COVID-19 Understanding the Human Story: Storylines from our National Tracking Survey, Week 2

COVID-19 Understanding the Human Story: Storylines from our National Tracking Survey, Week 2

Heart+Mind Strategies fielded a series of questions March, 25-26, 2020 via an online survey.

Access the full report here: Download PDF.  Please contact us if you would like access to the crosstabs.

NOTE: Findings based on preliminary data.

Generationally We’re Responding Very Differently

Experience of the Silent Generation is choosing hope over fear as they stay aware. Gen Z is paying even less attention and somewhat oblivious. Concerns are piling on for Gen X. Boomers epitomize the hopeful concern but not worried or afraid. Millennial emotions are building the most – stress and hope.

Erosion of Trust

Our research is showing that the majority of Americans do not trust the government institutions set up to support them during this COVID-19 crisis. We expect this feeling to grow more as people are bombarded with misinformation, get sick, lose jobs and feel personally affected by coronavirus.

Perceive COVID-19 as a Real Threat

Americans are now feeling it on a personal level. 8 of out 10 see this as a real threat and are feeling their daily life impacted.

Coming to Terms with Negative Impacts

Mental health and time with family and friends are the growing concerns in a socially distant reality. The impact on the economy is obvious to almost everyone as we weigh slowing the spread with devastating the economy.

Bringing us Closer Together

Half believe the crisis is bringing us closer together.

Behaviors and Expectations are Changing

More of those who still are employed are seeing their work cut back. Eating out, social gatherings, and being with family and friends are disappearing from daily life.

Shopping is obviously done, but online shopping for other goods (not food/household) jumped up more this week. Streaming video, video calls, and reaching out to people in other ways are all on the rise.

Expectations for the next two weeks are to do very little for most people. People say they are not at all likely to do any of these things in the next 2 weeks.

Data Source: Heart+Mind Strategies fielded a series of questions 3/25-26/2020 via an online survey. Access the full report here: Download PDF.  

Sample: n=1,035 US Adults 18+

Topics: We explored attitudes, feelings, and actions with respect to the COVID-19 crisis. This provides a quick look at the key storylines we uncovered by quickly digging into the data set.

Thoughts From Our Virtual Roundtable, 03.20

We push pause for one hour each week to talk, share, and listen to 60+ clients and partners who are participating in our Virtual Roundtable. As business leaders, employers, and human beings, this group discusses the impact of the latest COVID-19 developments, and ideas to help each other navigate the changing reality.

These are the topics discussed on March 20th. We hope these can help you and your teams as you make decisions moving ahead.

TOPIC #1: Addressing Remote Working

Those participating Friday, March 20, shared concerns addressing the following questions as employees have shifted to remote working.

  • Demonstrating care/concern
  • Staying motivated/keep up morale
  • Mental health issues
  • Staying connected
  • Working from home realities
  • Focus during the uncertainty
  • Showing how our work fits within new realities

Several offered a variety of solutions to consider:

  • Checking In/Connecting With Each Other
  • Frequent and scheduled check-in with staff and regular communications not always tied to projects or tasks.
  • Virtual happy hours, virtual dance party with kids invited, virtual St. Patrick’s Eve
  • Time for small talk and humor in meetings
  • Introduce pets on the call
  • Seeking to get to know colleagues on a more personal level
  • Recognizing the good things about seeing family, being at home, etc.
  • Fewer meetings for many, but lots more meetings for a few
  • Technology
  • Leveraging video platforms and tech tools for meetings and calls
  • Providing budget/support for staff to be set up at home (including headset for video calls)
  • WhatsApp, Facebook groups
  • Flexibility
  • Understanding and adaptability in working from home realities
  • Allow for flexible work hour
  • Inspiring Leadership
  • Transparent, authentic, and inspiring leadership style including scenario planning
  • Regular, controlled central communications on COVID-19 from leadership
  • Reminding we are all in this together
  • Reminder on goals and plan objectives
  • Working gratitude into our check ins – Today I’m grateful for
  • Start meeting sixth a positive thought
  • Coaching Remote Solutions
  • Encouraging mindful breaks through the day to listen to music, look at photos, read, replenish, etc.
  • Coaching on boundaries in working from home

Heart+Mind Strategies Quick Thoughts

We brainstormed with our team. Here are a few thought starters, straight from our quick chat.

  1. Now that employees are working at home, will they want to return to the office? They have more flextime. No commuting. More collaboration tools.
  2. Provide employees a place to chat “Virtual Water Cooler” – ask questions, provide pointers, concerns etc.
  3. Explore how people are going to have to change their lifestyles right now based on emotions and new realities. What can the workplace do to provide support?
  4. We have to deal with different levels of employees – are there different expectations? Those that already work at home and are set up to work (Set up to work and understand what it takes for the most part). Those that are working home because of Coronavirus and are now dealing with kids and other realities (Getting used to working at home and have other things to interfere). Those that are single and now working at home (Getting used to working at home with nothing to interfere).

 A Few Relevant Articles

We pulled a few recent pieces with valuable insights.

Tips for working from home including communicating more, treating it like a “real” job re: getting dressed, having structure, etc., staying positive and avoiding feeling isolated.

Common challenges of remote work include lack of supervision, lack of access to info, social isolation, distraction. Managers can help combat these with daily structured check-ins, providing various communication platforms, setting expectations for frequency of communication, providing opportunities for remote socializing, and providing emotional support.

Discusses the importance of how to manage remote employees and the importance of employee trust particularly in terms of inability to measure productivity.


TOPIC #2: Talking to the Market During COVID-19

Those participating Friday also shared concerns addressing the following questions about how to talk to the market during the crisis.

  • Drive demand without seeming insensitive or not being opportunistic
  • Thoughtful selling, talking with prospects about the future today, how hard do we push
  • Balance between keeping business running and protecting employees
  • Communication about colleague virus-related testing
  • Helping staff not be tone deaf
  • Committing to customers without overpromising
  • Frequency and tone of advertising
  • Letting people know we are here and ready to go
  • Helping provide escape without seeming tone deaf
  • Authenticity
  • Thoughtful decisions, not too quick
  • Messaging closure because of infection
  • Social media cadence, tone, and message
  • How far to lean into the crisis, balance of enough but not too much on COVID-19 reports
  • Managing reputation amidst labor cuts
  • Sharing the good we do without sounding self-serving
  • Media relations prep for when questions come
  • Frequency of customer outreach
  • Keeping the marketing program in place or not
  • Re-starting after stopping/slowing down
  • Moving at the speed of the crisis with approvals required
  • Getting alignment on moving forward for things that have long-term value
  • New ways of saying “abundance of caution” and “unprecedented”
  • Keeping other serious issues alive: living wage, forced labor, climate change
  • Forecasting

Several offered solutions and ideas. They are summarized below:

Tone suggestions:

  • Authentic
  • Empathy
  • Simplicity
  • Relevance – focusing on what is really needed
  • Open and sincere
  • Walk the walk – action not words
  • Rational
  • Positive tone – offer bright spots, sense of “normalcy”
  • Accurate information
  • Forward looking
  • Accessible – open attitude to customer needs
  • Don’t act like business as usual
  • Communicate what is really going on, not talking about doing


  • Spread the idea that this is a collective responsibility – we are all in this together
  • Look scrappy despite normal production values
  • Use employee-led content
  • Do the right thing
  • Communicate staff/employee focus
  • Crisis-specific efforts:
  • Repurpose resources/products/facilities for something different to meet crisis-related needs
  • Altruistic efforts where real needs can be met – put society first
  • Practical and constructive solutions linked to your brand purpose and values
  • Creativity and genuine focus on using what you have to solve needs
  • Help people bet out of the bunker
  • Client connection:
  • Ask what’s needed
  • Human connection/calls with clients

Heart+Mind Strategies Quick Thoughts

We also gathered to brainstorm some ideas we could share with you on this topic.

  • Stay close to your customers. All of us are managing through a fractured relationship environment (brand to consumer) as we all adapting to new ways of managing our daily lives. Be actively engaged in both pushing information TO consumers and gaining perspectives FROM consumers through email, social media and online communities.
  • Use these engagements to understand how the needs of your customers are changing. The needs they are looking to serve today will likely not be the needs they seek to have fulfilled 1, 3, 6 months from now.
  • Be actively engaged in business planning NOW for how you will operate when we emerge from the current crisis. Competitiveness is not going away. Identify a plan now for engaging consumers and differentiating against the competition when the crisis subsides.
  • Get creative with online solutions for your consumers. Traditional in-person engagements are going to have to adapt. Where are opportunities for your business (e.g. personal trainers providing customized at home workout for clients, movies being released direct to streaming services, etc.) to shift to more online delivery elements.
  • Demonstrating concrete ways your business is helping the local community and celebrating others who are doing so in those communities will positively reinforce your brand reputation.
  • The social contract is increasingly more important. Many brands are offering free services (meals for children, food for health care workers, distilleries producing free hand sanitizer for people). Consumer are looking for brands that are demonstrating a recognition of their shared social responsibility and giving back.
  • As Congress continues to provide stimulus relief there will be an even greater expectations that business will “do the right thing”. Some of this will be legislated into being, but beyond that, the public will have an even more critical eye toward bad actors.

What Not To Do

  • Now is not the right time to lead with the “sell” in communications. While marketing initiatives can continue, they must do so with an acknowledgement of the common situation that all business and consumers face.
  • Don’t continue forward with previously planned media/outreach without first having a thorough review of that content for tone and appropriateness. What likely was relevant and resonant one month ago may be very off the mark in the current communications environment.
  • The “hard sell” can smack of desperation currently. Communications must convey the perspective that we are all in this together and the brand is here to help and support
  • Do not take a “bunker” mentality. Hunkering down and riding out the storm only serves to put you behind the competitive curve when we inevitably emerge. Engage in active strategic planning session now, gaming out what customers need now, three months from now, and longer term. Deploy (or establish if you haven’t) a crisis communications team that can be quickly responding to the dynamic environment and keep customers informed.
  • Refrain from communications that are hyperbolic or convey apocalyptic sentiment. Communications should look to instill confidence and build hope. Brands need to position themselves as part of the solution not contribute to the panic.

A Few Relevant Articles

We pulled a few recent pieces with valuable insights.

Provides guiding questions marketers should be asking themselves during this time, including trusting local contexts, but think big picture; as news consumption increases, there is more ad opportunity but is this the right move? Is tone, copy, content relevant in this new context? What are the most relevant brands, products, or campaigns our media can support right now, and do we need to shift budgets? What ways can our brand — and even our owned media channels — be helpful to people and businesses in this moment of need?

As tradeshows and other events cancel, content marketing becomes more important than ever, even moving conferences online like IBM Think. In general, marketers need to get creative and rely on strategies outside of traditional channels.

For the economy to function, there is a strong sense that companies must market even amid a global crisis; that stimulating the economy may be most important, and doing so in a way that is sensitive and relevant.

Priority Questions Ahead

We again asked for priority questions to focus on this coming week. We use this input to guide us as we are gathering information to share in the next Virtual Roundtable. Please reach out if you have additional information and/or requests.

  • 46% Short and long-term planning/scenario planning
  • 40% Appropriate tone of messaging
  • 33% Supporting our communities, including healthcare workers
  • 33% How to effectively survey in such uncertainty
  • 33% How to stay relevant during this time and post
  • 28% Talking realities with clients and employees
  • 28% Personal economic impact
  • 26% Speed/Pace of impact and recovery
  • 26% Our responsibility as a company and where those boundaries are
  • 22% Keeping employees engaged remotely
  • 22% Protecting employee mental health
  • 20% New adapting business models
  • 17% Supporting employees at work
  • 15% Real innovation opportunities to minimize duration and impact
  • 15% Media consumption and changing landscape
  • 13% Survival of companies in each of our own supply chains
  • 13% Connecting as a remote organization/team
  • 13% Supporting and trusting remote employees
  •   6% Who is best to educate employees


COVID-19 Understanding the Human Story: Storylines from our National Tracking Survey, Week 1

Heart+Mind Strategies fielded a series of questions March, 18-19, 2020 via an online survey.

Access the full report here: Download PDF.  Please contact us if you would like access to the crosstabs.

NOTE: Findings based on preliminary data.

All-Consuming Focus

The pandemic is consuming time and attention, impacting the American psyche.

  • 81% of Americans say they are fully engrossed in the news coverage daily+
  • Most people say they are concerned (59%) and worried (51%), but cautious (58%)
  • A majority of those 45+ choose negative emotions when describing how they feel – especially women, while more men have mixed positive and negative emotions

Emotions experienced differ by age/generation, ethnicity, education, income and gender.

  • Get Z highest on confused (28%) and surprised (20%)
  • African American the most confident (21%) and supported (14%)
  • Asian most anxious (46%)
  • Scared highest among $100K+ (41%)
  • More educated you are the more anxious
  • Women are more anxious, cautious, concerned, worried

Similarly, pockets of the country report different levels of anxiety, confusion and hope.

  • Regional – most anxious are those in Pacific (45%) and West North Central (54%) – Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Kansas
  • Regional – most confused in New England (32%)
  • Regional – most hopeful East South Central (41%) – Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
  • Those in states with the most confirmed cases to date are more likely to be scared – nearly 4 in 10 vs. others, otherwise there are no obvious differences.

With all of this focus and the dramatic changes from late last week, we now find 3 in 4 Americans (73%) believe it is a real threat and not blown out of proportion. Gen Z are those most likely to say blown out of proportion at 40% as are those int the Mountain states 40% – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.


It’s A Mental Health Challenge

The biological virus spreading is causing a psychological war people are waging in their own minds every day now due to all of the uncertainty and change impacting daily living. In fact, four in ten (42%) Americans expect the virus will negatively impact their mental health.

The emotions we see pop among those who are expecting a mental health impact tell the story from a human point of view. All of these numbers compare those who expect difficulty with mental health compared with those who do not expect an impact to their mental health.

  • 56% anxious vs. 25% (+31)
  • 68% worried vs. 40% (+28)
  • 63% cautious vs. 38% (+25)
  • 67% concerned vs. 44% (+23)
  • 44% scared vs. 22% (+22)
  • 41% afraid vs. 26% (+15)

The mental health concern is much higher among women. It is also highest with both Gen Z and Gen X, a majority (52%) of those self-employed, and 46% among households in the suburbs. This anxiety builds when people don’t see a way out and expect this to go longer. We see it triggered by worrying about family, relationship with your partner, and your physical health.

The mental health challenge in this crisis is very real. This presents a meaningful pathway in for those brands that can help provide practical/pragmatic support, information and knowledge, and/or distractions.


Trust Is Hard to Come By When It Comes to Reliable Information

Our survey results show that the majority of Americans only trust in the CDC (60%) and WHO (55%). Local health departments are the next most trusted at 49% of Americans.

Interestingly, people tell us they trust TV news (local or national), the government, and the local school district about the same level (just over a third of Americans say they trust these sources).

Trusting your employer in this time of crisis is very much tied to whether you work full-time or part-time. Half (47%) of full-time employees say they trust their employer. But this drops to 29% among those working only part-time.

Only 17% report they trust social media (26% Millennials, 23% Gen X, and 30% in urban centers)  for information. And 23% of households trust the information they get from search results (32% Millennials and 28% Gen X).

To date, half (50%) of Americans say they’re left more confused based upon government -provided information. This sentiment is the highest among Gen Z (59%) and Boomers (56%), part-time workers (66%), and the self-employed (62%). Government’s leadership has been lacking in providing confidence amidst the crisis for some time now. We will be looking to see if and how these measures change in the coming weeks.

We are sending you the full topline of the survey results as a separate attachment. We are working on a deeper analysis in a number of areas that we will publish and get out there to provide more context.


Major Economic Impact Is Seen Now

As a result of the coverage, the macro impact is becoming clear to most people today.

  • Almost everyone expects a negative impact on the economy, both at the US and the global level (both 83%). A clear majority expect a very negative impact to both (55%).
  • We see the same with expected impact on air travel (82% international, 83% domestic). But more believe the impact will be very negative (68% and 60%).


It is Starting to Get Personal

Most Americans are not worried they will get sick. Nearly 7 in 10 (65%) as of Friday do not expect the virus pandemic to negatively impact their own health. However, 80% believe it will negatively impact the health of all other Americans.

But, even if the physical health is not driving a big concern, we are seeing evidence that it is starting to get personal in other ways.

– Most Americans expect a negative impact on their activities (59%), their finances (54), and  their job (51%, 64% of part-time workers).

  • 43% have cancelled eating out and spending time with friends in groups +10 people (47% in most impacted states). Illustrating a potential trigger, 51% of those expecting negative mental health have already cancelled time with friends in group of 10.
  • 42% have cancelled travel out of town (most 65% for vacation – 37% for work). Interestingly, the travel cancellations are self-reporting highest among Gen Z (53%) and Millennials (45%), as well as minority audiences of Hispanics (54%) and Asians (55%). The figure is higher, regionally, at 47% in the states hit the hardest with cases so far.
  • 40% have cancelled entertainment plans (mostly movies 63%, events 47%, and sporting events 37%).

Those cutting back activities at higher rates, generally, are higher education and higher income households and those who live in the most impacted states. Overall, however, Gen Z (46%) and Millennials (54%) report having made the most notable changes compared with 38% of Gen X, 24% of Boomers, and 15% of the Silent Generation. And Hispanics (54%), Asians (51%), those currently employed, and those who are higher educated eport having made notable changes.

People are beginning to feel it hit everyday life. As more companies cut back, reduce salaries, and let people go, the personal impact will become even more real. We will be looking closely at how the underpinning emotional mindset shifts over time.


Missed Time with Family and Friends

The impact of social distancing is hitting time together like never before. Most people do not expect the virus spread to negatively impact their family (69%), but 40% do believe it will negative impact their time with family and friends. As a result, we see find:

  • 29% have cancelled time with family in the last two weeks
  • 40% have reached out more to family and friends, and 40% expect to do even more in the coming weeks
  • 34% have done more personal video calls

People are craving connection. Creative and authentic ways to enhance this in an isolated state will go a long way to filling this void. A great example is what actor Josh Gad is doing in reading stories to parents and their children each night on Twitter. The authentic connection is evident in the way families are gathering “virtually” to catch these “live” story-telling events each night.


Solidarity Coming?

There is evidence of a silver lining in that 42% believe this crisis is bringing the nation closer together. Only 14% believe it will not make a difference and another 32% believe it is creating further division.

The older and more educated you are the more likely you are to believe this is bringing us closer together – 53% of those 65+  and 40% of Gen X, 49% Boomers, 52% Silent. In contrast, youth is seeing this through a lens of division with 47% of Gen Z and 39% of Millennials saying it is driving us further apart. Will this turn into a unified sense of solidarity, or a generational divide?

The positive signs are that 20% have already done more to reach out to check on their neighbors this past week. And we do see 28% of Americans feel hopeful and 21% report feeling optimistic. Outreach and interaction to help one another can fuel a unity as in past crises.


Shopping Is Being Curtailed, But Then It is Not In Some Areas

Shopping habits are mixed. Most, 67%, have either cancelled or changed shopping trips and 55% have cut back on planned purchases, mostly apparel, major household goods, and tech/electronics. But 34% say they did more shopping for food in the last week and 26% bought more basic household goods in the last week.

And, more than a third (37%) expect to do more shopping in the next two weeks for apparel, tech, household, and beauty. And 14% claim they will make a big purchase in the next two weeks (home, car, etc.). So, expectations for spend are there – lockdowns, however, will prevent and/or shift this behavior further.

Our data showed that 41% claim to have done more shopping online in the last week than they would typically do. This breaks with 27% doing more online deliver and 21% more online pickup.

Data Source: Heart+Mind Strategies fielded a series of questions 3/18-19/2020 via an online survey. Access the full report here: Download PDF.

Sample: n=1,035 US Adults 18+

Topics: We explored attitudes, feelings, and actions with respect to the COVID-19 crisis. This provides a quick look at the key storylines we uncovered by quickly digging into the data set.