The return of hugs and pubs: What can behavioural science tell us about the lifting of lockdown restrictions

Behavioural science and the pandemic 

The pandemic has offered those of us with an interest in behavioural science much to observe – From the irrationality that led to stockpiling and the subsequent toilet roll shortage, the altruism that compelled 250,000 people across the UK to volunteer to help the vulnerable and that heightened sense of community and belonging that reinforced our desire to shop local.

Behavioural science has even played its part in the fight against the virus through the Government’s use of behaviour-led thinking to coordinate responses to the pandemic.

A behavioural perspective on the new lockdown changes 

The arrival of Step Three of the government’s roadmap in England that sees pubs and restaurants reopening indoors, the return of theatres and cinemas and the relaxation of rules around household mixing indoors mean the return to “normality” is now within our reach. 

The pandemic took away our routines, our daily coffee on the way to work, our Friday nights spent in the pub and led to a momutenus shift in our habits around work and play. The new restriction lift means we can bring our old routines back. But just because we can, does it mean we will? 

Behavioural science tells us that 90% of what we do comes from habit. We’ve got used to our new lifestyles, we’ve adapted and we’ve formed new habits. 

The extent to which we stick with our newly formed habits or revert back to our old ones raises hugely important questions for the brands that are relying on us to return to our old routines. 

Once the initial novelty that comes with the reopening of leisure and hospitality dies down, will we be as inclined to take off our leisure wear and traipse to the pub on a Friday night now we’ve all bought gazebos and turned our sheds into mini bars? Or have consumers missed these experiences so much that their appetite for them will permanently exceed pre-pandemic levels? 

The answer to these questions will ultimately come down to the underlying consumer motivations that surround the behaviour. To explore these I have used the Why Axis dimension of our Influencing behaviour Model. It explores status, belonging, self-actualisation and security. When applying the model in our client work we use it with other broader behavioural science principles to decode consumer behaviour and identify what we need to do to influence it. 

Status – The choices we make around where we go out to eat and drink, and who we go with can all feed our sense of status – the desire to experience this sense of status is just one of the underlying factors that will entice us back to bars and restaurants.

Fulfilment – Research conducted by Santander suggests that 61% of homeowners carried out a DIY or renovation project during the pandemic. Those who have made improvements to their homes are likely to feel a sense of fulfilment from their efforts. Will this encourage people to spend more time in their homes to enjoy the spaces they have created? 

Belonging – In many ways the pandemic has heightened our sense of community. We’re ultimately social creatures and get a sense of belonging from shared experiences such as going to the cinema or attending gigs.

Security – Since the pandemic began we’ve been bombarded with messages telling us that we’re safe at home. Will the sense of security that being at home now makes us feel make us more reluctant to venture out than we once were?

What this means for brands

Our love of a cheeky pint and trip to the cinema haven’t disappeared but habits aren’t formed overnight, and they aren’t broken overnight either. Given the seismic changes we have witnessed in behaviour, there’s never been a better time to consider using a behaviour-led approach to marketing and comms. 

We’d recommend that in order to thrive in the next phase of our “new normal” brands need to pay close attention to how patterns have changed, adapt to changes in consumer behaviour and consider the underlying consumer motivations behind why customers behave the way they do.

About The Behaviours Agency

We are a creative agency that uses behavioural science to make marketing more effective. We have developed our own unique behavioural model that allows us to create compelling brands, experiences and campaigns that lead to real commercial value for our clients. If you want to hear more about what we do and our behaviour-led approach then please get in touch here.

By Tamsin Scott

Head of Marketing