Iso insights

Understanding changing consumer behaviour during COVID.

No one could have predicted just how challenging 2020 was going to be. Extended periods of home isolation have dramatically altered consumer behaviour. These short- and long-term behavioural changes are proving particularly demanding for small-business owners, many of whom have needed to adjust their marketing messages or recreate their business model.

As a marketing strategist and researcher, I felt compelled to understand how these extended periods of home isolation were impacting the behaviour of mothers, the most powerful and influential consumer group in the country. Throughout May and into June I surveyed more than 1350 mothers across Australia to elicit their views relating to the following seven key areas: major worries, stress levels, self-care, remote learning, telehealth, children’s activities and shopping behaviours. As the collective buying power of mothers is in the vicinity of $132 billion each year in Australia, I wanted to be able to provide brands and small-business owners insights into these behavioural changes to help them update their strategies and messaging.

So, what were the key findings?

Mums embraced the slow down

Firstly, it became immediately apparent that mothers embraced the slow down. They relished the slower mornings, time with the family and relief from being the “taxi driver”. Working mothers enjoyed the absence of the daily commute which saved them valuable time, their most prized asset. Many mothers claimed to be “ditching the bra and make up” and using the extra time to get back to basics such as home baking and getting the house back in order, without all the usual distractions.

“Mothers used the iso slow-down to critically re-evaluate their lives.”

Some media have predicted a COVID baby boom as a result of all the extra time saved by couples. Our #ISOMums research findings suggest that these predictions are highly unlikely, with the research revealing that mothers were three times more likely to be reading than using this time to create our next generation!

Deep thinking

Mothers used the iso slow-down to critically re-evaluate their lives. What was working, what wasn’t. They invested their time to dream new possibilities for their families and set new goals. Work from home opened up new lifestyle opportunities for families and I would not be surprised to see families look to move regionally or to more affordable homes in the outer suburbs that they might not have considered before. They have seen how effective work from home can be and the housing affordability, coupled with a more relaxed lifestyle, is of great appeal – particularly to younger millennial couples with preschool children.

Affordability dictates everything

Affordability and family finances emerged as key theme of our #ISOMums study. The number one thing keeping mums awake at night throughout iso was whether their partner was going to remain in employment. This led them to review their budgets and look for ways to save more money, such as reducing takeaway meals and cooking from scratch. The lack of certainty has led couples to build their “war chests” to be prepared for tough times ahead.

I anticipate that the concern over finances will continue for the remainder of this year and well into next as parents watch cautiously how the economy performs. Payment plans and the demonstration of value for money should be key focuses for all businesses wishing to appeal to mothers and their families.

Increased stress levels

Respondents reported that stress levels were very high as women looked to support their children with remote learning as well as put in a full day of working from home. It resulted in some long hours, and highly stressful moments for many parents. Despite media reports claiming many women had significantly increased their alcohol consumption to deal with the increased stress levels and boredom, the study reported only 6 per cent of mothers had increased their drinking.

Stress levels were heavily impacted by mothers’ remote learning experiences. Mothers had very different experiences; 18 per cent of mothers actually liked it and 3 per cent would actually consider doing home schooling longer term. At the other end of the spectrum, 17 per cent described the experience as “torture”. This highlights the diverse experience of the 6.2 million mothers around the country.

New approach to self-care

Having actively researched mothers’ behaviours for the past five years, I have seen that mothers traditionally put their family members’ needs above their own. COVID has changed these behaviours and we have seen a profound shift in mothers’ self-care. I was pleasantly surprised to see that 75 per cent of mothers were proactively addressing their increased stress levels by engaging in self-care with the top four activities being (1) getting more sleep, (2) catching up with friends and family virtually, (3) increasing their exercise and (4) reading more. Home isolation has seen mothers place their own health as a top priority, with many stating that they would never take it for granted again. This opens considerable opportunities for businesses in the health and wellness space targeting women.

Sustainability and minimalism

Sustainability and minimalism are two trends I have been talking about for some years and I have definitely seen this accelerate through home isolation. A less-is-more approach has been adopted with some mothers seeking out greater self-sufficiency. The #ISOMums study revealed that women used home isolation to go through their wardrobes and give away what they no longer needed. They invested in chooks, planted some vegies and started baking in their droves. Home isolation saw them become increasingly aware of product country of origin, quality of fabrics and saw them actively supporting brands which show a strong commitment to sustainability. Business owners and brands really need to be aware of this trend, look at their supply chain and be very conscious of both in new product development.

Lacking connection

Perhaps the greatest struggle for mothers throughout home isolation was the lack of connection. Mothers missed their “village” with many sharing that they felt that their young children were missing out on the influence of other key family members and friends. Despite their proactive self-care efforts, they yearned for connection with their family, friends and wider community. This presents an opportunity to small businesses to look to facilitate the reconnection of their local communities.

What does it all mean for business owners?

Home isolation has resulted in some deep reflection with families re-evaluating their lives and setting new, longer-term goals. It has permanently changed their attitudes and behaviours. The #ISOMums report demonstrates why it is so critical for brands in updating their messaging and strategies to ensure they stay relevant to mothers.

Marketing strategy must be reviewed and tweaked to accommodate these changes in attitudes and behaviours. Businesses should be looking to review their positioning, pricing strategies and customer experience. Expectations are high. Mothers are now even more conscious of their time and they have a strong desire to not be as busy as restrictions are eased. Time-saving hacks and improvements will be very well received. Business owners must demonstrate value given the greater focus on cash flow and the level of uncertainty in the economy.

Brand messaging should also be reviewed and adjusted. Mothers have strong COVID fatigue. They are actively seeking out brands which entertain them. Fun and playful communications which acknowledge how they feel (or felt) about home isolation can work very well in cutting through the heavy, serious messaging mothers are receiving.

While COVID has been incredibly challenging, the changing behaviour of this powerful consumer group opens up many opportunities for astute small-business owners who are willing to rethink the way they market to mothers.

Katrina McCarter, founder and CEO, Marketing to Mums

This story first appeared in issue 30 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine