The COVID-19 Reset: Understanding Behavior is the Key to Unlocking Opportunity

The main takeaway of the third webinar in our series on the COVID-19 Reset was that understanding drivers of consumer behavior during and subsequent to the pandemic is the key to unlocking opportunities.

Consumer Behavior COVID-19

The Marketing IMPACT Council™ webinar, organized in partnership with CommunicationsMatch™, also covered the need to reset approaches to leadership to support innovation, co-creation of initiatives with clients, and the importance of aligning organizations around their goals.   

Panelists Michael R. Solomon, renowned marketing expert, consultant, author and professor, and Leslie Zane, President and Founder of Triggers® Growth Strategy, provided a behavioral framework for understanding the drivers of consumer decision-making and insights into ways in which companies, marketers, and communicators can leverage these changes to grow their businesses.

Stephan Wiedner, CEO and Co-Founder of Noomii, which provides companies access to coaching solutions that include Harvard professor Amy C. Edmondson’s concept of psychological safety, shared perspective on steps business leaders need to take to help organizations realize these opportunities.  

Watch the replay of the COVID-19 Reset: Behavioral Change - A Growth Opportunity.  



Read the summaries of the previous webinars/watch replays.


Unfreezing/Refreezing & Behavioral Drivers

Solomon shared a powerful metaphor for what is taking place from the work of social psychologist Kurt Lewin – the idea of unfreezing and refreezing. 

“Imagine a block of ice – that’s how we are in normal times – everyone is frozen in their habits.  They have certain ways of doing things, they are very resistant to changing their ways of doing things, unless there’s a really good reason for doing so.”

“Then something really, really significant happens and then that ice starts to unfreeze and that is an opportunity and a challenge. When we start to unfreeze that means we become more receptive at that point to reconsidering how we do things.” 

Solomon argues that we are seeing habits change and when the refreezing starts…those new habits will become frozen into place. 

“The virus has unlocked a lot of people – they are really in a fluid state. This is a challenge and an opportunity for marketers.”

To realize the opportunity, he discussed the importance of understanding three current pillars of consumer behavior: gratification, agency, and stability.

People are looking for gratification - ways to feel good. With agency, they want to have a feeling of control. And, they are seeking stability in a time of uncertainty.

COVID Connectome

Zane provided additional unique perspective around behavioral change during the coronavirus pandemic. Reinforcing perspective provided during the first two webinars in the series, she says, “The new normal means we have evolved, there is no going back. This is the most massive behavior change in modern history.”

Drawing upon her company’s unique approach to identifying insights to help companies grow, she adds, “When attitudes and behavior are changing at the same time…that’s when you know it’s going to stick. It is not a question of if we are going to change, it is a question of how much.”

She offered another metaphor to understand COVID-19 – the idea of the sapling that grows into a tree.    

Zane noted that behavioral instincts are created through associations in our subconscious that form on branches. Little by little, stories seep into the subconscious and accumulate. Although we’re not aware of them at the beginning, once enough have accumulated they drive behavior.  

The ecosystem of associations around coronavirus is something Zane has coined the “COVID Connectome.” She says, “It is a tree with two very large clusters. One is our preserving cluster which has all kinds of association related to being risk averse. It is causing people to not want to spend now and explains why we are in recessionary times. The other part is the persevering cluster– driven by the desire to move forward to survive.”

In the discussion, she suggests that these two clusters of connectomes are fighting each other for dominance in our brain and if companies work together, they can help create confidence by sharing messages that build on the persevering part of the connectome.

Emotion & Authenticity

Contrary to popular belief, Zane notes, pure emotional expressions during COVID do not build business.

 “All emotional expression is not doing much; it is a lot of white noise. It does not mean you don’t want to be empathetic, but many of the messages aren’t coming off as being genuine, they don’t seem like true empathy, more like pandering.”

She believes that emotion tied to brand expertise, with lots of positive associations, is the basis for building emotional connections. “Emotion is an outcome that the consumer needs to own, not an input that you express and force people to feel.”

Authenticity is an overused word, but it’s what people are looking for, notes Solomon. A lot of messaging attempts have not only not been effective, but they have boomeranged and come back to bite the companies. 

“Consumers have a pretty good BS detector. They can pick up when you are talking the talk and not walking the walk.” 

Leadership Reset

Noomii’s Wiedner says there’s been a shift in what leadership means and how leaders perceive their roles in companies during the crisis.

“There was a “command and conquer” mentality, and now we’re seeing a lot more leaders wanting to be empathetic and wanting to listen to customers and listen to their people. That shift has led to a lot more humility in leaders and that’s really needed.”

We’re seeing a lot more leaders embracing the uncertainty because they have to in this market, Wiedner points out. “They are expressing and exposing their vulnerability by saying I don’t have all the answers here.”

Importantly, he adds, leaders are embracing the critical challenge of aligning organizations around the vision and mission during this time.

Co-creating with Customers

One of the biggest transformations in marketing over the last 10 to 20 years has been the engagement of the end consumer in the decision-making process. This will be critical during and following the crisis, argues Solomon.

“When consumers are involved in engaging in messaging or submitting ideas, their level of involvement really ramps up and that impacts ROI.”

His advice to companies: Value your customers as the most powerful sales force you have and as co-creators in the process; don’t be afraid to involve them.

Zane notes “that the fascinating thing about co-creation is that when companies come up with ideas and go test them, they only reach a certain level, but when you co-create with consumers you can actually reach the ideal.”

Drawing upon her company’s work in the retail industry, she shares that consumers’ perspective on what an ideal safety scenario is, is completely different from what the leadership thinks is ideal.

Behavior & Diversity

In the webinar, the panelists also touched on the importance of focusing on diversity at this time.

Wiedner shared, “The research and evidence are clear about when teams and organizations are diverse, they perform better.” 

He argued for the importance of focusing on psychological safety within organizations if leaders want to benefit from diverse opinions.

“When people feel like they can speak up and say what’s on their mind and are celebrated for differences, that’s a wonderful environment for innovation and for creative output. That’s where organizations need to go. It’s good business and will lead to better results.”

All leaders are not sure how to speak about these issues, he shared, arguing for the importance of having open conversations and creating environments where employees can speak up and express vulnerabilities and concerns.

Zane shared behavioral perspective around why not enough progress has been made on diversity and inclusion programs, noting that few are really addressing the unconscious bias that fuels all types of racism.

“What we’ve been doing up until now is we’ve been trying to persuade people and companies to do the right thing. All we are doing is attacking the conscious mind which is resistant and skeptical and does not like to change.”


In response to a question about takeaways for companies, marketers and communicators, Solomon noted: “One of the things that’s important to understand is neuroscience and how the brain works. Understanding these very basic mechanisms is very important. We know that brands succeed when they are linked to core values people have.”

Zane adds, “The way to address racism (or build brands) is to replace negative with positive associations for racism or brands. You want to piggyback on things people already know, on positive things already in their consciousness.”

She argues relevance is all about connecting your brand to what exists in consumers’ brains. When there is a perfect match, that is the definition of emotional connection, and that is when your brand becomes their go-to brand.

“Set the stage and invite participation with teams by demonstrating situational humility,” Wiedner shared. “Ask teams what it is like for them, how safe they feel, how individually celebrated they feel, and can they be themselves.”

Have open and candid conversations to get the real pulse of the organization and how folks are feeling.

The COVID-Cloud Silver Lining

One of the themes across the series of COVID-19 Reset webinars has been the idea that the pandemic has accelerated changes already underway.

With change, as all of our distinguished panelists have highlighted over the last two months, comes opportunity. As Zane described it, the COVID-cloud silver lining.   

“We are in a time of tremendous volatility, people are creating new relationships with brands and trying new things.”

The idea that started the reset series – that companies’ value propositions are evolving and changing during the crisis, requiring a reset of strategy and messaging – has been borne out by the winners and losers during the crisis. Those who are successfully integrating the reset of overall business strategy, marketing, and communications are bolstered for survival and poised for growth.

But what has also emerged during the discussion with our thought leaders is the idea that there are opportunities for both established companies and new brands. By understanding and tapping into underlying drivers of behavior to meet the changing needs of clients and consumers, both for-profit and nonprofit organizations have a path to build powerful connections with clients, consumers, donors, and all stakeholders to grow and increase their impact.    

This will require not only that organizations evolve, execute strategies, and effectively engage clients, consumers, and donors, but also develop management styles and approaches to position themselves to benefit from the diversity of ideas and people.

Aligning organizations around these objectives and having the right marketing and communications resources to support these changes, has never been more important. The Marketing IMPACT Council™ and CommunicationsMatch™ offer resources to help companies manage through this time and realize opportunities from the changes we are going through.           

As Michael Solomon shared, quoting Churchill, “Never waste a crisis.”      

How We Can Help

The idea of value is at the heart of the Marketing IMPACT Council™.  Our VALUE Equation™ is an acronym and a mnemonic for VISION, ALIGNMENT, LEADERSHIP, UNDERSTANDING, and EXECUTION across functions. These five drivers must be continuously optimized and integrated to create, grow, and maintain the maximum value for all stakeholders and apply to both for-profit and nonprofit entities. We provide members tools and access to resources to unlock value – such as this webinar series – that help council members address the question, if you only had one more dollar, how would you invest it to create the GREATEST SUSTAINABLE IMPACT on the VALUE of your entity and brand.

Learn more and join at

CommunicationsMatch™ offers search tools and services to help companies find, shortlist, and hire agencies, consultants, and freelancers, and help agencies and professionals generate new business leads. During the coronavirus pandemic, CommunicationsMatch has leveraged its resources to help connect struggling not-for-profits and companies with Communications Volunteers willing to give their time to help others at no cost or discounted services. Through its partnership with the Marketing IMPACT Council™, it is offering communicators access to a unique low-cost telehealth services program from MDLIVE. Find out more here.


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