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Consumer Tribes

Consumer Tribes

Segmentation in the Age of COVID-19

It has never made sense to treat Dutch consumers as one large monolith, let alone bundle them into some larger “pan-European” shopper profile. The Netherlands has always been a market with particular sensibilities and diverse preferences. This has only become more true during the COVID-19 pandemic, where – in the early and middle stages, at least – the Netherlands’ has had an experience that has been quite distinct from many of its neighbors.

A Unique Trajectory

In many countries, trust in institutions and government has taken a major hit, with wide-ranging implications for disease spread, media consumption and shopping behavior - as consumers begin to feel that they must “go it alone” and “take safety into their own hands.” Compared to many of their regional and global counterparts, however, Dutch citizens are still quite confident about the way their government has acted:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way the government is responding to the coronavirus pandemic?

In addition, looking at the broadest possible consumer economic picture – that of household income – COVID-19 has had less impact in the Netherlands then in other countries, at least up through late August 2020:

Thinking about your household income, which one of these statements comes closest to your current situation?

Practically speaking, this milder pandemic experience has created a wider spread of consumer sentiments in the Netherlands. While there are plenty of Dutch consumers who are highly alarmed and anxious, there has also been room for a sizable contingent of citizens to take a more laid-back or hand-off approach to the crisis.

Kantar’s COVID-19 Tribes

As part of the COVID-19 Barometer, Kantar has created a segmentation to identify groups of consumers with similar behaviors and attitudes towards the pandemic. These behaviors and attitudes influence what consumers do and feel, as well as what they require from brands and advertising. The aim is to monitor how the sizes of these segments – or “Tribes” – develop over time, both globally and in The Netherlands.

To date, Kantar has identified six main “Tribes”: Ostriches, Que Seras, Hibernators, Good Citizens, Distressed Dreamers, and Precarious Worriers. The main attributes of these Tribes, as well as their prevalence in the Netherlands, is detailed in the following chart:

Compared to other countries, the Netherlands has quite a high share of Que Seras and Hibernators. What this means is that relatively many people have dealt with coronavirus in a more down-to-earth way - perhaps because they have felt that the situation is also less worrying than in many other countries. It’s important to note, however, that membership in these tribes is not static or fixed. If COVID-19 cases surge in the future, people’s affiliations can be expected to shift.

Already, we have seen how shifts in public health can affect people’s tribal outlooks and affiliations. Between July and August 2020 – which correspond to Waves 6, 7, and 8 in the COVID-19 Barometer – the number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands underwent an alarming increase. This, in turn, has led to an increase in the number of Hibernators (people who accept the crisis as real, but who have resolved to wait it out) – but also in the number of people who are truly worried about the situation:

These shifts are often even more dramatic at a more granular demographic level. Young Dutch people may have felt less worried about the health impacts of COVID-19 – but because they are at the beginnings of their careers, they have begun to feel the pandemic’s economic effects more acutely than their compatriots. The number of Dutch Millennial “Ostriches” fell by nearly half between June and August 2020, with many moving into the Hibernator and Good Citizen tribes:

During the pandemic and recovery phases, it will be important for businesses to chart the attitudinal changes in their target audiences – because different tribes will need different things from brands and brand communications. Distressed Dreamers, for instance, need support and guidance. Que Seras and Ostriches, meanwhile, are most receptive to brands that give them feelings of escape, inspiration, and freedom. Uncertainty is the rule of the day – and certain tribes need more support in dealing with this uncertainty than others.  

Empathy is the most powerful tool that brands have in driving action and winning consumer loyalty in unsettled times. Understanding the differences between the COVID-19 Tribes in the Netherlands can help brands to better step into consumers’ shoes – and provide people with exactly the kind of experience, inspiration, or reassurance that they are looking for. This will be especially true in the months ahead. The threat posed COVID-19 is not static – and neither, as we’ve seen, are consumers’ attitudes with respect to how society should respond to this threat.

No one knows for sure if the coming Winter will bring a strong further wave of infections. Equally uncertain is how Dutch people would respond to such a wave. Would “pandemic fatigue” set in? Or will there be a renewed vigor to attack the situation head-on? These are just some of the questions that segmentation can begin to answer, with crucial implications for businesses and brands.

Putting it all together

Kantar’s global team of analysts has identified four actions that can help brands survive, and then thrive, in the “New Normal.” As first detailed in this year’s BrandZ™ Global Top 100, they are:

  1. Gain insight 

When the world is in turmoil and uncertainty rules, making hasty or ill-judged decisions about why people buy can be detrimental. It is during these times that consumer insight becomes critical in ensuring the right actions are taken. Knowing what your potential customers think, feel and do will help inform the right decisions to help your brand, if not thrive, then recover as quickly as possible.

  1. Seek Opportunities

A disruption creates opportunity as well as threats. If you are to increase the probability that your brand recovers better than the competition, you must assess what the best combination of efficiency and investment will be. Do not make assumptions. What situation does your brand face now, how might it change in future? More than ever, you need to be in touch with your customer and understand how their needs – functional and emotional – might be changing.

But beyond that, you need to assess what is most likely to build competitive advantage for your brand in future. Does your strategy need to change in a post-pandemic world? What new distribution opportunities exist? What innovation will be the most meaningful? How can you best build brand desire? It is not simply a matter of advertising more; it is about identifying the best opportunity for future growth.

  1. Prove your worth
    During times of uncertainty and financial stress, people turn to the comfort of familiar brands and place value ahead of getting the lowest possible price. Whether it is by innovation, action or advertising brands need to reassure their customers that they have made the right choice and make it as easy as possible for them to stick with the brand rather than reconsider their options.
  2. Invest more in advertising, if you can
    If you cannot, invest more wisely. Spending more relative to the competition only pays off when you invest in the right strategy and content. Media choices are obviously changing and every brand that can still advertise is shifting its investment to in-home media, though Covid-19 related news has become a “no go” area for many brands.
    As recovery takes hold advertisers must be ready to shift their media choices again, but the biggest challenge is not how or where to reach people but what to say. It is all about the tone of voice and making the right emotional connection. Before the crisis, our analysis found that quality of content accounted for 50 percent of campaign effectiveness: it will be far more important today.