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Why understanding consumer “tribes” formed by Covid-19 will help you do business better

July 22, 2020 | By Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst – Mobile Groove @peggyanne

Let’s face it: People everywhere on the planet are emotionally drained or financially strained – or both. The pandemic’s perfect storm of market and mental conditions turns up the pressure on companies to rethink customer segmentation and reshape their messaging. From here on, marketers must retire many of the static models and personas they relied on to guide campaigns and reach targets pre-pandemic.

Instead, they need to adapt, evolve, and pivot marketing and messaging based on a living and learning profile of the consumer and their unique passions and preferences. It’s an approach that calls for marketers to create a more fluid and dynamic view of the customer. It also requires them to learn new skills to market to cultures, not segments. And it demands companies connect with audiences in the context of what people need to manage their response to global events. 

Right now, consumers need individualized communications infused with humanity and authenticity. Acknowledging and accommodating customers’ “next normal” calls for a holistic strategy refresh, not just a “we’re here for you” subject line or Pollyanna messaging (that may be more laughable than it is helpful). While you may have amassed copious customer information based on past behavior, you must also factor in consumers’ current situation and expectations to best serve them and, ultimately, keep them coming back.

Meet the Covid-19 tribes

The COVID-19 Barometer, an ongoing research program from Kantar, goes beyond demographics to illustrate the overarching customer segments that businesses must address right now. It draws from interviews with over 100,000 consumers in over 50 markets to identify six distinct customer “tribes,” which are characterized by their reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each tribe is defined and bound by common levels of worry and patterns of information consumption. Understanding the traits of each tribe equips companies to build a comprehensive communications framework that drives connection and innovation, according to Rosie Hawkins, Kantar’s Chief Offer and Innovation Officer. “Tapping into this [model] helps you walk in their shoes when it comes to designing effective strategies,” she says. But it’s not just about showing empathy. It’s about deepening relationships to add value where, when, and how your tribal audience will appreciate it most. 

Kantar’s research defines six segments by how they are reacting to the pandemic: 

  • The Ostriches Accounts for 12% of consumers and shares the attitude: I just don’t see what the fuss is about. And I don’t really care either.
  • The Que Seras Accounts for 22% of consumers and shares the attitude: I think all the rules are a bit excessive.
  • The Hibernators – Accounts for 12% of consumers and shares the attitude: I accept the situation, and I don’t need to be updated constantly. 
  • The Good Citizens – Accounts for 22% of consumers and shares the attitude: I want to be informed, and I think we should all adhere to the rules.
  • The Distressed Dreamers – Accounts for 18% of consumers and shares the attitude: I am really concerned about my health and financial situation but I do believe things will get better.
  • The Precarious Worriers – Accounts for 13% of consumers and shares the attitude: This is really scary for me, and I wish the government would do more.

Overlaying the unique dynamics of each tribe on existing models or connecting it with existing audience data produces more than a rich tapestry of human behavior. It can add a powerful dimension to marketing and messaging. At a high level, Kantar’s model groups people according to their strongest beliefs. However, Hawkins has found that membership in some tribes reveals other critical information marketers can harness to personalize content and marketing. “Each tribe expects brands to step up in a way that fits their own individual needs,” Hawkins explains. 

Precarious Worriers, she explains, is a tribe that skews more to women. Meanwhile, Distressed Dreamers counts more Gen Xers and Millennials, as they were among the hardest hit financially by the furloughs. While age and gender certainly don’t define the tribes, they are data points that marketers can use to match the medium and the message. 

Tribal content

A prime example is Ostriches, a tribe with a younger profile and a fierce desire for emotional freedom. If this tribe is your target, Hawkins says, then optimistic messaging delivered via social platforms, including Snap and TikTok, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. 

While the research is focused on providing brand marketers strategic guidance as they seek to engage these new tribes, Hawkins illustrates how the data can be viewed through a media lens. “Precarious Worriers, in particular, and Hibernators are in no hurry to reengage,” she observes. “And so, these groups will continue to be very reliant on in-home services, including media and entertainment for a prolonged period.” 

The Good Citizens tribe also craves content, but of a different sort. As members strive to stay well-informed, they would likely appreciate offers that help them to this goal. Alerts, updates, subscriptions, and multi-channel access are elements that companies catering to this tribe should consider. Good Citizens will value practical tips and advice that celebrate “doing the right thing” delivered via more traditional channels (TV, radio and more mainstream social media) are sure to strike a chord. 

An ongoing challenge

As we immerse ourselves in the next chapter of marketing, only one thing is guaranteed: more change. It’s helpful to use the concept of a tribe to inform your strategy. But be prepared to develop content and messaging that is based on an evolving profile of the tribe members. 

Tribes are defined by their collective levels of concern about the pandemic, but that’s a trait likely to change drastically and rapidly, as global events unfold. “In short to mid-term,” Hawkins says, “these Coronavirus Tribes will become the predominant segmentation.” Adapting content and experiences to align with these tribes will undoubtedly be an ongoing challenge.

This pandemic will be remembered as one of the most disruptive and demanding moments of our time. However, the shutdown highlights the need for customer understanding. And that includes the way in which individuals are reacting to the impact of Covid-19. The companies best equipped to weather this crisis will be those that acknowledge and accommodate customers’ “next normal” needs by leveraging individualized communications infused with humanity.

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