A Shared Reaction: The Universal Response to Coronavirus

by MAi Research April 17, 2020

You may be familiar with the “Choose Your Quarantine House” meme that’s been making the social media rounds recently; the premise is to create different “Big Brother” type houses filled with diverse personalities that may clash with each other when forced to live under lockdown.  From sports figures to philosophers, entertainers to politicians, variations create multiple scenarios for entertaining discussions about which personalities would combine to create the most tolerable — or intolerable — quarantine experience.

At the heart of these discussions, however, is a deeper question:  What mindset and emotional connections are we seeking from those around us in this unprecedented situation, as our circles of intimacy grow ever smaller?

At MAi we’ve been conducting research into the emotional reactions people are having to the coronavirus outbreak.  As we highlighted in our last article, we’ve done a deep dive into these mindsets and have found that a few emotional themes are dominant across America.  Taking this analysis a step further, we’ve identified nine clusters of key emotions and emotion-related behaviors that tend to be experienced together.  As in the Quarantine House meme, these emotions are grouped together not necessarily because they’re similar, but rather because in conjunction they convey the multi-faceted reactions people are having to the pandemic.   If we present these ‘coronavirus mindsets’ as a variation on the Quarantine House meme they might look like this:

What’s Your “How I’m Dealing with Quarantine” House?

House 1House 2House 3
A little confused, a lot frustrated. Anger and annoyance at social distancing combined with some healthy fear.“Stay calm and wash your hands” is the motto here. Relaxed, but a little wistful and sad about missed moments. Focused on the practicalities of groceries and supplies.Cautiously optimistic, focused on the fact that they are safe and are hopeful and praying for others and for the future.
House 4House 5House 6
Feeling largely uncertain, strongly rooted in fear about the possibility of being infected and unsure of what that might bring. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression. Concerned about what it would mean if they did get sick, which creates even more anxiety. Concerned about the effects on the community, focused on larger impacts on the affected and the economy as the virus spreads.
House 7House 8House 9
Bored. Bored, bored, bored. A little stressed and worried, but really just tired of the whole thing.Worried about their family, and feeling a little helpless and hopeless about the potential of infection hitting close to home.Experiencing intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and near panic over the scary situation. Almost overwhelmed by it all.

As you can see, there are different levels of emotional intensity, internal vs. external focus, and positive and negative feelings captured in these emotional mindsets.

We were even more curious to understand whether any of these emotion clusters would be differently present in segments of the overall consumer base.  To that end, we segmented the population based on both demographics and their current behaviors and attitudes related to coronavirus — how much they’ve changed their behavior, what they’re most concerned about, how well they feel the government and health system are handling the outbreak, and so forth.  The resulting segments are quite different from each other in a number of ways:

1 – ‘Single Skeptics’2 – ‘Liberal Families’3 – ‘Conservative Families’4 – ‘Secure Empty Nesters’
Younger, single, suburbanites with fewer changes in behavior – they’re following lockdown regulations reluctantly. Fewer concerns about the pandemic, more skeptical of traditional media. More urban, more male, more liberal politically, higher income, with kids. Pronounced changes in behavior which they expect will continue into the future. Similar demographically to segment 2, but more conservative and less likely to agree with the level of regulation. Slightly higher incomes and more concerned about their finances. Older urban couples that are relatively well-off and well-positioned, and so less concerned about financial security. They don’t see long-term changes for them or society.
5 – ‘Community Nurturers’6 – ‘Sitting it Out’7 – ‘Dubious’
This segment is more concerned, has changed their activities more, and strongly agrees with lockdown regulations. They’re worried about their families and friends and more likely to be female.More rural, more white, older, with fewer people in the household. Well-established routines centered around their homes means less need to change their behavior. A little more concerned about their finances. More rural, less affluent, they feel the danger is being overstated and question the need for lockdown regulations.

Given the variances between these segments, we would expect to see a great deal of deviation in how they map to the emotional mindsets we identified.  Different segments would be living in “different quarantine houses” — or so you might think.

But, surprisingly, that isn’t what we uncovered.  These unique segments are all experiencing the ‘coronavirus mindsets’ at similar levels.  Looking at the indexed presence of these emotional mindsets for each segment (below), reveals that their indexed ranges are relatively tight, meaning all the segments are experiencing these emotions to a similar extent:

What does this mean for businesses?  Segmentation and clustering are techniques researchers and marketers use to identify communications strategies that will work best for particular audiences.  What we’re seeing in this data is that these ‘coronavirus segments’ are feeling very similar emotional reactions to the current crisis — in essence, the American public is experiencing a collective emotional response to the outbreak. 

This means that, rather than targeting messaging to a narrow audience, brands have a unique opportunity in the current situation to connect with consumers more broadly, engaging with them by demonstrating rapport and empathy.

As we noted last week, brands may not be able to solve the many challenges facing consumers today, but by demonstrating that they’re with their customers, feeling the same feelings and experiencing the same concerns, brands can build an emotional connection that strengthens loyalty and trust — and they can do it across a wider cross-section of the public than has been possible for many, many years. It’s an opportunity that few brands can afford to waste.

MAi Research/Pathfinder will be continuing to track consumer sentiment around these and other emerging issues over the coming weeks. For more information about Pathfinder Text Science or this research in particular, please contact us to set up some time for us to take you through our findings.