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How to react to changing consumer behaviours in times of crisis

In a world that seemingly spins quicker every day, how do businesses and brands stay on top of changing consumer behaviour in times of crisis?

It’s a question that Catalyx’s brand strategists get asked a lot by those attempting to construct long-term marketing strategies that are robust, realistic and flexible.

With 24-hour rolling coverage and social media commentary by the minute, the news cycle can seem overwhelming – and it’s fair to say that there have been monumental challenges for businesses and consumers alike in recent years:

This is, of course, by no means an exhaustive list of the trials the world is facing and there are far more base factors that affect how and why people decide to make a purchase.

So, how much do the fundamentals of consumer behaviour change during major world events? Do short-term pivots always turn into long-term change? And, if people have moved on during, for example, the pandemic, what can a business do to re-engage consumers – or do we have to move on and find a more innovative path?

These are huge questions that will affect every product and brand differently, so let’s focus on the fortunes of one day-to-day product that is found in most family homes: breakfast cereal.

“Lockdown certainly saw a once in a generation boom for breakfast cereal sales, with many people eating breakfast at home and using cereal as a snack throughout the day,” said Weetabix head of category and in-store, Mark Perry.

“We weren’t surprised to see cereal sales fall since March, with more of us able to escape the house. Some still enjoyed a bowl of cereal at home or at work, but for others they returned to previous behaviours such as picking up a snack bar on the way or buying breakfast with their morning coffee.”

So, more people enjoyed their bowl of cereal when they were stuck at home than they do when they have freedom of choice and their favourite coffee shop to visit during the commute. No surprises there, perhaps.

What is interesting is that one cereal segment did continue to grow through all of this. The “natural & wholesome” sector grew its market value despite a drop in volumes sold.

Consumers were willing to spend a little more when being health conscious. Brands have quickly taken note and made it a key part of their cereal trade, while own-label value products have been slower to react and seen a drop.

Costs are going up across the board due to wide ranging international factors. From CPG brands to technology innovators, brands need to figure out the best ways to drive value in such an inflationary environment. And they need to do it quickly to take advantage of changes in the market.

You can only charge consumers more with a strong product, brand and message.

It’s hugely important to meet an unmet need. Rather than settling just for what consumers are telling you it’s essential to monitor their current actual behaviour to better predict coming trends.

None of the challenges that are facing the world are likely to pass quickly and it’s never long until the next one looms on the horizon, so it’s more essential than ever to focus in on exactly what your brand does and what you want it to be – as well as how that is perceived by consumers.

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