How ‘Understanding The Nation’ can give you a competitive edge

The consumer research experts within UNLIMITED’s Human Understanding Lab have been tracking the mood of the Nation before and during lockdown – and seeing just what it means for the future of your brand.

It’s been over a year since the UK went under its first lockdown causing emotions like uncertainty, worry, sadness and fear to fluctuate throughout – no more so than the peaks recorded in April and November 2020 and of January 2021 as each lockdown period began. Though each is now starting to level out, we’re not out of the water yet. Unease and stress remain, even though the mood of the nation shows greater optimism and increasing confidence.

In a comprehensive tracking study called ‘Understanding the Nation’ undertaken by Walnut UNLIMITED, we have analysed the mood of the Nation and assessed how the last unprecedented year has left its mark on the psyche of the Nation. We’ve identified seven learnings from the last 12-months’ rollercoaster of feelings, giving brands vital insights into their positioning and approach as we emerge into post-lockdown life – read on for the headline learnings.

The findings are really compelling – and I’m sure each of us can resonate with the highs and lows experienced over the last several months – importantly all of this matters for brands looking ahead. The full webinar can be viewed at Understanding The Nation – Future Learnings From a Year of the Pandemic, it’s clear that brands who default to ‘business as usual’ when lockdowns end will be ignoring the profound changes that have taken-place in the mindset of consumer.

People’s underlying expectations, concern and motivations have shifted dramatically. The seeds of success for any brand going forward are to understand this new mood and how to work with it. Using a very perceptive neuro technique known as Reaction Time Testing, which assesses the time a respondent takes when answering questions to discover their true emotional conviction, we found that whilst people say they are increasingly optimistic, a great deal of uncertainty remains. In short, the optimism is qualified, and brands need to appreciate the reassurance and clarity that consumers will seek from them – it’s not just about selling and prices.

In terms of society’s mental health, we found that each lockdown the UK endured had a cumulatively negative effect on people’s energy, making them mentally weary. Constantly mixed messages and advice from the Government has caused confusion and stress.  In times of uncertainty, humans look to institutions for guidance: governments, health organisations, world leaders etc. During the pandemic, many brands also shouldered this burden, changing pretty much everything from their models of service delivery to their comms to reassure an uncertain population. Going forward, consumers will seek continuing guidance and reassurance from brand touch-points. The human brain is attuned to authenticity, so will very likely spot and consequently reject any brand striking a note of false optimism or communicating disingenuously.

As expected, those without work and income have been more adversely affected with lower levels of optimism, but other aspects of societal differentiations occur too. Unexpectedly, younger and older age groups appeared more positive than middle-aged groups. Younger groups having the prospect of a return to schooling and socialising and older groups having the vaccinations shared greater optimism for coming out of lockdown than middle-aged groups. Brands need to be sensitive to these societal divisions, especially those whose products and services appeal to both sides of the gap. However, finding the best time to communicate and shift the tone of existing comms will also be important.    

Many brands have also seen the benefit of behavioural science when they have adapted to necessary changes in comms, and one simple technique to positively nudge consumers is the use of logo and colours. Making brand touch-points easy to understand and use, gives reassurance. The use of icons adds clarity, which means faster processing and makes consumers more receptive to that brand. 

The study is comprehensive and clear in its assessment and recommendations and ends on the most predictive of its seven key findings, entitled New Beginnings. With uncertainty not gone away but receding, the study concludes that brands need to remind people of the joy of shopping, interacting and being in a public space. Packaging and messaging need to make people feel good about themselves, showing people that brands care about them, whilst also filling the need for escapism and socialising. Sustainability, which perhaps took something of a back seat in people’s minds during the lockdown, is still a concern for consumers and brands need to rekindle how they might bridge this gap once more.  

Above all, telling a consistent story across a brand’s touch-points takes consumers away from the confusion and mixed messages which caused so much unease and negative emotion during lockdown and which will likely always be associated with the pandemic. 

Understanding the Nation provides a clear message to brands that thinking things will be just like they were before lockdown would be a serious misjudgment of the new mood of the nation – but understanding it and acting accordingly will lead to genuine business advantage and ensure brands are tuned in to the feelings of the nation at the right time.

Watch the ‘Understanding the Nation’ webinar here.

Understanding the Nation is just one of the many insight tools available through UNLIMITED to help you better understand and tailor your marketing to customers.

If you are interested in gaining competitive business advantage for your brand through a deeper understanding of your customers, register your interest here for a Human Understanding Lab masterclass, or subscribe to our Human Understanding Lab digest email here.