From the ‘COVID tango’ to ‘hyper-local’: lasting behaviours in a post-COVID world
Human behaviour is rapidly adapting in order to survive the global pandemic. Stewart Gurney examines which new behaviours will last in a post-COVID world and how businesses can better understand people and connect with future consumers.

When people are highly motivated, you can get them to do hard things. This is one of the core principles behind the much cited ‘Fogg Behaviour Change’ model, which looks at the relationship between motivation, ability and triggers in modifying our habits and behaviours. 

The last couple of months have not only been unprecedented, but have forced us to find new and inventive ways to go about our day-to-day lives. We are striving to make the most of our situation and trying our best to maintain a level of normality. 

In other words, we are highly motivated. 

Whether that is celebrating milestone birthdays via video conferencing or creating new makeshift workstations on kitchen tables or chests of drawers, we go to these extremes of effort or inventiveness because we are motivated to do so. Even if some of these things seem difficult (in other words, beyond our level of ability) our desire to solve these problems and ‘make the most of it’ drives us forward.

Necessity (or in other words ‘triggers’) magnified by increased levels of motivation, creates some notable changes in our behaviour. We are currently in a pressure cooker for behaviour change. While some of these behaviours are temporary, and will inevitably change once restrictions are lifted, some behaviours will have significant repercussions for how we interact and engage in the future. 

Things like repetition of behaviours (continued use of Zoom calls in multiple contexts), how simple these behaviours are to do (getting familiar with Zoom functionality), alongside perceived benefit (realising that your Zoom calls are actually ‘better’ in some circumstances), will turn these short-term behaviours into something more lasting.  

As these new behaviours begin to emerge and transition into longer-term habits, brands and companies should be paying close attention to their evolution. Now is the perfect time to identify the opportunities and implications these behaviours may have on different products and services. 

There are some very obvious changes that we will see post lockdown – working from home dynamics are definitely set to change, as will our use of video conferencing in place of more non-essential catch ups. However, if you look a bit closer there are few more behaviours that I think could have interesting implications and opportunities for a post-COVID world. 

Here are four of some of the more unusual changes in our behaviour, which are definitely ones to watch:

1) Social Dis-Dancing 

Otherwise known as the ‘COVID tango’. We’ve all done it over the last few months. We clock a stranger walking towards us on the street, as we prepare to pass them we suddenly question whether or not we have given them/ourselves enough ‘space’ so both parties do a subtle side step shuffle to tokenistically increase the distance between us as we pass.

We are way more aware of our personal space than ever before and will take physical steps to maximise it. This new behaviour (or perhaps an amplification of a previous social behaviour) will likely continue for a long time to come. What seems like a simple behaviour could actually be quite far reaching, as we demand a greater amount of ‘personal space’. Retailers will have to have bigger aisles (anyone who has had to shop in at a Chemist Warehouse will see this behaviour in action), organised mass events will have strive to make people feel more comfortable, even sitting next to someone in the cinema or at a show may never be socially accepted again. Brands and companies that acknowledge and facilitate these new behaviours and desires will undoubtedly succeed with consumers. 

2) Shopping hyper-local 

From breweries and restaurants to book shops and bakeries, more than ever before we are outwardly supporting our local businesses with our wallets in any ways we can. Whether it’s getting a premium takeaway from a top tier restaurant or buying a pre-mixed cocktail from your favourite bar, we are more willing than ever before to keep the local businesses we love alive. This support is typically highly localised, limited to familiar small businesses on your street or in your suburb. Unlike the trend towards ‘local’ that we’ve seen manifest in recent years through campaigns like American Express Shop Small, this is about really supporting the little guy. These are character businesses that really define a local area, and are typically only familiar to local residents or a few loyal customers. As these local favourites continue to do it tough for months to come, expect support to become a ‘community badge of honour’ at the expense of the big faceless corporations. Brands and services that support and facilitate this type of hyper local consumerism will also begin to emerge, such as Love Local. This restaurant delivery service is solely for restaurants within the Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay suburbs of Sydney, and takes significantly less commission for delivery than services like UberEats and Menulog.

3) Normalising non-touching

Our hands are not only the primary mediator between our environment and ourselves, they define us as human. In the current COVID world our hands and the action of touch have been demonised. Pressing the lift button, shaking hands, holding a handrail, pushing open a door, these previously innocuous behaviours now instil a sense of dread. Instead, we might compensate with additional body parts (hip, elbow or bum), a utensil (key, mobile phone) or rely on new types of automation (road crossings around Sydney).  This desire and motivation to not use our hands is perfect for all types of automation and voice-first devices.

Devices such as Google Nest and Amazon Echo are primed to be integrated into increasingly more devices and provide non-touch utility for those COVID contentious consumers. We are already seeing such innovations in China with the invention of voice-activated elevators and voice accessible medical records.

Companies should be thinking about how they can facilitate a non-touch consumer journey or path to purchase for customers. From simple things like adding foot handles to shop doors, like StepnPull, prioritising contactless payment services or contact free delivery, expect the desire and behaviours around ‘non-touch’ to increase and perpetuate. 

4) Cycling resurgence

According to Google, trend searches relating to cycling have doubled in Australia over the last month. People are getting on their bikes more than ever before as a convenient way to avoid public transport, but to also get some socially distant exercise. While cycling is nothing new, we are definitely seeing resurgence in recent months as families and individuals fall back in love with their bikes. I think this new trend is here to stay for the medium to long term. Brands and companies that can help people get the most out of their bikes, from facilitating maintenance and education (such as Skoda), to providing interesting and safe cycle routes for people to enjoy, will win greater affinity with consumers. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are many more emerging behaviours starting to take shape around us. While they might not seem revolutionary, it’s imperative that brands and companies don’t get too preoccupied with the short term and continue to invest in understanding people and behaviours. These are unprecedented times, and they are creating some fascinating behaviours, which create huge opportunities for brands to connect with consumers in a post-COVID world.

Stewart Gurney is a freelance strategist and communications consultant.

Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash.