As COVID-19 continues to transform our lives and businesses, new realities are emerging for brands and communicators. Trends in Two Minutes continues its ongoing coverage of the emergent trends of the pandemic and examines the new norms faced by markets throughout the Asia Pacific region – and how best to leverage each development.   

Trends in Two Minutes is a monthly bulletin of trends hitting businesses across
Asia-Pacific with a focus on marketing and communications. 
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The New Consumer Health & Fitness Priorities

When lockdown and quarantine procedures began to unfold over February and March, many markets saw a spike in panic-buying of goods. Four weeks after the initial outbreak, Singapore’s Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sales were still 40% above the norm, for example. However, a surprising non-FMCG product has also featured heavily in the pandemic purchasing habits of consumers around the world: exercise equipment.

In America, at-home exercise equipment sales grew by up to 625% in March. The trend has been matched by Asia Pacific consumers. With local retailers having sold out of most gym equipment, one Australian hardware and home improvement retailer even launchedtheir own line of fitness products to meet the spike in demand. It’s part of a larger focus on health and fitness that has emerged in the wake of COVID-19.

With social distancing and isolation measures keeping many consumers indoors, there’s an obvious need for products and services to help maintain exercise routines and physical fitness. But, it goes further than that. A recent survey found more than a quarter of Singapore consumers had bought health supplements for the first time in the past month – and more than 80% planned on buying the same products again in the next year.

Consumers have been increasingly prioritising health and fitness concerns in their choices for several years. A Weber Shandwick study in 2017, for example, found that one of the primary motivators for consumers to share or discuss brands was the apparent healthiness of their products. With the advent of COVID-19, these priorities and concerns have only grown more urgent and influential in consumer decision-making processes. 

As brands seek to connect with consumers in an uncertain environment, one of the most powerful tactics may be emphasising how their services and products can help drive fitness and health outcomes – whether that’s through representing a healthier dietary choice, a new exercise opportunity, or providing other health benefits. Increasingly, a brand’s health may rest on a consumer’s wellbeing.

Personalisation & The Sudden Ecommerce Shift

While many sectors have struggled to maintain profits in the wake of COVID-19, ecommerce brands have been forced to negotiate a rapid and significant influx of new customers. With brick-and-mortar retailers no longer accessible under lockdown, many consumers are turning to online sales – with more than 50% of consumers in markets like Vietnam, India, and even advanced ecommerce territories like China making the shift.  

It’s a shift that will have a profound impact on consumer expectations both in the immediate context and into the future. For example, even in the wake of previous epidemics (of much smaller scale), consumers were slower to re-embrace non-essential shopping when the threat receded. Research suggests, throughout the current pandemic and into its eventual recovery period, consumers will follow a similar pattern.

But, just as important as what will and will not be bought, the sudden transition to a more ecommerce-driven market in Asia Pacific territories is likely to substantially reshape expectations of how brands and retailers interact with their stakeholders. One of the hallmarks of ecommerce, for example, is more personalised experiences. As far back as 2018, more than 50% of online experiences were personalised to the end-user. 

And, with the greater sophistication and insights afforded by data analytics, personalisation is becoming progressively more specific and finessed. Over the past eighteen months, many ecommerce brands have begun to explore hyper-personalisation – with communications and, increasingly, products crafted for an audience of one. 2019, for example, saw the rise of individualised skincare products.

As the majority of Asia becomes rapidly accustomed to a more ecommerce-driven consumer experience, expectations regarding personalised brands and products will only continue to climb. To truly compete in the post-pandemic market, communicators may wish to examine how practices like digital-live integration, artificial intelligence or machine learning may help provide more personal and memorable experiences for stakeholders.

Employee Wellbeing, Brand Reputation & COVID-19

Many brands are already negotiating activism and backlash around their treatment of employees during COVID-19. As the pandemic continues to unfold, it’s expected businesses will be subject to greater scrutiny and consequences. In Australia, businesses forcing employees to work on site instead of from home during COVID-19 already risk being fined an average of AU$5,000 per documented breach.   

A recent Weber Shandwick industry survey found that more than 50% of business leaders viewed a brand’s treatment of employees as a crucial factor in shaping a company’s reputation. The same research found that, on average, company reputation accounts for nearly two-thirds of a brand’s market value

Taken in summation, such research underscores that employee wellbeing and relationships can have significant (and severe) consequences for brand reputation and market value. It’s a finding supported by previous studies, which found brands with fully aligned and supported employees were more likely to see tangible business returns in recruitment, retention, advocacy, and productivity

In the volatile era of COVID-19, such research takes on greater significance. Doubly so, given the contemporary consumer’s preference for supporting or punishing brands for their perceived ethical standards. A 2018 Weber Shandwick report found more than 80% of global consumers felt they had a responsibility to support brands who were doing the right thing, in terms of ethics – with younger generations proving particularly passionate.

For the greatest competitive advantage over their peers, businesses are advised to invest heavily in building, maintaining, and sustaining employer-employee relationships and workplace culture. In addition to helping foster brand resilience during the unpredictable straits of COVID-19, such investments are likely to help build reputational value and grow business outcomes in the long-term.

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