Let’s not panic about anxious consumers….

11th March 2020

Feeling the brand pinch in the present societal anxiety? Some psychological pointers that might help you understand, help and maintain your relationships with your customers.

Click here to read the article on LinkedIn.


Whilst consumers run about stockpiling toilet rolls, rice and pasta and self isolating themselves in their germ proof garden sheds it is a challenging time for brands.

This apocalyptic consumer response might make even the most hardy of brands blanche in fear.

What brands shouldn’t do however is assume 1) they fully understand why the consumers are behaving this way, or 2) how they might respond to such ‘irrational behaviour’.

I have listed some psychological advice, suggestions and observations that you might find useful or at least interesting in times of consumer crises. Some of these are impactful on their own in terms of customer decisions/behaviour but many combine to form psychological powder kegs.

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A stressed/anxious customer is psychologically less open to new ideas/suggestions / products/services and is far more critical of things!

This has all sorts of implications for marketing, brand/product messaging. When humans are stressed or anxious their perception, awareness and focus becomes narrowed and they are much more likely to go into constrictive thinking. They are focused on the removal of anxiety rather than anything else and they are biased towards a quick anxiety removal solution than the most effective resolution. Brands who start engaging with anxious customers will risk alienating them if they do not gauge up ‘WHAT’ it is that the customer needs to hear. If they fail to comply to that customer need they will demonstrate that they clearly do not understand them or empathise with them – and have no relevance to them. Relationship spoilt at best or ruined at worst.

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Psychologically speaking, anxious customers do not necessarily want the brand to be in control of resolving the situation.

This is where many brands go wrong in the customer experience space. They assume they will be the customers knight in shining armour and save the day. Doing this can have a number of negative psychological implications. 1) By directly solving the anxiety you have taken control away from the customer. In other words, what you actually thought was a positive move is actually a dangerous one. Most humans like to be in control to some extent – we certainly get more satisfaction, self worth and ego reassurance when we feel WE have resolved a problem or stressor. Think about your own personal lives – how much better does it feel when you work something out for yourself rather than someone giving you the solution quickly. Doesn’t do much for your own sense of self worth/intellect does it! Instead what brands might try and do is position themselves as a friend who gives the customer the tools/ability to resolve the situation for themselves. So for example rather than feeling only thankful that using paracetamol is taking the pain away – psychologically speaking, we probably feel just as positive in our ability to choose (problem solve) to use paracetamol as a potential solution. Thank you paracetamol for giving me an option that might test and vilify my decision making ability.

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Anxious customers want to maintain what they have – and de-emphasise what they might gain.

This is a vital distinction for brands to know about. It is linked to the first point I made about anxious customers not being open to new ideas. When we are stressed we start being more critically minded, more negatively focused and start evaluating loss more evidently. In other words our focus switched from what can I gain here to what might I loose here (and therefore what do I need to keep hold of). So anxious customers will not be looking for brands to add to their lives and experiences but looking to see how you might help them keep what they have (looks, energy, comfort, time, confidence, control etc) and not loose any more of it. That is a very important product/service differentiation.

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In times of crises worried customers become even more unduly influenced by the wider social response.

This is a primal human response. In times of novelty we look for signals of how we should respond. Again, when we encounter something different or unusual that we have little experience of our sense of control evaporates. So to try and reclaim some of that control we look to see ‘what should I be doing perhaps’. Unfortunately this is a flawed cognitive response – as just because the majority of people around me are doing this doesn’t make it the right choice. This is further exacerbated when we feel we might miss out if we do not join the group consensus. Let us take the present toilet roll hoarding behaviour that we have all probably been sniggering about (and then joining in!). We are both influenced by the fact that we are unsure how we might respond in the present health crises and so we look at what others are doing and also by the fact that when we see lots of people doing things we have to join in or risk not having a part of it ourselves. Result – empty toilet roll shelves. We see people or hear of people buying up toilet roll stocks – we giggle about it nervously, but then because we fear we might be the one left with no toilet rolls – join in! We also see this happen in terms of water shortages – we only need to see one neighbour with a hose and we empty the shed looking for ours! Brands have an opportunity here to be the voice of reason – to soothe the customer base by informing them of their resource capability or where they might be able to find products/stock etc. There is also positive psychological benefits from recommending rival products from rival brands if your own stocks become scarce – as you have created a grateful customer who will not forget your magnanimous gesture. Responsible brands can also dampen these instinctive human hoarding behaviours by tweeting, messaging, highlighting evidence of where this is not happening and emphasising that this is highly unusual behaviour and that the vast majority of consumers are being sensible in the situation (thus creating a counter positive majority behaviour).

If you want help navigating your brand and its communications during times such as these do email us. At Innovationbubble we advise a wide variety of global brands in terms of customer decisions, behaviours and engagement. We help brands make the uncertain clear. We then support them in actioning these insights.

[email protected]

Dr Simon Moore. Chartered Psychologist



Author: Innovationbubble