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COVID-19 Crisis: Podcasting Surges & More Consumer Insights

12 MINUTE READ | May 20, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis: Podcasting Surges & More Consumer Insights

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Caroline Norton

Caroline Norton has written this article. More details coming soon.

We’ve reached the middle of May, and consumers continue to lean into spring cleaning. According to Reddit’s COVID-19 weekly updates, r/konmari, a thread for Marie Kondo’s famous decluttering method, had a +2X% spike in unique views this week. Furthermore, users were highly engaged in threads related to home organization projects, including clean and organized kitchen counters, drawers, medicine cabinets, and pantries. So, if you’re also staring at an over-cluttered corner of your house, it seems that now is the time to hop on the spring-cleaning bandwagon.

Now, onto the briefing.

As consumers forge the path to a “new normal,” they are becoming increasingly less anxious about the current state of the world. According to the Brandwatch Daily Bulletin on May 15th, the number of people saying they’re “very anxious” is falling, and the number of those saying they’re not anxious at all is climbing. Compared to this time last month, 4% more consumers reported not being anxious at all.

Accordingly, consumers are engaging with COVID-19 related content less and less, and publishers are following suit. Brandwatch’s Daily Bulletin reported that the number of people mentioning COVID-19 dropped by 7% this week, and the amount of COVID-19 content being published dropped by 17%, compared to 10% the week before. 

Streamed events continue to surge in popularity on social media, with 565k positive mentions from March 1st to May. Specifically, as we inch towards the traditional summer wedding season, interest in virtual weddings is becoming increasingly popular online. According to Reddit’s COVID-19 weekly updates, the Wedding Interest Group increased +38% in views this week, including Zoom weddings, tips on streaming virtual receptions, and negotiating deposit returns

The key tech players continue to innovate. On Friday, Facebook announced its plans to buy Giphy, the web-based GIF search engine, for $400M. In addition to being a source for highly-engaging, shareable content, Giphy provides built-in search and sticker functions for Facebook’s Instagram.

This week, Facebook also debuted its bitmoji clone feature, Avatar, in the U.S. for the first time. Facebook described Avatars as digital personas that let people engage in a more personal, dynamic way, with a range of emotions and expressions via stickers, messages, and Stories. Avatars can be created via the comment composer on Facebook or Messenger by clicking on the smiley face icon and selecting “Make Your Avatar.”

Finally, a research project funded by the Omidyar Network has released a report positioning Google’s dominance of the $130B digital advertising market as a threat to advertisers, publishers, and consumers. The report outlines how the U.S. could bring an antitrust case against the tech giant, and the Justice Department’s antitrust division and state attorneys general have been investigating the company since last year regarding its conduct in the digital advertising market.

Although stores are slowly opening up around the country, it’s become evident that in-store shopping may be forever changed and that the future of retail relies heavily on ecommerce. According to an analysis by ACI Worldwide, ecommerce soared in the month of April worldwide, with the general retail sector experiencing 209% growth compared to the same month last year. In the U.S., online apparel sales rose by 34% year-over-year on the back of heavy discounting. Even as its physical stores have remained open, Walmart has reported a 74% increase in its ecommerce sales this quarter, largely fueled by consumer stockpiling. 

Retailers that have been closed for weeks are now leveraging new digital tools to boost their ecommerce offerings. Many brands are tapping influencers, friends, and employees to shoot ecommerce photography at home. Reformation, for example, sent a few of its pieces to some of Instagram’s coolest girls, hiring the influencers as ecommerce models. ASOS, the fast-fashion giant, has implemented another unique solution to supplement its ecommerce imagery. They have debuted a new AR technology powered by Zeekit on its product pages, where shoppers can see a “simulated” view of models wearing items.

Amazon fashion announced a collaboration with Vogue to help support retailers, creating a digital store dubbed Common Threads: Vogue x Amazon Fashion. Amazon has made a $500,000 contribution to A Common Thread, the fundraising and storytelling initiative launched in April.

The need to shift merchandise is a significant priority within the fashion industry, and many retailers have begun “hibernating stock” in order to avoid major discounting, by shifting basics to warehouses to be sold in 2021. Finally, the 2020 Met Gala, which was originally postponed, has now officially been canceled. The news follows the museum’s announcement that it will be closing temporarily for an indefinite amount of time, beginning March 13th.

Prom may be canceled this year, but that doesn’t mean teenagers won’t find their own way to celebrate the occasion. On Reddit, r/makeupaddiction saw a +32% increase in views while r/curlyhair saw an even larger +3X spike in views. Even brands are trying to find ways to support younger customers who are missing out on one of the biggest moments for high schoolers. For example, E.L.F. teamed up with Chipotle to create a prom-inspired makeup kit that sold out within minutes last week. The kit includes a sliver pouch that resembles the famous burrito and contains products that mimic the toppings, such as a primer-infused brush in lieu of guacamole. 

With June just around the corner, people are prepping for the sun and sweat season. According to Pinterest, the platform saw a 136% increase in how to “glow up” for summer, a 108% increase in summer nails trends, and a 53% increase in tanning water. 

And while hair salons are finally beginning to open their doors in some cities, men show a continued interest in hair grooming and styling. Pinterest reported an 82% increase in men’s hairstyles and a 58% increase in undercut hairstyles for men. Additionally, according to Spate consumer research data, searches for beard and mustache care products have grown by 40% and 15%, respectively, in April compared to February.

As a result, brands with these product offerings are reaping the benefits. For example, The Art of Shaving saw a 51% increase in sales between March and April while sales of bundles and kits by Fulton & Roark, a premium grooming brand, increased by 128% in April compared to February. We all know that the “quarantine beard” is rather popular among men these days, but at least they’re doing it right.

As the travel industry remains stunted, travelers are forced to cancel their travel plans and are demanding refunds from brands across the sector. In fact, more than 25,000 complaints and inquiries were filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in March and April, many related to requested refunds, up from an average of 1,500 per month. In response, Democratic senators have proposed legislation to guarantee a full cash refund to travelers who purchased airline tickets but couldn’t fly because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Those who do choose to travel domestically will notice some significant changes to their traditional travel experience. The Las Vegas airport, for example, is now providing personal protective equipment in vending machines for passengers. Travelers will be able to purchase items such as gloves, alcohol wipes, and hand sanitizer. Even visiting Disney Parks will look different. Disney recently revealed its plans to begin phase one of reopening by allowing the parks to operate at 50% capacity, requiring all visitors to wear facemasks and maintain 6-feet of distance in line for rides. Furthermore, touchless hand sanitizer will be available at every ticketing entry, as well as the entry and exit to each attraction.

In an effort to restore consumer confidence in travel, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) released new global protocols for travel, dubbed Safe Travels. The protocols, based on guidelines from the World Health Organization and the CDC, are intended to ensure consistency in safety protocols across the travel industry, including aviation, hospitality, restaurants, and retail.

As large in-person events remain postponed, for the time being, virtual livestream events remain. YouTube is hosting a virtual 2020 Graduation on June 6th and recently announced that the commencement event would feature Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Taylor Swift, among two dozen additional artists, celebrities, and influencers. They will join previously announced headliners President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, who are delivering commencement addresses. For a chance to have their work featured, graduating students can upload inspiring videos via YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” website. 

The pandemic seems to have revitalized consumer interest in podcasts. In fact, podcast discussions on Reddit have reached a new peak since 2019. According to Brandwatch’s Weekly Bulletin, discussion on podcast-related subreddits increased 29% from March to April and eventually peaked the week of May 3rd with 2,600 users posting to the subreddits. 

The pandemic has also inspired a new wave of podcasters. The number of people talking about their own podcasts jumped at the beginning of March, and in April, 39k people mentioned their own podcasts, a 41% year-on-year increase. The new podcasts range a variety of topics, creating an opportunity for brands to tap into the audio space, whether that’s with ad space or creating their own unique podcast content.

Retro game consoles also appear to be making a comeback. As virtual gaming continues to surge in popularity, consumers have been using old game consoles for some good ole nostalgic fun. Brandwatch reported 10M English language mentions of “playing with old consoles” between March and April 2020, up 23% compared to January and February. The SEGA Genesis is the most popular retro console on social followed by Game Boys, The Sonic Series, Pokémon, and the Super Mario Series. 

Finally, Kevin Mayer, the former head of streaming at Disney, has announced his departure, and will now become the CEO of TikTok. His move comes at a pivotal moment during the pandemic as TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few months. His departure is a loss for Disney, as it comes amidst the so-called “streaming wars,” as the top streaming platforms compete for home-bound consumers.

As the pandemic will have a lasting impact on consumer finances, recent IPSOS survey results show that finance matters more now than prior to the pandemic for 23% of consumers. Consequently, over half of respondents say they want to wait to start or grow their family until they are in better financial shape. More than half of respondents feel they have enough money saved in case something unexpected were to happen, yet only 7% say they have increased the amount they were putting into savings, a 401K, or a retirement plan. 

Additionally, a separate survey showed that over ¾ of Millenials and Gen Xers do not have enough savings to last longer than six months. These slightly contradictory results support the findings of Brandwatch as well, which reports that users on social media are saying they are saving more money now than before the pandemic, despite multiple surveys finding the opposite.

COVID-19 is also accelerating the shift to digital banking, payments, and commerce. A recent FIS survey revealed that more than 45% of consumers have permanently changed how they interact with their banks due to the pandemic, with the concentration of growth on online and mobile banking. Gen Z, in particular, was more likely to say they will use digital forms of payment long-term compared to the short-term. 

Additionally, the survey showed that many consumers had used a mobile wallet payment platform in the past 30 days as they shift away from using cash and checks. For Gen Z and younger Millennials, Venmo is the most popular choice, while older Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers prefer PayPal. What is particularly interesting, however, is their loyalty to their financial institution. Over half of consumers say their loyalty to their financial institution will be determined by how actively the institution is supporting its community.

If, for example, the institution is focused on maximizing their own profits instead of providing better solutions to its customers, 44% say their loyalty would be negatively impacted. Financial institutions will need to ensure its customers are top priority to maintain its customer base.

Addressing the ongoing impact that the pandemic has had on small businesses, the IPSOS survey also reveals that, not surprisingly, 30% have temporarily closed their business entirely. For those that are still up and running, 27% have downsized their use of utilities, and 38% are using the government’s loan to pay for its current employees and benefits. There is a glimmer of hope; however, as 41% say it is very likely they will bring back or rehire most of their employees once the climate returns to normal. When exactly that will be, however, is the looming question. 

To help businesses, multiple companies have expanded their product offerings and tools. LinkedIn recently unveiled its new virtual event solution that will help marketers connect with customers. Through the new tool, companies can create and livestream video events that can be advertised and shared through direct invitation, in addition to living organically on the platform. A primary consideration of using the tool, however, is leveraging first-party data. For marketers who already have a large LinkedIn following, this may not be much of a concern, but for smaller businesses that are aiming to grow their customer base, they have to weigh sacrificing access to the data.

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Demandbase also launched a new ABM Innovation Tour that will take place on June 24th, July 8th, and August 5th. The tour is a four-stop virtual experience that will give marketers a chance to connect with B2B experts and gain access to insights, best practices, and success stories from these leaders. Office Depot, meanwhile, is making a substantial shift as it plans to restructure its current model to support B2B solutions and IT services business units, according to a U.S. SEC filing. The restructure is expected to save the company $860M in net savings while laying off over 13K employees and closing stores and distribution centers.