Products & Innovations for a COVID Winter

Nov 9, 2020 Rian Chandler-Dovis

Marketers are looking ahead to the winter and wondering how the COVID-19 crisis will play into their innovation strategy as more people are forced inside. Consumer purchasing patterns are already emerging. The story these consumer items reveal is a combination of can-do preparation and prepare-for-the-worst protection. Unspoken, but revealed in these purchases, are emotions as divergent as fears of a fragile economic. recovery, and optimistic hope for what comes next.

comfort will reign king, especially outdoors

jeremiah-bartlett-iX1rcQ0P3UQ-unsplash-jpgFirst, let’s look at the run on products whose seasonal spikes are typically more muted. Restaurants are hard-pressed to find outdoor heat lamps to extend their socially-distanced patio weather. Nearly all the nation’s inventory of “fire tables” and other decorative outdoor heating appliances have extreme manufacturing backlogs, according to an interview with a Boston-area heating company. The combination of Springtime manufacturing shutdowns and extreme demand are keeping the waiting list long.

Consumers, too, are “fired up” to make these purchases. If one cannot enjoy a football game with 10,000 of your closest friends, the next best bet is to trick out your backyard for smaller gatherings. Thanks to COVID, the outdoor patio furniture market is expected to grow by over 8 billion dollars between now and 2024, according to research by Technavio released this week. This sort of investment in personal outdoor space suggests that consumers are bracing themselves for extended periods at home.       

Brands whose products are closely aligned to these trends (outdoor living, home remodeling, landscaping and hardscaping) can look for ways to support customer ambitions to make their home and yard more comfortable, cozy, and inviting. Brands can and should insert themselves into conversations around entertainment and relaxation. Although the season will quickly wane for outdoor gatherings, the approaching winter season will be a bonanza for brands that enhance the customer’s perception of their indoor spaces. 

home with Hygge in the snow

All areas of the home will continue to be under scrutiny as winter settles in, and this is a huge opportunity for brands. 

First, the home infrastructure itself will be under review. From painting walls to finishing floors, nearly every surface will be under renewed examination with months of indoor living and working. Consumers considering more elaborate home upgrades -- or new homes -- will likely be tempted to take advantage of the low interest rate environment. This influx of money (home equity loans) or perceived wealth (bigger home purchases) could spike purchasing demand of everything inside the home. Many consumers will rationalize purchases as investments in their home’s future resale value, in addition to any immediate lifestyle benefits gains. 

This presents another avenue for brands to establish closer connections with customers. For example, brands can connect home remodeling projects to emotional needs like a reassurance of safety. In the context of COVID, staying at home is indeed one way to reduce risk and enhance personal safety.

Second, consumer demands around entertainment, education, and relaxation — all of which value is subjective — will be brought to focus in ways unlike previous winter seasons. With few options outside, and possible closures of public venues, more consumers will look for escapism and enrichment at home. Entertainment brands of every category have an opportunity to earn placement in new or established winter-driven habits. Podcasts will likely continue their staggering growth, for example. Even classic toys, such as Barbie, are anticipating record demand for the coming season.

What Do These Trends Reveal? 

Brand success in coming months will be connected to these new realities:

  • Consumers will crave comfort and familiarity, as expressed in purchases to perfect their living spaces and return to well-loved classics, like Barbie. New brands should focus on building a perception of warmth and stability. 
  • Many consumers will justify bigger purchases based on perceived long-term advantages (such as home resale value), with optimism for the future. Most will resist actively examining feelings of fragility around near-term political or economic stresses, even if these stressors impact their spending habits elsewhere. Watch for an increase in “retail therapy” of online shopping after the holidays as winter lingers.
  • Brands have a concentrated opportunity to associate themselves with positive messaging and new habits. This winter will be unlike any other in American history as we adapt to changes brought on by COVID; this shakeup of routine is beneficial to brands seeking to enhance loyalty and/or expand their customer base. 

This winter will be a time for brands to double down on what they do best: meeting consumers where they are psychologically and providing goods and services to support them. This winter will bring a lot of unknowns, but also opportunity. Consumers are craving comfort and normalcy; your brand can lead the way.


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Rian Chandler-Dovis is VP of Brand Strategy and Partner at Brand Federation. She has over a decade of experience working with some of the world’s most influential brands: American Express, GM, PepsiCo, MIT, Samsung, and WWF. She is a mother and foster mother, working alongside her three children currently at home.