This article was originally posted on Forbes.
Consumer behaviors have dramatically shifted as a result of the coronavirus. More than ever, I’m finding that people strongly desire brands and experiences that provide safety, control or emotional release. For marketers, this is important to consider. Keeping consumers’ feelings top of mind and being sensitive to their needs is essential when creating a marketing strategy during times of uncertainty.
As the founder of a behavioral research and design consultancy, I believe incorporating behavioral psychology into your approach can help with your goal to be sensitive to and support consumers during challenging times.
To get started, you’ll need to modify your communications to deliver on three subconscious mindstates. For those new to this concept, “mindstates,” a term I coined in one of my books, are activated in temporary moments of high emotional arousal. In these moments, we use nonconscious emotional processing for purchasing decisions and behaviors. Identifying your customer’s mindstate can help engage with them at a deep emotional level.
Given today’s difficult times, there are three mindstates that brands can consider prioritizing as they adjust their messaging: cautious empowerment, cautious security and optimistic engagement. Here’s how to do that:
Start with the higher-order goals.
We’re going to focus on two of the four components of a mindstate: goals (specifically emotional, higher-order goals) and motivations (what’s propelling people to go after their goal).
My company’s research shows that higher-order goals are shifting quickly. Facing so much uncertainty, people increasingly desire to control their environment and, in a larger sense, their destiny. To me, seeking control in a world that feels out of control makes sense.
People are also seeking refuge. In this time of social distancing, that refuge for most people is their home. Activities that once took place elsewhere — such as dining out together, worshipping, educating children and enjoying sporting events — are now taking place at home, so feeling that sense of security in their place of refuge has become even more important.
Finally, as people isolate themselves in their homes, where they feel most protected, they’re looking to relax and unwind from all the anxiety that our world is producing.
Look at the motivation behind the goal.
Now that you understand some key higher-order goals in our society, let’s talk about motivation. Given the conditions of today’s world, companies can ensure they’re providing support to consumers by aligning with one of three distinct motivations: empowerment, security and engagement. This way, you can help customers reach their goals. Let’s look at each one in more detail:
- Empowerment is the desire to feel authorized and equipped to act. When people seek greater control over their environment (and their destiny), it’s because they want to feel empowered.
- Security is the desire to feel safe and protected from a threat. Today, people want to protect themselves and those around them, so they’re seeking greater refuge and wanting to stay in the home. These desires are motivated by security and wanting to feel safe.
- Engagement refers to people’s desires to feel captivated, excited and absorbed in an activity. This isn’t about creating experiences to elevate their mood, but rather finding experiences that lower tension and allow for relaxation. If only for a moment, people want to isolate themselves from what’s happening in the world. Moments of escape are increasingly important.
How To Connect With Your Customers
Your first step as a brand is to identify which mindstate most relates to your industry or customers. Then, you want to tweak your messaging to connect with that mindstate. Here are some examples:
- Cautious empowerment: If you desire to lean in on empowerment, reassure customers that you are focused on building strong capabilities and designing systems to help them avoid unnecessary variability or surprises common in your industry. Highlight your tried-and-true solutions with concrete reasons and examples of how your solution helps them take command of their options to avoid risk.
Try to maintain a set schedule with no surprises. Give customers extra notice when things might change. At the same time, offer customers the right number of options. When people have options, they feel in control. Offer more than two, but no more than five. One option is a mandate, two is a decision, but three is a real choice. More than five is choice overload.
- Cautious security: If security is what your customers value most, reassure them that you are focused on investing time and effort to help them avoid risks common to their industry.
Reassure customers that you are working with others in the industry to limit any negative impacts on them and their families. Provide comfort by showing your company is helping protect others. You can also reassure your customers that your company is open to providing its expertise and guidance when needed.
Be transparent with your audience by sending letters to them explaining what your business is doing to adapt to times of uncertainty. For example, explain whether leaders in your organization are personally overseeing activities and how your business is working with national, state and local officials.
- Optimistic engagement: If your brand can help consumers unwind at home, explain that to them. Offer suggestions for how your audience can de-stress and feel fully engrossed in their homes.
If your brand can begin marketing to these three mindstates, you can begin creating a stronger emotional connection with customers. Why? Because you’re speaking to the heart of how people are feeling at this moment — anxious and uncertain — and providing them with the kind of relief they’re seeking.
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