or Microsoft Teams hangouts, on YouTube, viewers have used video to engage with each other directly and indirectly, often in nuanced ways.

The “With Me” genre — where viewers vicariously share in an activity performed by a creator — has been particularly relevant for consumers under lockdown. Audiences across the globe have devoured it. Views of “#WithMe” videos have grown by 600% since March 15, according to Google’s insights. One subgenre, “Get Ready With Me” videos, has even taken on a quarantine twist as beauty creators adapted their videos to match their at-home lifestyles.

Daily views of videos with “museum tour” in the title, for example, increased 60% as viewers and their favorite cultural institutions have tried to replicate visits to the museum. The Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands, for instance, shared a multipart tour in March. The first entry, which offers an intimate look at the museum’s self-portraits gallery, has amassed over 200K views since mid-March.

Of course, the relatively agile success of virtual business conferences, online events and concerts, and even the NBA’s Michelob ULTRA Courtside seats with Microsoft Teams, and many other social gatherings to simulate normalcy give insight to a demand for social inclusion across just about any market.

Creating identity

In recent months, online videos have proven to be an attractive way for people to express who they are, but more importantly, who they might become, which may sound silly but makes sense under the surface. 

Video trends around learning to perform specialized skills, like cutting hair, playing an instrument, learning a new language, and many other tutorials for hobbies and skills are surging. For example, audiences watched haircutting tutorials in droves, with global viewership peaking in April. One creator’s explainer for cutting your own hair has been viewed more than 1.7 million times. Hobbies, new skills, or any type of personal self-development that helps consumers establish a sense of identity has become more influential to consumers in (and after) the era of COVID-19. 

Belief systems are also key to identity. As large religious gatherings have been suspended, the faithful have sought out ways to worship online, causing a jump in weekly viewership of religious services. On March 27, the live streamed “Urbi et Orbi,” a papal address given during solemn occasions, gave Catholics and other people of faith a way to receive Pope Francis’s blessing while the pandemic surged. Interestingly, hundreds of thousands of viewers tuned in for the recitation, resulting in the largest single-day subscription growth for the Vatican’s YouTube channels.

What these examples have in common and why they’re important to marketing

“Marketers know that to be successful, their offerings must create value for people, and often that value involves helping them meet their core needs,” Kresnicka says. “Why is a 100-year-old soda brand still the market leader? Because it boosts our energy and mood (self-care), brings us back to previous times in our lives (identity), and makes us feel connected to others who shared the same experience (social connection),” she explains. “Thinking this way forces us to understand, deeply and holistically, how a product or service operates in people’s lives. When we do, we open up new ways to communicate, connect, and serve people.”

Consumers are looking to improve their quality of living right now, arguably more than ever. Brands exist to provide consumers value. The products, services and content that help during this era deserves the attention of those who can benefit from them. 

If what marketers do supports or enhances peoples’ lives while (to some degree, still) quarantined, you’re defining the definition of consumer value.

This is a time when the world is vulnerable, where every person and organization is adapting to life with a live virus in their midst, where no one is operating from a best-in-class pandemic playbook to survive modern financial Darwinism. Brands, including marketers and customer experience departments must become the very people they’re trying to reach. This means that among innovation, compliance, time and technology, humanity must become the greatest application. 

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For media coverage, lead gen, and digital marketing inquiries, (or to say hi), contact me at matt.wujciak@customermanagementpractice.com, or connect with me on Linkedin at Matt Wujciak.

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