Marketers are underestimating the signs of customer behavior.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the frailties of behavioral science and, shown marketers are underestimating the significance of signs when it comes to understanding customer behavior.

Marketers are “underestimating” the significance of the signs that offer an insight into customer behavior because they are failing to observe them.

Marketers should rely less on science and pay greater attention to the clues that show how customer behavior is evolving.

We have to question whether marketers are right to use the word ‘science’ when discussing human behavior, suggesting that behavioral science is something of an oxymoron.

In marketing, as in medicine, observing the signs is just the starting point and requires sophisticated, structured analysis to understand what it says about customers, as well as what it means for your brand.

Marketers tend to overestimate the power of nudge theory. It is time to try to nudge people and be more alert and responsive to consumers who are nudging us.

When a call drops off a queue that’s a nudge to improve response time. When a consumer picks up a jumper, feels it, and puts it down again, that’s a nudge to improve quality. When a consumer hides your pack, it’s a nudge about your packaging and even your brand’s meaning.

If a consumer trend had emerged before the pandemic and has been given a “Covid impetus”, then the likelihood of behavior change is both “large and lasting”.

One such trend is the shift to localism. Back in 2012, an analysis by Millward Brown found customer preference was higher for national brands than international alternatives.

I can also cite research from Kantar that found the pandemic has driven a surge of support for local produce, with 65% of consumers globally saying they prefer goods and services from their own country.

Localism poses a significant challenge.

The clue for global brands to meet local challenges is back in that Millward Brown data. If you get under the bonnet of branding, the metric is made up of three components — salience, meaning, and difference.

Local brands are easily going to win on salience and meaning, but global brands can fight back on differences driven by innovation. In China, it was the only reason global brands had any traction at all. It’s an asymmetrical challenge, you can’t meet it on the same terms, but you can fight it with something you’re good at.

There is an urgency for global marketers to do everything in their power to differentiate their brand through innovation on the product, service, customer experience, packaging, the business model, and delivery mechanism.

Another emerging trend is being driven by the rise of the Zoom call. Thanks to a new way of working, people are more interested in their homes and improving them because they spend so much more time in them and show the interior to their colleagues.

While home improvement moving into the mass mainstream is a win for some companies, there is a wider opportunity for brands to up their game on the packaging, as consumers could well gravitate towards products that look good in their homes.

The final trend to discussed in this article is customer neglect under the cover of Covid-19, as staff blames a poor customer experience on the pandemic.

This could be a simple sign of a simple issue, with a really simple solution. It’s about poor employee brand engagement, sub-standard service, bad customer experience and it needs to be fixed.

There could also be something else going on.

Could it be a sign of a deeper malaise with a much more disastrous consumer effect? Could it be a sign of serious employee discontent resulting from the management response?

With mass unemployment on the horizon and a “buyer’s market for talent”, now is the right time to reinvigorate your employer brand. With increasing numbers of people going through redundancy, how they feel about brand matters.

Maybe it’s time to think about the ‘unemployer brand’ and how your brand reacts when all those lovely values we use to bring in people need to be respected as we say goodbye, with kindness and generosity at the core.




Entrepreneur and graphic designer. Owner of DeCast Design. MS in Human Rights. World Citizen and freelance writer. Madrid based.

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Manuel Castañeda

Manuel Castañeda

Entrepreneur and graphic designer. Owner of DeCast Design. MS in Human Rights. World Citizen and freelance writer. Madrid based.

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