Building Emotional Connections During the Pandemic
We shared our 2020 Brand Intimacy COVID Study last year as the pandemic was affecting all our lives. We were interested in seeing its impact on the brands we all use and love. We are now sharing a follow-up study, fielded a year later when things were improving and businesses began reopening. Lately, with the rise of the Delta variant, we see the extended presence of COVID in our lives. As the world continues to deal with the pandemic, and businesses and their brands face persistent challenges, we are sharing new insights on how brands can focus, enhance, or optimize for the marketplace that we are all eager to see return to normal.
The findings from our follow-up Brand Intimacy COVID Study, conducted with 3,000 consumers in summer 2021, demonstrate how leading brand and consumer behavior has changed since a year ago.
The beverage industry has an average Brand Intimacy Quotient of 33.3, below the cross-industry average of 38.2. Performance has improved, and the industry average is up 3.4 percent compared to our 2020 COVID study.
Beverage brands appear to be rebounding since last year, with Coca-Cola showing strong results in the second quarter.1 Alcohol brands are increasing sales as well, accelerating with year-to-date 2021 performance trending higher than 2019, with projections to end at +3.8 percent in volume.2
Despite the hardships imposed by COVID on people and businesses, this period has actually drawn consumers closer to beverage brands and created stronger emotional relationships. Brand Intimacy performance for the category has increased by an average of 11 percent since before the pandemic, despite manufacturing and supply chain challenges.
Coca-Cola remains the #1 brand in the industry, with Pepsi rising to second place. Heineken and Tropicana also improved their positions, whereas Coors, Snapple, and Jack Daniel’s declined. Beverage brands perform better with men than women, and with consumers over 35 years old versus those under 35 years old.
The beverage industry reduced its percentage of users in the earliest stage of intimacy, sharing by 14 percent. This suggests fewer new users are connecting with beverage brands. Positively, the category increased its fusing performance, the most advanced stage of intimacy, by 21 percent, meaning those who are connecting with the brand were able to deepen their relationship to the most significant level.
Can’t live without (a measure based on a ten-point scale that determines how essential a brand is to our lives) has risen dramatically by 75 percent since our 2020 study, further highlighting consumers’ continued reliance on beverage brands.
The beverage industry ranks second out of ten (behind health & hygiene in first place) for the percentage of consumers willing to pay 20 percent more for beverage products and services. This highlights that consumers value beverage brands highly and are willing to pay more for their favorite drinks. The percentage increased by 35 percent since our 2020 COVID study.
In addition to our Brand Intimacy findings, which center on how consumers feel about their brand relationships, we are also looking at how brands themselves have behaved and communicated since the pandemic started last year. What has changed in their messaging in a year? We have captured a language analysis from company websites and social media, focusing on five brands and encompassing 1,143,826 words.
This chart presents a comparison of how leading brands are communicating about COVID on their websites and in social media. We are able to see the number of appearances of key themes for each brand and the relative differences based on the other themes reviewed (e.g., Pepsi speaks 36.8 times more about donating food during the pandemic than its competition).
Beverage brands have addressed the pandemic in variety of different ways. Some brands are using similar messaging to last year; others have new areas of focus. Coca-Cola, which had limited COVID messaging last year, now highlights the importance of education and information in fighting the pandemic by sponsoring music performances so people can relax and enjoy music and support vulnerable communities and the purchase of personal protective equipment. Pepsi continued and extended its emphasis on feeding the hungry and helping those in need. Budweiser highlights helping communities and partners, whereas Heineken supports trying to get bars reopened, their donations, and early help in supplying hand sanitizer during periods of shortage. Jack Daniel’s retains the core of its earlier communications on virtual events and highlights enjoying a drink at home.
In 2020, communications highlighted the present moment, prioritizing the health of employees and customers, and ways brands were trying to help those in need. In 2021, communications became more concrete, centering on the impact of COVID and the tangible results brands are achieving. There is even more emphasis on ways to keep employees safe at work and the actions brands are taking to deliver help. In addition, there has been a 60 percent increase in the amount of pandemic communications these brands are producing versus last year.
Building and maintaining strong emotional connections with users is a core tenet of Brand Intimacy and a key principle for navigating our challenging times. The continued impact and longevity of the pandemic requires beverage brands to think about maintaining strong emotional connections with current users and attracting new users in more carefully considered ways. Given that consumers relied heavily on e-commerce for the delivery of alcohol brands, determining new channels of engagement will be a key consideration for brand success. Importantly, although beverage brands have been essential during the pandemic, the industry ranks seventh out of ten in our study. Beverage brands must prioritize establishing stronger relationships, nurture deeper customer connections, leverage relevant channels, and encourage more dialogue and interaction with consumers to improve their performance.
Read our detailed methodology here, and review the sources cited in this article here. Our Amazon best-selling book is available at all your favorite booksellers. Additionally, MBLM offers Custom Dashboards, providing extensive data for brands included in its annual Brand Intimacy Study. To learn more about our Agency, Lab, and Platform, visit mblm.com.
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