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Knowing What You Don’t Know: Brands and Ethnic Consumers in a Post-COVID World

Knowing What You Don’t Know: Brands and Ethnic Consumers in a Post-COVID World

Consumer habits have changed drastically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many effects are likely to be permanent. Given the loss of income many people faced as a result of the lockdowns imposed by governments around the world, consumers are now more hesitant to spend their money on non-essential goods.

Saving has become the norm for many. With renewed outbreaks in many European countries and the lack of a readily available vaccine, the economic uncertainty will continue to loom in the horizon for the time being.

This reluctance to spend does not mean that people will stop buying altogether. In fact, the massive rise in revenue of online retailers such as Amazon, as well as on streaming platforms, shows that the potential to incentivise consumerism is still out there. Brands and agencies simply have to adapt.

But what happens when the ethnic factor is taken into consideration? How can companies target minority markets in the new normal? In this article, we will discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumer behaviour, as well as some tips for companies to flex their approaches.

Change will not come; it is already here

‘The new normal’ is a term embraced by some, but dreaded by others, and rightfully so. As demand for non-essential goods has decreased, the consumerism that had become a quintessential characteristic of Western society has slowed. How can brands and agencies cope with this?

There is still much uncertainty surrounding this question, but two things are clear: business models have to be restructured and new communication channels between companies and their consumers have to be established.

To begin with, stepping up their social media presence is a must for any brand. Back in March, when lockdowns were being imposed in most countries, internet usage was reported to have increased between 50% and 70% globally. So, what was already an essential tool for brands, has now become a lifeline.

This is where the next challenge appears: how can brands stand out in an even bigger sea of social media advertising? Well, creativity and willingness to take risks are certainly a good way to start, but empathy has been found to be the most necessary quality of new marketing strategies.

Humans are naturally social. But for some people, social distancing can be especially difficult, and it can even lead to negative consequences for mental health in some cases. Companies can play a constructive role in this by making their customers feel understood and cared for.

Although social media interactions are important, there are plenty of better ways to engage with customers more intimately. Think about online contests, vlogs, quizzes on a certain topic, or special offers. While this will generate a more humane and relatable image of your brand, it will also help the customer (and the wider audience, ideally) to learn more about what you have to offer and to develop a special bond that could cement their loyalty in a post-COVID world.

How does this apply to ethnic consumers?

Ethnic minorities have been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, the US, Canada and other European countries. But the case of Somali communities in the Nordic countries, especially Sweden and Norway, stands out.

Back in April, at the height of the pandemic in Europe, Norway had reported around 6,000 cases. But with 425 cases, Somalis, who account for less than 1% of the population, represented 6% of total confirmed cases. The situation was equally worrying in neighbouring Sweden, where 5% of all COVID-19 patients were Somali.

The case of ethnic minorities in the UK during COVID is also alarming; although they account for just 14% of the population, one in three people in intensive care beds belonged to an ethnic minority; especially South Asians. Moreover, communities that were already feeling vulnerable prior to the pandemic, are now claiming that the government did not do much to protect them.

This is when the aforementioned empathy in marketing strategies comes into play. Minorities need to feel understood, but most importantly seen.

So when drafting a campaign that targets minority markets, more than doing research on how to be culturally sensitive and relatable, agencies should dig deep into how the COVID-19 virus affected the community they aim to engage. It is vital to find out what their needs are, whether their priorities have shifted, and how the consumer behaviour of the specific group has changed. Find out what you don’t know.

Are Indians now more likely to shop online? Will South Asians have a similar path to purchase or will they be more conservative with their money? Are minorities now more interested in being able to buy products from their local areas as a result of being nervous to travel? If ethnic consumers are to be targeted, marketers must update their knowledge of their thoughts, feelings and buying habits.

Be one step ahead!

At this point, life without COVID-19 seems like a distant memory. And with every day that passes, the effects of the uncertainty brought by the pandemic cement their place in our lives further. Whether all of this will be permanent is something that only time will tell but, in this current ‘new normal’, brands should be carrying out first-hand renewed research or gaining new data from leading multicultural-focused agencies.

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