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What Do Millennials and Gen Z’s Want from Brands During the Covid Crisis?

American consumers are keenly aware of how brands are handling the coronavirus crisis. In response, marketers are endeavoring to provide meaningful solutions while releasing messaging that’s both accurate and compassionate. A new study from Dentsu Aegis is now making an even greater effort to understand consumers’ needs and help marketers navigate the shifting landscape. Because reactions to life-changing events often follow an established pattern, Dentsu Aegis created a set of “Social Response” phases based on the five stages of grief. “What we really wanted to do is to look at COVID through the lens of consumers’ need states, because that’s kind of a gap that we had seen,” Joanna Hawkes, vp of integrated strategy at Dentsu Aegis said in an interview with Adweek. “What are they experiencing as this crisis unfolds? What are their unmet needs?”

Participants in the study, who range in age from 18 to 64, responded to key questions relating to each phase. Those replies reveal valuable insight into consumers’ mental and emotional states and offer guidance for brands on tailoring their communications accordingly. Moreover, the study highlights key differences between generations regarding their expectations from brands during the pandemic. Most importantly for marketers, it’s millennial and Generation Z consumers who are paying more attention than ever to how brands are responding. Here’s a look at findings from the first three stages captured in the study.

Stage One: Initial Shock
As the outbreak hit, most people felt uncertainty, confusion and fear regarding the impacts Covid-19 might make on their daily lives. Currently, 34 percent of baby boomers feel it’s unsafe to leave their homes, as compared to 20 percent of millennials and Gen Z respondents. Brands can react by lending support, informing consumers and connecting with them on emotional levels. Younger generations initially worried more about life events being disrupted, along with their mental health. Baby boomers, meanwhile, were most concerned about getting physically sick themselves, plus potential economic impacts. Progression through the phases shows that while 60 percent of respondents were “extremely concerned” at the start, that number dropped to 30 percent by entry to phase two.

Stage Two: Coming to Grips
With passing time, people began modifying their daily routines. Phase Two of the Dentsu Aegis Social Response stages is marked by moments of frustration and anxiety, yet those are tempered overall by focus placed on areas that individuals can control. Brands are expected to respond by first acknowledging the crisis, then uplifting consumers via reassuring communications. Overall, the study determined that consumers now want less distraction and more concrete action from the brands they trust. That varied from the first wave of response, which clearly identified millennials and Gen Z members as craving diversion in advertising. Currently, the appetite for concrete coronavirus-response ads has increased. Brands that exceed consumers’ expectations do so by assuming leadership positions and participating in donation efforts. Those issues are important to younger demographics. Roughly 56 percent of millennials and Gen Zers are paying increased attention to how brands are now acting, compared to 37 percent of baby boomers. Further, while boomers want to see brands supporting frontline workers and suffering populations, they tend to be more passive in their own personal responses to the crisis. Younger generations, however, feel compelled to actively participate in relief programs—and want guidance from brands on ways to get involved.

Stage Three: Living a New Normal
By phase three, routines are starting to feel familiar. As the outbreak evolves, respondents find themselves settling into new states of normal. Brands can lead and uplift, enhancing consumers’ lives by providing novel experiences that matter more than ever. Whereas friends or family catching the coronavirus was the number one concern for 52 percent of responders during the first week of April, by the second week that primary concern had shifted to the economy for 48 percent of study participants. Dentsu Aegis found that since March spending patterns have generally remained the same. Consumers are exhibiting greater caution when it comes to money allocation, prioritizing essentials including groceries, household necessities, personal-care items and in-home entertainment. Such insight can prove valuable for marketers. While stages four and five have yet to be examined, here’s perhaps the best news: Across age groups, consumers seem genuinely pleased with the responses they’re seeing from brands overall.