Impact of coronavirus on consumer expectations of brands

Young girl with a laptop

It is far too early to fully grasp the new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the disease has spread from China to Europe to North America, decisions are being made on a day-to-day basis that affect how we live, work, and consume. No one is immune to these changes, and as a business it’s imperative to follow the emerging behavioural trends so you can adapt your strategies to align with new audience needs in the digital space.

As governments increase social distancing in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, digital services have been thrown into the spotlight both out of necessity and convenience. Verizon Media looked at what motivates consumers to go online, and we’ve identified the key drivers through our Content Moments Study. 

We discovered two motivations in particular that are growing globally during this time - Connection and Comfort. Connection enables positive social interaction to continue despite current limits on physical mobility whilst Comfort provides much needed support, advice, and reassurance.  

Consumers are not expecting brands to cease advertising altogether right now. Global Web Index Trendstream’s COVID-19 Consumer Tracker reveals that consumers globally are 37% more likely to agree that brands should continue to advertise. What matters more, however, is the tone and context of that advertising.

With that in mind, it’s important to look at key content drivers for going online. Consumers are increasingly turning to content for information and practical takeaways, or as a form of escapism and provider of some light relief. We have seen Yahoo’s News have a 25% increase in weekly traffic across Europe, for example1. The Content Moments data informs us that the outcomes consumers are wanting to receive from their online consumption are:

51% more likely help me learn something about myself

41% more likely remind me that I am not alone

36% more likely make me feel closer to others

41% more likely made me feel more confident

31% more likely motivated me to do something new or in a different way

(Source: Verizon Media Content Moments (Comfort & Connection Outcomes) Average EU5)


We believe that brands that take an active role in meeting these expectations are in-tune with current consumer sentiment, and therefore more likely to resonate.  

We also know that actions speak louder than words. Our research revealed that Trust and Sharing Values are 2 of the 6 key drivers for Building Brand Love. This is about brands taking a stand and showing and living by the values they have. We understand that when something in the world happens, consumers immediately look to their favourite brands to see what they think. This sentiment is reflected in GWI’s latest Coronavirus tracker:

71% agree that brands should suspend their normal factory production to help produce essentials during the coronavirus

72% agree that brands should offer free services (e.g. free in-store health testing, make free versions of their platforms available, etc) during the coronavirus

82% agree that brands should offer flexible payments during the coronavirus 

81% agree that brands should close non-essential stores to help prevent the spread of coronavirus 

(Source: GWI Coronavirus Research 16th-20th March 2020 EU5)


Taking a stance is a powerful way for brands to heighten emotional connections and align with the conscience of their consumer base. People want to be seen using brands that share their values, and this is a critical time for brands to act on their core beliefs in a meaningful, authentic way. Brands can be the ultimate storytellers, but need to back up their words with action. 

While the impact of this pandemic will be felt on certain industries and brands more than others, it’s clear from the initial consumer research that audiences are still looking toward brands to help them cope with a rapidly changing world. It is now up to brands to redefine their strategies and adapt to this new context.

Drawing inspiration from brands that are receiving positive sentiment, there are three rules we believe brands should take on board.

  • Double down on digital  - as home-working (in the short/mid term) becomes the new norm, explore how you digitise your business model and provide the ability to communicate, measure, predict, and respond in new ways. Adobe did this by increasing access to its apps to help facilitate distance learning. Verizon has enabled students to continue to learn from home by providing 30GB/month of free data through to the end of June.
  • Become adept at adapting - having flexible policies during unprecedented times will build loyalty in the longer term. LVMH and L'Oréal stopped producing perfumes or cosmetics on some of their industrial lines to produce hand sanitizers
  • Show you care - build brand trust by putting your employees and your customers health, safety and wellbeing (physical, mental and financial) first. In Italy, Giorgio Armani has donated $1.43 million dollars to four hospitals in Rome and Milan. Hotel chains Accor and IHG in Uk & France are offering rooms to the city’s rough sleepers, allowing them to self-isolate. 

Brands may be powerless to stop crises from happening, but they can certainly do more to help people stay positive, optimistic, and forward-looking. If you are a brand that treats customers, clients, and employees graciously during the crisis and its aftermath, don’t be surprised when they stick with you when normalcy returns.

At Verizon Media, we will continue to provide the latest data to help advertisers navigate these uncertain waters. If you have any questions about the contents of this article or how to proceed with your messaging and campaigns, please contact your Verizon Media representative.

(Source: 1Verizon Media Internal Traffic Data EU5 16th-22nd March vs last 4 week average 2020)