Post-COVID Customer Journey Updates

2020 was a year of change. Our last article focused on critical brand updates and the importance of having a greater brand purpose than just generating more sales. In this article, our focus is on how COVID has impacted customer journeys for CPG brands. For some brands, it was the best of times and for others it was the worst of times. Whichever way it affected your brand, it is important to understand what changed, because it’s not going back to the good old days.

As we know all too well, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many parts of the economy were locked down and our daily routines became limited to the inside of the four walls of our homes.

For meals, this meant no restaurant dining, take out or delivery only, and lots more in-home food preparation. Grocery spending initially spiked +30%, but then settled into a +10% range. For some, the time freed up by no commuting meant more time for food preparation and exploration, and fear of COVID shifted their focus to eating healthy.

At the same time, the stress of COVID sent others to less healthy frozen and shelf-stable comfort foods, and economic concerns made store brands more appealing. The question becomes, are the benefits you are advertising still the most relevant, both emotionally and functionally? Are there other benefits your brand should be emphasizing? Now would be a good time to recalibrate.

For grocery shopping, COVID lockdowns meant more digital, less in-store shopping. Retailers had been preparing for this shift for years. Most already offered a range of relevant services, but consumers weren’t aggressively adopting them. That changed in 2020. U.S. shoppers buying groceries online went from 36% to 52%, and sales through that channel increased 40%.

There are some things to keep in mind about the online vs. in-store shopping environment. Repurchase has been made even easier, so if you want to break into the purchase cycle, no matter what you do elsewhere, you are going to need to close the loop here. Feature, Display and TPR didn’t go away, they just became search, banners, emails and online promotions using retailer ad networks.

Also, consumers are not only shopping online at their usual grocer; they are getting deliveries from multiple retailers each week based on what each does best. They will buy from your website too, but you will need to get them there and the price needs to be right, or Amazon is just a click away. This shift is permanent, and with it comes the need to make all your content and touchpoints more shoppable.

WFH, a situation many people never expected to find themselves in, but now, one year later, a situation that many would prefer to keep. (Without the kids at home. 😊) According to Nielsen, 52% would like to continue to have this option and 80% would prefer to work for a company that offers this option.

WFH created shifts in media consumption. People go to bed later and get up later. They are streaming more video. News is not read on the train or listened to in the car, it is watched on the TV at home, or from social media throughout the day. Podcasts, streaming radio… work much better at home than a crowded office. What you think you know about your consumers’ media habits might be out of date.

So, let’s look at these shifts, their impact on the various stages of the customer journey and what you can do about them:


If you want to get noticed, your brand and message are going to need to connect with what’s on consumers’ minds now. The best way to figure out what’s important to them, both emotionally and functionally, is going to be what they are searching for and what they are engaging with. Search tools like SEMrush, SpyFu or Moz will show what consumers are searching for, as well as where your direct competitors are focusing their marketing dollars.

Alternatively, Google Trends is a free resource to find out about trending topics and search phrases, which can help your brand stay timely and relevant. Use these insights to inform advertising creative, organic social and website content. Don’t be exclusively focused on functional benefits; in order to be most effective in the awareness phase, building emotional relevance is the most critical part.

You need to understand the emotional benefits customers are seeking and how their need states have changed. Is reconnecting with family members top of mind? Is there a desire for greater novelty to break the daily boredom? Is there a pent-up desire to rejoice and play?


Using insights gleaned from your search and content/advertising performance research, adjust your creative to highlight relevant need states, benefits and RTBs. Additionally, ensure that your website and organic social offer relevant content, such as recipes or pairings for the more food involved (or cheats and deals for those who prioritize easy prep and price), fun things to do as a family, and places and things to do to seek comfort.

Consider using Crazy Egg and similar tools to help understand the customer journey and to optimize your content. For example, are there specific product pages or recipes users are lingering on? Do they seem to be looking for nutritional information? Also, analyze your social channels for similar patterns: Are there posts that always resonate or questions that are asked repeatedly?

Social can be a really effective channel for driving consumers to website content. All they need is a little teaser — boomerangs of adding ingredients, before and afters, slow-mo of yummy food shots, simple 5 ingredient or 5 steps/one-pot recipes, etc.


Now, make everything we just noted in the consideration phase shoppable. With so many consumers currently shopping for CPG online, everything can be easily added to a cart for future purpose. You know that store locator on your site? It needs a major upgrade to include all the digital options as well. You know the person’s location and you know what deals you are running at retail, so make this page fully dynamic with partners like PriceSpider. Quotient is also developing an option to generate awareness of TPR, which to me is the holy grail for challenger brands.

Also, make sure your shopper marketing has made a similar pivot from in-store to online with Instacart search and shopping list apps like AdAdapted. Many retailers have phenomenal shopper targeting capabilities. Use them to improve your pre-store targeting.


This is where challenger brands have suffered the most. Consumers went to the comfort of established brands or the value of store brands. You can get them back, but it will take all of the above: emotional relevancy, content that converts, building a relationship, and making their lives easier and better via your advertising, social and website content. You have far more tools available to you to compete successfully in this new environment, and it’s not expensive stuff, but you are going to need to test and learn, test and learn, test and learn.

In Conclusion

These are just a few tips on how to evolve your customer journey map in light of 2020 to make your marketing more relevant and effective in the post-COVID world! As journey-mapping experts, we’re here to help you build your customer journey and put it into practice.

Dan Collins

SVP, Chief Strategy Officer

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