Just like everything else in our lives, COVID-19 has changed the way consumers feel about brand loyalty and brand affinity. Your “regulars” may not have been back to visit since March, or perhaps you have a new budding fan base among essential workers exploring new dining options while working through the pandemic.
Shifts in the way consumers view your brand are expected—over time. But this year was truly a roller coaster (and not the fun kind). Keeping up with these shifts in consumer perspective will help your business adapt and thrive along this ride that’s sure to continue into next year and beyond.
Our relationship with food changed during and after quarantine
In the first weeks of the pandemic, people struggled to find any sense of control amid chaos and isolation. One thing they could control? Food. Cooking and adopting specific diets helped offer a measure of control. Whether it was making sourdough bread or finally trying a keto diet, people turned to food for stability, community, and culture.
Looking for more insights on consumers’ changing relationship with food? Check out our Simply Smarter webinar recap with food author Eve Turow-Paul.
What does this mean for your chain brand? Consumers appreciate the power of food in a way they might have taken for granted before. Not being able to dine out or gather around the table with friends and family has highlighted just how important socializing is to the dining experience. These considerations have naturally influenced how diners feel about their favorite chains – both when they can only be accessed in limited ways, and again once they’re back to “normal”.
Dining habits have changed dramatically
Delivery will continue to be crucial in the months ahead. As of November, 44% of consumers are still “definitely avoiding” eating out because of the pandemic. These numbers will likely remain high as COVID rates rise and we head into the colder months. Chain brands will need to continue to show consumers that safety protocols are in place to keep customers and staff safe.
Don’t worry though, it’s not all mask mandates and sneeze guards! As mentioned above, people have redefined the special relationship they have with food. To take advantage, you can align your menu to new consumer preferences.
While comfort food took the spotlight at first when people were looking for solace and stability, foods that are harder to make at home have become a focus. People miss the dishes they can’t easily recreate for themselves, particularly global foods like sushi and pad thai. Knowing what your customers are craving can help you guide the menu toward meeting their current needs, rather than their pre-COVID (or even early-COVID) tastes.
Affinity (not awareness) is more important than ever
In an effort to win back customers, brands have been heavily focused on awareness, spending marketing dollars on traditional channels. It makes sense - plenty of other chain operators are doing the same thing, all focused on catching the customer’s attention and generating awareness.
But conventional marketing channels aren’t the most effective tools in a decidedly unconventional year. Instead, chain brands should be focused on growing affinity.
Brand affinity means that customers are not only aware of your brand, but that they identify with it. They are loyal to your brand and recommend it to their friends and family.
Remember: Just because someone is aware of your brand doesn’t mean they’re engaging with it!
Post-COVID, people are looking for mission-driven brands that help them navigate the current situation. They’re attracted to brands with clearly stated objectives and values - to provide comfort, offer a solution to a problem, or to combat current issues. From helping parents get dinner on the table after a day of virtual learning to reinvesting in local communities, there’s a huge opportunity for every chain operator to be a lifesaver, in more ways than one.
Maybe your brand already offers convenient family meals and donates to local charities. But do your customers have an affinity for your brand? How has that affinity changed since before COVID? It’s important to track brand affinity over time so you can create conversion opportunities at the right moment.
Elevate your brand with data
Building brand affinity doesn’t require investing in allllllll of the channels. Instead, it requires knowing how to build the right approach for different audience segments. Your approach for people who have never heard of you will be different from your approach with people who are signed up for your birthday rewards club. With the right data, you can build a customized approach to meet your audience at the right stage in their journey.
Ready to dive deep into insights on your brand? Explore Datassential’s BrandFingerprints.