One month into the COVID-19 lockdown, I started my role as SEO (Search Engine Optimizer) at the toy company, Jazwares, based out of Sunrise, FL. Without knowing it, the world as I had known it had erratically changed. At the company that owns various IPs and manages other licenses, with a total of about 34 brands (and counting), ranging from Micro Machines and Cabbage Patch Kids to Squishmallows and BlackPink collectibles, I had my work cut out for me when starting to contribute to a digital strategy based on keywords and consumer trends. Almost blindly, I dove into an altered – and even amplified – digital world that was being changed by transformative consumer behavior. 

In the blink of an eye, an entire year passed and now we can look back with the benefit of having not only survived it, but thrived in it, and ascertain how consumer behavior changed. Moreover, it is vital to recognize which of those key takeaways is going to last post-pandemic, despite the fact that, well, the world is not quite and will most likely never be what it used to be.

According to “Digital Consumer Trends Index 2021,” global consumer attitudes have changed significantly. This is important to recognize within the realm of consumer behavior because consumer research involves understanding the three main categories of consumer responses:

  • Consumer Feelings
  • Consumer Thoughts
  • Consumer Actions

These will give us insights into the sets of decisions that consumers make about the acquisition and disposition of products, services, and the like. 

When the world was in quarantine and brick and mortar stores were unavailable to shoppers, people had to turn to eCommerce shopping to meet their needs and wants. While digital natives felt comfortable with the shift, others did not. People who would traditionally prefer shopping for groceries and other types of goods in person had to turn to their computers to get the job done. When this happened, expectations from brands and companies changed and with it, a whole new type of consumer emerged.

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Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

Key Takeaway #1: Privacy, Please

“The majority of consumers want to receive

personalized content and offers from trusted

brands and will readily share personal and

preference data for it. However, this is from

data they have proactively shared with the

brand, they do not feel comfortable with

cookie-fueled ads or location tracking — they

see this as creepy marketing.”

Source: Digital Consumer Trends Index 2021

This first key takeaway stems directly from this new mix of consumers completing their shopping online. 

Those who were considered “traditional,” non-digital shoppers demanded a similar type of personalized experience they would get from face-to-face shopping, i.e. asking a store clerk for assistance in finding an item, asking for more information about a product, etc. 

This type of personalized shopping experience in the digital world comes largely when companies use cookie tracking, location-tracking, and the like to learn more about the behavior of their customers and potential customers. But, this will no longer cut it in a world where consumers have grown largely suspicious of third-party data. With Google in the process of phasing out third-party cookies in their Chrome web browser, the tech giant has proposed new technology that is “less invasive and annoying than tracking cookies have become.”

Image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Key Takeaway #2: Loyalty Programs, Please

“Consumers are loyal by nature, with

2/3 prepared to pay more or wait longer

to purchase from a preferred brand. We have

seen a decrease in consumers expecting a

discount in return for their loyalty with exclusive

access, personalized product recommendations,

brand recognition, and community growing

drivers of consumer loyalty.”

Source: Digital Consumer Trends Index 2021

Similarly, privacy also became a concern for the digital native. It was just as much of a differentiator as price, product, and other factors. They also have a rising need for loyalty programs. Per the report, “the core of loyalty is not merely the cheapest price point, but a brand that can foster community, recognizes the customer as an individual, and delivers content and product recommendations that reflect this.” 

This is not about getting a bigger bang for the buck. In the context of the social movements referenced in the next section, it’s about feeling that brands and companies are like people and that they care about you. One way to show that they care is by rewarding you for your loyalty. While it isn’t easy to build brand loyalty, companies that become increasingly customer-centric have a higher chance of reaching this holy grail of customers, than those who don’t, and the next key takeaway will show us how and why this happens.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

Key Takeaway #3: Ethics First, Please

“Consumers are becoming more conscientious,

whether it is selecting brands because of their

approach to sustainability, or their stance

around advertising on platforms that don’t

do enough to curb harmful content. 58% of

consumers have switched brands for ethical

reasons — marketers need to heed the rising

expectations of the ethical consumer.”

Source: Digital Consumer Trends Index 2021

A classic example of the above is TOMS. TOMS, a slip-on shoe company, created an emotional connection with consumers from inception. The company was built on the premise that if you buy a pair of shoes, a pair of shoes would be donated to a child in need. Their slogan, “One for One,” encompasses this. Social good is one of the unique value propositions the company offers.

 According to the report, the numbers speak for themselves:

  • 58% of consumers have rejected a brand because of its environmental, corporate, or political values
  • 39% of consumers are more concerned about the environmental impact of brands they consume

What does this mean for companies? It means that in a world where competition is high, those brands and companies that are perceived as caring and do-gooders matter more to the consumer. There have been several social movements that have contributed to this, like the Me Too movement and Black Lives Matter, to name a few. Brand equity is often created through positive experiences with the customer. Factors like sustainability and environmentalism and taking a stance on social justice matters, create positive experiences with consumers.

These new trends in consumer behavior inform my task of SEO at Jazwares, especially when working on content marketing. I need to know what type of content will resonate with consumers, and this needs to come from a place of authenticity and realness. Paid search is not the end-all, be-all of reaching leads and customers. Personalization through one-on-one interactions through earned media is the way the industry is headed to collect first-party and zero-party data, ie data that the customer willingly gives out to the company in question. And as mentioned above, when companies become customer-centric and provide real value to the consumer, good things can happen.