Pandemic personas.

Which of your favorite bartenders wears the safest mask? 

Letting our cooped-up COVID brains run wild can lead us to a plethora of conclusions—some incredibly dark, some utopian—about where, exactly, we’ll end up after the wave has flattened. No one fully understands where both our minds and the markets will be even a month from now, let alone by holiday season or next year.  But most people realize that nothing will ever fully “go back to normal.” 

Marketers, therefore, are stuck not only figuring out how to keep repositioning companies whose futures are in constant doubt, but also how to speak to audiences whose ideas about the future are always changing. 

Huge’s new report about changing customer personas in the wake of the coronavirus is a helpful start. In surveying 21 Americans through in-depth interviews over the course of 8 days, they were able to tease out 5 major customer personas:

  • ”Band-aid rippers” want things to go back to normal as soon as possible and are willing to take risks. (15%)
  • ”Trapped butterflies” are cautious but stir-crazy. They often live in urban areas, have active social lives, and are likely to frequent businesses as soon as they can. (15%)
  • ”Polite optimists” are waiting until it’s considered safe to go out—that is, they are often following others’ lead. They are currently engaging with businesses carefully and on a case-by-case basis. (24%) 
  • “Eggshell walkers” are extremely anxious about returning to public life until they are absolutely sure that it is safe. They need lots of reassurance from brands they may be interacting with. (38%)
  • ”Fulfilled homebodies” have adjusted to the new normal and find it largely satisfying. (8%)

One of the main takeaways from the study is that the majority of customers want to know that businesses are exercising at least some precautions before they start frequenting them in person—or even buying from them consistently online. Hard assurances that businesses are maintaining best practices in-house could even add a little extra incentive for people who are hardly worried about the virus at all.

However, it’s unlikely that simply rattling off safety precautions is going to inspire customers to change their COVID-era habits, or buy from your brand specifically. Companies need very big and very human messaging to address the general malaise that people across all the personas are feeling. 

One huge (lowercase, pun intended) caveat: this research was conducted before the worldwide protests for George Floyd, which have done at least as much to upend marketing communications as the coronavirus.

But many of the conclusions from Huge’s report still feel true. For brands looking to connect with during these days of transition and heightened emotion, it’s important to find some note of “humanity in the emergence.” Brands need to find something inspiring to say to connect with their customers’ experience in a fraught world, and demonstrate that they believe in a positive way forward.

To break things down:

  • The majority of customers are looking for reassurance that companies are exerting safety measures. 
  • More than that, though, they need inspirational and empathetic messaging beyond just assurances of safety.
  • Rather than pretending everything has gone back to normal, it’s the stronger choice for brands to try to envision a new shared future.