New priorities and shifting values

Man walking across a city street wearing a mask


As the pandemic continues its march around the globe, people have now had sufficient time for its effects to sink in more deeply and gnaw on the collective consciousness and psyche. New priorities related to coping and living with the virus during the pre-vaccine limbo are emerging.

When existing priorities become reordered over an extended period and are displaced by new ones, particularly by forces beyond one’s control, values follow suit and begin to change as well. When the struggle relates to basic survival, how people think and act upon their priorities will more greatly influence what they are willing to accept and believe. In this current stasis, as “pandemic response” morphs into “pandemic endurance”, what rises to the top as concerns and new priorities for people serve as clues as to how consumer values may begin to shift.

woman on public transportation with a mobile phone wearing a mask

History suggests changes in financial outlook can change one’s priorities, as can periods of strife. Current social media chatter reflects that as people are experiencing a tug-of-war between what they want to do and need to do. Further, survey data shows there are differences between age groups and racial profiles, with younger generations and vulnerable minorities experiencing greater stress and anxiety, particular as it pertains to their job security and ability to cover everyday costs of life.

With a step back, opportunities begin to emerge for marketers seeking ways to deepen their customer connections and relationships, from avoiding “sugaring” the situation to getting in closer to customer sub-segments and their unique areas of interest.


As new communities of interest emerge and financial and health priorities trigger a reranking of values and preferences, marketers can ensure they keep pace with consumers by revisiting their marketing strategies and plans.

Deliver on back-to-basics needs and provide intrinsic value

As financially-concerned consumers scale back on spending, marketers should maintain emphasis on the essentials that are still drawing discretionary spending such as homelife and health.

Perhaps no bigger marketing example – albeit one with potentially huge costs to their bottom lines – are the United and American Airlines, et al. and their bold moves to cut the expensive ticket change fees ($200 in most cases). The ripple effects of this ploy will have long-standing impacts on travelers who now have one less major barrier to consider before booking and rebooking travel throughout pandemic recovery.

An ariplane

Apple’s iPhone SE, dropped mid-April with a starting price of $399. The device costs $300 less than the iPhone 11 but contains many of the same features and technical specifications and is suitably targeted to shoppers balking at $500++ phones. Apple has sold nearly 3 million units of the device in the US from mid-April through early July, according to M Science and is performing better than expected even during the pandemic.

Apple’s iPhone SE

Provide a sense of security

In lockstep with monetary concerns, personal health and security remain as high priorities and consumers will want to know a brand respects those needs. Marketers need go beyond the basics and deploy innovation to demonstrate a commitment to health and safety that helps them stand out versus other competitors.

A great example of this in marketing today is the new “Domino’s Pizza Car-side delivery.” While not particularly revolutionary as a service – you drive to Domino’s store, and they will put your pizza order in your car or trunk for you, in a simple, contactless delivery – it’s refreshingly clean and hits on all safety, quality points, and it’s neatly branded.

Domino’s Pizza Car-side delivery

In late March, the United Nations put out an international ‘Call to Creatives’ to help communicate six key messages to the world’s population – one of which was the importance of physical distancing in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In response, We Are Social London launched Snap Safe using social AR to have a real impact on the lives of people. The new Snapchat AR Lens helps people keep a safe two-metre physical distance in public. If people get too close to the user, the Snap Safe AR Lens displays a warning which states: ‘STAY BACK. SAVE LIVES’.

U.N. Call to Creatives

Recognize that everyone’s world just got smaller

Despite the pandemic being a global crisis, the result was that people’s worlds shrunk around them. Domestic security, hunkering down, cooking at home, repairing the home, socializing in contained ‘bubbles’ – life has taken on a new intimacy and greater mindfulness of what is closely around oneself more so than what is elsewhere in the world.

Perhaps the best ad rising from the pandemic, and even further catelized by social upheavals, is the Nike “You Can’t Stop Us” short film. In addition to being an editing marvel, the upbeat and optimistic messages of “coming together for change” and “always come back stronger” are brilliantly juxtaposed with invigorating scenes of sporting feats seamlessly knitted together to blur lines of gender, race, disability, and leave us more hopeful.

Another example that taps into people’s collective consciousness to support their local communities in the midst of social strife is Carling’s ‘made local’ campaign. Here, Carling brand encourages people to go back to their local pub (#supportyyourlocal) by highlighting their pivotal role to British society. The emotionally poignant ad shows a man pouring a pint of Carling in his pub as he explains the importance of local pubs and the way in which they are “the cornerstone of the community, serving more than just beer.”

Carling’s ‘made local’ campaign

Lock in brand loyalty before it erodes

New shopping behaviours are occurring in response to economic survival priorities, store closures, accelerated online shopping and social distancing. Consumers are trying new products and brands, with comparisons and new selections as close as a keystroke or swipe, and brands need to find ways to lock down loyal advocates before they stray and churn without warning.

A particularly interesting example comes from the entirely disrupted category of mattresses. As people are spending months-long quarantine at home, they’re spending more time thinking about home spending and the emerging proliferation of new mattress-in-a-box brands – Purple, Avocado, Casper, et al. These brands are filling consumers’ social feeds with appealing deals, customer testimonials, and of course their disruptive home-delivery and 100 percent satisfaction/return guarantees. When people are not comfortable or able to get into a store, these readily available and well-reviewed alternatives are popping.

Another example of a way in which a retailer seeks to lock in loyalty due to changing patterns in customer purchasing behaviour is a subscription service offered by Pret a Manger UK. With workers coming into the office less often, Pret a Manger launched a monthly subscription service offering up to five drinks a day for £20, incenting consumers as they create new routines and in turn helping to rebound their coffee sales.

Target and connect with new emerging segments

Pockets of new interests and needs will continue to emerge as a result of realigned priorities and values. There will be new groupings of consumers that brands can identify, reach and engage based on their sentiment, physical health and economic priorities. Again, brands will need to be mindful of these shifting values as they target certain sub-groups without needlessly alienating others.

The McDonald’s Travis Scott menu meal is a great example of a brand connecting very intimately with its younger audiences, particularly the massive following of the hottest young rapper and Kardashian family connection. It’s finding a bond through music and pop culture that breaks through in this example.

In partnership with Facebook India, Lionsgate India launched an initiative, ‘A Night at the Movies’, to bring the movie theatre experience to moviegoers who have been shut off from going in person. In addition to creating a community experience, these screenings will raise funds for GiveIndia, a consolidated NGO platform working towards the rehabilitation of COVID-19 victims. To further the message with movie fans, celebrities such as Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Facinelli, shared video messages extending support.


As people re-evaluate their lives and focus on the new priorities ahead, they will look to brands with purpose that have also evolved and are now grounded in the same new priorities and values. Brands will need to keep pace and ensure they connect with consumers with value propositions that are aligned with the times, neither rose-coloured nor clinging to the past. And among target audiences that may be segmented or divided on key issues, it will be important to engage a majority without alienating others.
Person looking at charts on a laptop
To help inform how marketers can evolve brand values and marketing strategy, a review of historical precedence, trending social media engagement, and public opinion survey data sheds light on some of the emerging changes in priorities and predict future consumer values and preferences.


Economy as the cause and unity as the outcome

History presents clues on how COVID-19’s impact on society might begin to affect longer-term priorities and values:

The first is that economic status has always played an influential role in shaping peoples’ priorities and outlook. Priorities, values and behaviours move in tandem with economic prospects, whether they are either heading up or heading down.

Financial prospects influence priorities and values
  • Economic change affected what people find important at the time.
  • Happiness and optimism moved in unison with economic development, democratization and social tolerance.

The second is that in challenging times, shifting priorities can lead to new communities of shared interest emerging as change agents. People have historically connected along new lines when united by new, common causes and challenges.

Changes in priorities led to new coalitions rising up
  • Major events (war, social strife, natural disasters, disease, like AIDS) have acted as unifying moments when new shared interests united groups at scale.

Fast-forwarding from the past to the current, the COVID-19 pandemic is schizophrenically creating economic collapse and growth at the same time. While service industries are shrinking others such as technology providers are accelerating, reflecting a reordering of the times’ priorities and needs. The dizzying ripple effects carry straight from economic policy through to people’s everyday livelihoods.

The resulting effect of these economic swings on people’s priorities and values can be observed from other vantage points, including public opinion and conversation as people express their concerns and form new communities of interest along new lines.


Balancing between the “we” and the “me”

The nature of online social conversation is evolving as people are now months into living with the coronavirus. While the pandemic triggered a near-immediate sense of shared interest and unity, people are also recognizing the need to also invest time and energy in oneself at the same time.

Interacting with a mobile phone
Protecting and investing in “me” is trending upward
  • Along with increased “in this together” sentiment generated by the pandemic, there is also increased social conversation and engagement around matters of self-care and mindfulness.
  • As new priorities are being identified, spending more time taking care of oneself physically, mentally and spiritually is coming to the foreground for many.

Because of the unpredictability of infection risk, people are continuously feeling a tension between what they want to do versus truly need to do. Priorities that wouldn’t have warranted a second-thought are now weighed against other important considerations and concerns.

Priorities are now continuously balanced between what people need to do versus want to do
  • The pandemic is being used as a moment to reflect and reset aspects of life with new priorities and refreshed purpose.
  • As examples, the pent-up demand for social connections and in-school education is now suddenly tensioned by continued need for safety and the protection of health.

The sense of collective spirit brought on by the pandemic has now carried into parallel social media conversation about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to end racial injustice and police brutality.

Uniting around social issues
  • Demands for greater racial equality and an end to racialized police brutality have merged with COVID-19 social media conversations.
  • Politics are driving the highest volumes of conversation – the pandemic generated a heightened sense of shared community which has now become further amplified by BLM protests.

True to historical precedence, social media engagement is reflecting a shift towards greater collective spirit and unity, and is also now providing new evidence of the need to maintain a sense of self at the same time.

While broader, shared issues are universally engaging people of diverse backgrounds and different profiles in social media, there are also notable differences in concerns and priorities between generations captured by survey data worthy of further examination.


Economic priorities are displacing health concerns

Survey data is revealing a knock-on effect of how priorities of health and access to health care are now being superseded by other financial priorities. At the pandemic’s outset, public concern over access to health care approximated levels of concern over economic wellbeing. However, now months later, there is a separation emerging whereby economic concerns are now by far the highest ranking “new priority” around the world.


Economic priorities now ranking higher than health concerns.

  • Consistent from Australia, to the UK, to the US, the economic downturn, caused by the social lockdowns and resultant businesses slowdowns, has resulted in economic concerns rising to be the top-most ranked position for citizens with approximately 75 – 80% of people expressing worry about economic conditions and prospects.

A sub-segment that is appearing more vulnerable to longer-term impacts from the pandemic are those in the 18-34 age group. While initially that may seem counter-intuitive as this age group has been observed to have significantly lower health risks arising from infection, they are nonetheless even more impacted by the economic ripple effects of the health crisis. Job security, employment status, and overall financial concerns are amplified for this age group in every monitored region around the world.

Man on couch with one hand on his forehead

Young adults are the most stressed and have the greatest concerns about job security, particularly in the U.S.

  • While the percentages may vary country by country, the pattern remains the same: those in the 18-34 age group are the most anxious and stressed by the pandemic.
  • Younger people are the most concerned about paying bills and job security, and with many employed by now-shuttered service-based businesses this impact will have a lasting effect.
  • Young American adults are also disproportionately concerned about their financial prospects versus any other country with over 50% of them expressing a high level of financial anxiety.
  • Different than all other countries, and despite what media coverage tends to depict of hard-partying youth flouting public health guidelines, those who are 18-34 in the US are also the most concerned age group about being sickened by the novel coronavirus.

At face value the COVID-19 health crisis may appear to be a wholly separate issue than the racial and social injustices being railed against by the BLM movement. However, research data indicates there is a connection between them. As waves of protest aim to reform racial, social and economic disparity and injustice, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on vulnerable minorities serves as stark evidence of the existing inequity.

As reported by the University of Oxford, morbidity rates tend to track with socioeconomic factors like poverty, race and ethnicity. Their research identified that Black and South Asian people face higher risks of death from COVID-19 than white patients, even after accounting for age, sex and medical health factors. In their study, experts agreed that ‘the causes of disparities, whether in COVID-19 or other aspects of health, are intricately linked to structural racism.’

Additionally, data from the CDC in the US that show Hispanic Americans in most communities are also significantly more likely to contract COVID-19 than non-Hispanic/Whites.

From the data captured in the longitudinal surveys, there are signs of how such amplified health risks are affecting the outlook of specific racial and ethnic segments of the population, notably those survey respondents who identify themselves as Black.

Blacks have higher concerns about contracting COVID-19 and for their personal economic wellbeing versus the general public average

Versus the national average, those who answered survey questions and identified themselves as Black are:

  • More likely to be concerned about contracting COVID-19 and not having access to health care support.
  • Twice as likely to be in despair and experiencing feelings of fear and anger but also more likely to currently have feelings of solidarity.
  • Less concerned about national and global economic outlooks but much more concerned about personal job security and the ability to pay bills.

When physical survival concerns become amplified by new financial priorities, values and preferences can’t help but change. Presumably some priorities may shift only in the short-term as negative conditions exist, but others will evolve for the long-term as peoples’ perspectives become refocused and take set. The challenge for business and marketers will be to maintain pace with those changes.


Understanding short-term changes from longer-term shifts

While the pandemic has generated newfound attention to basic values of financial security, personal health and family closeness, there is no consensus among the international CMOs surveyed as to how changes in priorities and values may ultimately play out in the short-term versus long-term. That said, most do believe consumers’ preferences are worth monitoring.

Some CMOs forecast only a short-term change in consumers’ priorities.

“After some time, and given the fact the recession will not be too hard, I think people will be the same consumers as they have been before.”

Other CMOs anticipate a return to long-term themes.

“The trend of creating experiences over buying stuff will accelerate.”

While CMOs are of mixed minds, they have two key recommendations on how to navigate the shifting sands of consumer preference:

Be a “good” business: Demonstrate genuine and measurable commitment to social-cause capitalism and responsibility; do not pay it lip service through superficial imagery, rather act in a way that legitimately aligns with social mores.

Deliver true value: Ensure brands deliver on consumers’ practical concerns and needs and not succumb to frivolous messaging or tactics that are easily seen-through.

COVID-19 is changing consumers. Are you changing with them?

To explore and apply further insights about post-Pandemic consumers for your sector, business, or brand, please contact:

Suresh Raj

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Dig Into Deeper Perspectives

Our global network has pulled together additional perspectives that help shine more light on the data analysis and trends we’re tracking along the recovery from the pandemic.

  • Analysis and points of view from Interviews with international CMOs.
  • Historical cues and other thoughts from renowned cultural anthropologist.
  • Changing trends and themes from social-channel listening around the globe.

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