How COVID-19 Has Changed Customer Behaviors


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The findings of a special COVID-19 edition of The CMO Survey were published a few days ago. The Founder and Director of The CMO Survey is Dr. Christine Moorman, the T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. The survey is sponsored by the Fuqua School of Business, Deloitte, and the American Marketing Association.

The CMO Survey is conducted twice each year, and the results are usually published in February and August. The Special Edition of the survey is designed to help marketers understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected marketing spending, marketing performance, marketing practices, customer behaviors, and other matters.
Here are the particulars regarding the COVID-19 edition of the survey.
  • The survey was in the field May 5 – May 27, 2020.
  • It produced 274 responses from marketers at for-profit U.S. companies.
  • 64.8% of the respondents were affiliated with B2B companies, and 97% were VP-level or above.
  • 47.2% of the respondents worked at companies having fewer than 500 employees, and 22.3% were affiliated with companies having more than 10,000 employees.
  • The survey included respondents working in 13 industry verticals.
The Special Edition of The CMO Survey captures the views of senior marketers regarding the overall economic and competitive environment and about major marketing trends and practices. Given the multitude of challenges now facing marketers, I encourage you to review the full survey report.
Changing Customer Behaviors
Many marketing thought leaders contend that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major changes in the behaviors of both consumers and business buyers, and that many of these changes will last beyond the end of the pandemic. The CMO Survey asked participants about twelve specific customer behaviors, and the table below shows the percentage of respondents who said they had observed each behavior during the pandemic.
These findings provide several important insights about how COVID-19 has affected customer behaviors. Some of the findings are surprising; others not so much. For example, it shouldn’t be surprising that the pandemic has led to lower in-person engagement with customers (cited by 97.0% of respondents), or that customers have shown a lower likelihood to buy (cited by 67.2% of respondents). It is somewhat surprising that only 43.3% of respondents said they had observed a significant number of customers who were unwilling to pay full price.
These findings also show that digital offerings and experiences have become very important during the pandemic. More than 80% of the survey respondents said their customers had shown an increased openness to new digital offerings introduced during the pandemic, and that customers were placing increased value on digital experiences.
The CMO Survey also asked participants when they expected some of the observed customer behaviors to return to pre-pandemic levels, and the following table shows the time frames identified by survey respondents.
As the table shows, the most popular time frame for a “return to normal” for most of the customer behaviors is 6-12 months, with substantial percentages of marketers predicting 1-2 years for some of the behaviors. However, about a third of the survey respondents believe that increased value placed on digital experiences will never return to pre-pandemic levels.
There’s an ongoing debate in the marketing community about how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing customer behaviors and whether some of these changes will be permanent. The findings of The CMO Survey suggest that digital offerings and experiences will remain important long after the pandemic ends.
The CMO Survey also examined how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting company performance, marketing spending, and certain marketing practices. I’ll discuss these findings in my next post.
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