The future cannot be known for certain, but it is often predicted with great accuracy using information from the past. But, what happens when the world is overtaken by a pandemic that can only be described as “unprecedented?”
This begs the question— How can behavioral science help us to understand habits, expectations, and social norms, when it seems as though all of the latter is changing with each passing second?
While there have been pandemics in the past (i.e. the Spanish Flu in 1918), the current pandemic has witnessed human behaviors that otherwise seem to have been unpredictable (i.e. the fact that consumers in America rushed to buy and hoard toilet paper rolls when lockdown was initially mandated).
Just like medical scientists are uncovering facts through research in real time to address the needs, behavioral scientists can study human behavior and changes as they are happening. Predictions based merely on the past won’t be enough because there has been a transformative shift in context.
The government and those working in public policy are trying to enact policies to protect human life and prioritise public health, yet these top-down approaches haven’t been able to reap the necessary results because our behaviors are being molded by continuous change. And so, case loads continue to skyrocket as the death count increases globally because getting people to wear masks, stay home and socially distance goes against what they’ve been accustomed to.
It’s clear that consumer behaviors and business operations are undergoing immense change as this is being written. For example, a KPMG survey found that: 36% of people are prioritizing savings over spending, 43% are worried about their financial security and 45% are leveraging digital interaction with brands as their primary medium for purchase.
While relying on the past to predict the future has worked before, the pandemic has eroded this potential. To be able to adjust as necessary, businesses must act now by realizing and accepting that assumptions of “what was” and “what will be” are no longer valid. Behaviors are being persuaded, created and reshaped as new information is being uncovered. Given the surrounding context of coronavirus, humans’ actions from purchasing behavior, risk preferences to hygiene are going to continue to be unpredictable. That is, unless they are properly studied.
Now, it’s absolutely crucial to leverage research on human behavior to be able to make critical business decisions. Businesses that leverage the application of the interdisciplinary approach to behavioral science will gain a leg up in being able to deal with the changing consumer trends and behaviors that are taking place in front of our eyes. In effect, businesses that prioritize the need to gain such insights will be able to operate with agility and adaptability.