Pandemic policy: How consumers engage with marketing differently

EXCLUSIVE: A strong majority of consumers globally – 76% – agree that brands should adapt their messages and promotions to the current pandemic reality.

A strong majority of consumers globally – 76% – agree that brands should adapt their messages and promotions to the current pandemic reality. Retailing Africa received an exclusive preview of the latest Salesforce State of Marketing global report on changed consumer behaviour under lockdown.

The recent State of Marketing report reveals how marketers’ pre-pandemic priorities and investments laid the foundation for the empathetic, digital-first engagement our current environment demands. Yet ongoing crises mean standards of engagement are shifting constantly. Asking customers directly about which tactics, channels, and messages resonate as they adapt to change— along with the values they expect brands to demonstrate — provides valuable insight to marketers.

Salesforce Research is surveying the general population to learn how consumers and the workforce are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic every two weeks. These are the key takeaways from its most recent survey of consumers, globally, in July. Earlier, in June, in its South African survey, Salesforce reported that South African marketers expected new regulations governing data privacy to have the biggest impact over the next decade. Based on data collected from some 7 000 marketers across six continents, key trends highlighted include that innovation is marketers’ top priority, AI use has skyrocketed, account-based marketing has rapidly become a cornerstone in B2B, and emerging technologies, like 5G, augmented reality and virtual reality, are expected to have a major impact in the next decade. These trends were also reflected in the South African data. According to the report, South African marketers said their greatest challenges were unifying customer data sources; followed by the need to balance personalisation with customer comfort levels, and innovating (which is both a top priority and challenge).

Millennials crave personalised offers

Discounts are of interest to a consumer base whose economic outlooks are uncertain, with such content preferred over information about loyalty programs and new products. As a whole, consumers prefer tailored offers and recommendations based on their unique needs and circumstances over those broadcast to a wider audience — particularly among millennials, who now constitute the largest generation in key markets. Gen Z consumers, who came of age amid heightened attention to improper use of personal data, differ from their elders in their preference for brand-wide or product-specific discounts.

Differences in content preferences vary across geographies as well, with consumers in Brazil, France, and the UK, particularly fond of personalised offers; and those in Australia and Germany, most interested in brand-wide sales.

Social media and thought leadership grab consumer interest

With consumers spending more time in front of their devices, increased interest in digital channels and content is to be expected. Yet this interest is not evenly distributed across various media. Social media is the clear winner of consumer attention, with 65% of consumers indicating interest. Other channels with notable interest include video content (such as webinars and on-demand sources like YouTube) and virtual experiences (like digital stores). On the other side of the spectrum, blogs and podcasts are less popular, with fewer than half of respondents claiming interest.

Across the board, younger generations are more interested in brand content regardless of the medium. Indeed, another wave of our survey found that Gen Z consumers place particular importance on the availability of a variety of channels. Conversely, brands seeking to reach baby boomers have an uphill battle but are most likely to pique their interests over social media. Regardless of the channel, brands have an opportunity to showcase their thought leadership credentials as consumers navigate uncharted territory: 60% of consumers are interested in instructional digital content from brands, such as a PDF or web page that provides tips and guidance on matters they care about.

Interest in a given channel doesn’t necessarily indicate effectiveness. In the case of social media, however, the interest and effectiveness go hand in hand:

  • 54% of consumers say they notice brand content on social media always or frequently — a higher figure than any other channel.
  • Email marketing is also particularly visible — 53% of consumers say they notice it always or frequently.
  • TV advertising, which has seen sluggish investment in recent years as media consumption habits changed — may warrant a renaissance given our increased time spent at home. 53% of consumers say they notice TV ads always or frequently.

The most noticed content channels vary significantly across countries. Though social media claims the top spot in four of the six markets surveyed, TV ads are the most noticed channel in Australia and the UK. Digital video channels such as YouTube and Prime Video get more attention from consumers in Brazil and the UK than elsewhere, and display ads perform particularly well in Brazil and France.

Brands face perplexing messaging expectations as the pandemic persists

Knowing when, where, and how to convey messages — let alone what those messages should be in the first place — is challenging in normal times, and even more so now. Customer expectations for messaging and promotions aren’t making it any easier:

  • 59% of consumers believe the cadence of messages should be decreased.
  • 58% say the variety of those messages should be increased.
  • Nearly three-quarters, 73%, believe messages should focus on products rather than brand messages.

Regardless of their opinions on cadence, variety, and content, a strong majority of consumers agree that our current environment warrants anything but business-as-usual: 76% of consumers say brands should adapt their messages and promotions to changing circumstances; versus just 24% who believe brands should revert to previous practices.

Consumers put workers’ interests over their own

Despite their focus on discounts and offers, the majority of consumers are willing to forego deals if it means their fellow citizens retain their jobs: with 58% of consumers saying brands should reduce customer discounts in order to retain staff.


*Data was gathered for this global State of the Marketing report from Salesforce, in early July 2020. Salesforce conducted a double-blind survey of adults in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, and Australia. Data is weighted to accurately represent the general population. Salesforce is a global leader in Customer Relationship Management (CRM).


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