New Customer Behavior: Permanent or Temporary?

Customer behavior – consumer and business – has changed significantly since the start of 2020 and will likely continue doing so until a cure for COVID-19, climate change and bad presidential elections is found. For marketers, the real challenge is not so much how to deal with those changes, as it is how to figure out which behaviors are temporary, and which are permanent.

If you believe, as we do, that understanding the customer persona and the customer journey is paramount, then you likely also realize that what was considered normal and predictable (thanks to data and testing) less than a year ago is now fodder for the farm animals. And new data… well, let’s just say it is shifting like a willow tree in yet still another hurricane force wind.

So, what’s a CMO to do? You can’t stop marketing. And though it is remarkable how effectively we have all applied our agility skills in the midst of the storm (or as our colleague Neil Egan says, “how well we’ve managed to change the tires on the car while it is still moving down the road”), this truly is not sustainable. Even the best of us are getting tired of the uncertainty. In fact, the only certainty has become the uncertainty (he says two days after a presidential election in which no winner has been declared).

But there is good news: COVID has kept many (if not most) of us home, but it has also connected all of us more deeply. We are all communicating more frequently and more freely than ever before. Buyers are only too happy to tell companies what they want, when they want it and how they want it. In turn, companies – makers and retailers – are responding. And this is all happening in real time.

Cray-cray? You bet. But there is data in all that communication. And there is truth in the relationships. No one knows what tomorrow will bring or even when tomorrow will come, but it doesn’t really matter. Consumers/Buyers/Donors… they will remember. They will remember that you formed a relationship – a bond – that will not be broken when the unknown finally becomes the known. We may not know what the new normal will look like, but we know who we can depend on… and who we cannot.

Use this time wisely. Listen to your customers, talk to your customers, respond to your customers, learn from each other. Honesty backed by willpower (meaning the willingness to try to change) will build goodwill that you cannot buy. Just look at this past election (instead of COVID) and ask yourself why it was so f-ugly. If only our leaders could see the missed opportunities to talk and listen and learn.

I know this: some of the new customer behavior will stay and some will revert back to old ways and new permutations will likely reveal themselves, but great relationships based on truth, honesty and goodness will last forever. In the end, that’s all a good marketer needs to know.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.