The 2020 Covid-19 Consumer Tribes

November 19, 2020

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Streetbees has been listening to its global community of bees (users) to track how the virus is upending people’s emotions, finances, and behaviours. Well over 100,000 conversations have been captured since January 2020, from more than 20 different markets, showing how people are feeling and how this translates into what they’re eating, drinking, using, watching and doing.

Yes, people’s habits have changed dramatically as a result of the crisis. But they’re changing in lots of different ways.

No particular trend dominates how people are changing, and every significant trend seems balanced by an equally significant opposing one, making for a messy picture indeed.

Digging into the data, Streetbees has identified 5 key dimensions that underpin how people have reacted to Covid: 1) Age; 2) Income; 3) Household composition(who is living together in the home); 4) Personal impact(how the virus has affected one directly); 5) Level of trust in government and healthcare administration.  

Furthermore, by looking across the various adaptations made during the pandemic, we can sort people into four groups, or consumer tribes, depending on their overall attitude and behavioral adjustments: 1) Opportunists; 2) Survivalists; 3) Shielders; and 4) Jugglers.

Understanding these tribes gives us a sense of the different emotional states of consumers around the world and how their feelings about the virus are influencing their interactions with categories, products and brands. 

As marketers, we must understand these differences if we hope to stay relevant to our consumers throughout the pandemic. 

Streetbees' 2020 Covid-19 Consumer Tribes

The Opportunists

This tribe is the most skeptical of the severity of the pandemic. They don’t worry much about getting ill. This might be because they believe the media is blowing the virus out of proportion, or because they are young and healthy, or because they live on their own, without dependents in the household to look after or elders who might be more vulnerable to severe illness.

The Opportunists also feel quite secure financially. Perhaps they have done well in terms of savings, or the nature of their work allows them to continue working from home.

Still, this is far from a uniform group. In fact, the group can easily be divided into two camps: Corrector Opportunists and Enhancer Opportunists

The Correctors are making small lifestyle changes. They’re cooking more at home. They’re trying to control how much they’re snacking. They want to be a little bit healthier, but they don’t see this as requiring a major habit overhaul. 

The Enhancers, on the other hand, are using this time as an opportunity to detox. They’re making holistic changes that enable an overall healthier lifestyle, incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diets, reducing fizzy drinks, and using less makeup. 

The Survivalists

This tribe is having an altogether tougher time of it than the Opportunists. They’re sad and anxious — not that they’ll get ill, but that the shutdowns are wrecking them financially. As a result, 75% have cut back their spending. 

The Survivalists tend to appear in the greatest number in developing markets such as Brazil, Mexico and India. Yet like the Opportunists, they’re a diverse lot. This is why it’s also helpful to look at them as two camps:

The Strip Back Survivalists skew younger. To avoid getting ill, they’re trying to eat healthier. They’re snacking less, both for health and budget reasons — though when they do snack, they indulge with sweets that provide them a much-needed emotional boost.

The Feel Better Survivalists are also budgeting, but they allow themselves a good deal more flexibility, especially when it comes to things that might elevate their moods. Boredom snacking, with crisps/chips and other savory snacks, is common. They also indulge in sugary drinks.

The Shielders

Members of this tribe are anxious about the virus and obsessed with avoiding it. Worries about the financial fallout from social restrictions are secondary to health concerns.

Shielders spend a lot on hygiene and health products. For obvious reasons, they have also migrated online for their shopping in numbers disproportionate to other tribes. (40% of Shielders prefer shopping online, compared to 16% overall.)

Within this tribe there are also two camps. The Surrendered Shielders tend to be older, feel deeply threatened by the virus, stay at home a lot, and seek solace in food. They use alcohol as a means of moderating negative moods. They’re not very concerned at all with beauty, but they put a lot of energy and money towards keeping both their homes and their bodies clean.

The Sensible Shielders are a bit more balanced than their Surrendered counterparts. They believe a healthy mind and body can ward off the virus. So they try to balance out their intake of comfort food with healthier options and seek out more natural, organic, and environmentally friendly cleaning products. When they do turn to alcohol, they do so moderately, not as a means of escape, but of simply unwinding bit at the end of those long, redundant days.

The Jugglers

This tribe worries about both the financial and physical health aspects of the pandemic. Many of them are lower-income and belong to multi-person and/or multi-generational households. The pandemic hasn’t impacted their spending as much as the other tribes, but that’s mostly because they weren’t spending much to begin with.

You can think of this tribe as consisting of Anxious Jugglers and Calm Jugglers. In the Anxious camp practically, all of their consumer choices are being driven by a desire to alleviate negative feelings. The Calm Jugglers, however — the largest of all the sub-groups mentioned here — are just hoping to ride out the wave of the pandemic. They’re more accepting of the virus than their more Anxious fellow tribespeople. They’ve blurred their meals with snacking and have simplified their beauty routines and are otherwise just plowing forward until the day when life returns to some kind of normal. 

Moving forward

These tribes represent four key strategies consumers have adopted to cope with the pandemic, but a question remains: how stable are they? Just because someone started out the pandemic as a Survivalist, does that mean they will stay in that tribe until the end?  

When the pandemic was still in its infancy, there was a great deal of denial circulating amongst consumers - even in countries seeing high volumes of virus cases. There was also a lot of shock as lockdowns set in and businesses were forced to temporarily shut their doors. Yet as time went on, people grew more accustomed to the new reality.

People will continue to adapt to the pandemic. Life continues, and continuously changes. Habits and adaptation strategies will change with it. Brands must keep up their finger on the pulse on what’s happening in order to stay relevant and connected to consumers.

Our bees continue to share moments of their daily lives with us, in their own words and in the moment of choice, revealing how the changing needs and drivers behind their decisions. To learn more about this works, get in touch with the team here.  

If you’d like to read more about the Covi-19 Consumer Tribes and how brands can create nuanced communication strategies to connect with them, download our free whitepaper.