Dr. Cristina de Balanzo, Director at Walnut Unlimited, shares five findings of Walnut’s recent Covid-19 research and what they mean for brands.

Walnut Unlimited’s ‘Understanding the Nation’ research tracker has captured public opinion since the pandemic began and shown that uncertainty is still the most prevalent emotion amongst those measured.

Based on these initial findings, a separate study was launched partnering with research company Neurohm and using Walnut Unlimited’s Human Understanding Lab, the study was across 17 countries, and the differences in attitudes both locally and internationally tells us a lot about emotions and behaviour in response to Covid-19.

The research takes into account people’s reaction time when answering questions. Reaction time can uncover doubts and uncertainty hidden behind rational answers – giving a more accurate picture. In short, confident (faster) answers indicate higher quality connection between rational and emotional views, and slower answers, on the other hand, indicate the reverse.  

We ran an online, nationally representative survey enhanced with implicit measurements to see which of the common opinions regarding Covid-19 truly resonates among people on emotional levels. As people answered a series of statements, we measured what they said AND the confidence of their response to giving us additional insights.

The overall findings were ‘communication’ and the need for focus on simplicity from both brands and Governments. So, what can we learn about communications?

Here are five findings:

1. Social trust has deteriorated

Ambiguous communications and mixed information has given rise to anti maskers, chip vaccine thinkers and conspiracy theorists. Fear fuelled by mixed information from a mixture of sources about Covid-19 has created serious mistrust. It has created fertile ground for conspiracy theories, frustration and anger. Social trust has further deteriorated.

The gap between the rational declarations and emotional conviction in terms of the attitudes around the Covid-19 vaccine is proof of that in most of the tested countries. Most respondents claim they want to get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available (65%), but the emotional conviction behind this attitude is saying that they are unsure about it as less than half of them were convinced (32%)Suggesting that even if people want to believe that the vaccine is the right choice, they are fearful.

In times of uncertainty people’s moods change daily and they look to others they trust or those that have a voice. Brands sit strongly within this ‘others’ category. People look for brands to demonstrate empathy and understanding of our state of being.

2. The lack of clear communication has unengaged a worldwide voluntary workforce

Across the world, we saw people willing to help people who are more vulnerable to Covid-19, but at the same time their emotional conviction was low – 70% declared eagerness to help but only 26% of these attitudes were strong with a high chance to drive the actual behaviour. The low conviction rates indicate that most people did not know HOW to help. This shows how important clear communication is when supporting society and local communities, highlighting the crucial role of communications shaping attitudes.

People seek processing fluency — things or situations that are easy to process mentally. This is one of the key unconscious strategies our brains use to conserve cognitive energy while ascribing value and meaning to features of the world around us. The faster we can process the information, the more open we are to it.

3. The gratefulness for our healthcare professionals was recorded as one of the strongest held beliefs universally

In terms of gratefulness for healthcare professionals – it was deeply held worldwide. Healthcare professionals have been the centre of the entire pandemic, so empathy for them is high. Many media stories covering nurses and doctors, promoting their work and depicting them as heroes, built positive associations and strengthened our gratitude for their work – 90% of respondents expressed their gratefulness openly and over 70% were truly convinced about it.

Interestingly, the emotional strength of this attitude is lower in well developed countries where healthcare is perceived as the best in the region (e.g. Germany, Switzerland, Lebanon). It’s possible that people in these countries might perceive healthcare more as a commercial service, and thus their expectations and demands are higher. Empathy is necessary when uncertainty hits and it is key for engaging with people because it is the one thing that can bring together human needs and emotions.

Applied to brand communications, it is the feeling of individuals recognising themselves in a brand’s meanings. The inner understanding of empathy opens a variety of creative routes based on inner human needs.

4. Government speculation is high worldwide and people have felt the impact of ambiguous communications

Among all 17 countries, belief in governments doing a good job dealing with Covid-19 is growing weak. In most of the tested countries, less than half of the respondents (47%) declaratively agreed with this statement ‘The government is doing a good job dealing with COVID-19’ and even for those who openly said ‘yes’ the emotional confidence for this attitude was low (31%). Only for Switzerland and Singapore did the scores seem to be stronger with over 70% of respondents declaring that their governments are doing a good job and over 55% of them being truly convinced about that, with Portugal not far behind.

For all these countries, honest communication, frequent updates, and emergency budgets effectively rolled-out, were indicated as sources of trust. It is another proof of how important a good and thoughtful strategy for communication is and how it can shape social perception.

5. Increasing uncertainty is driven by our inability to trust our judgment and an absence of patterns

One of the big questions marks every nation had was in regards to whether being together all the time increases family tensions. No matter the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, people had very low confidence in their answers. On average 51% of respondents declaratively agreed that it is true while 31% said ‘no’. However, when we look at how many of these answers were provided with strong conviction, we can see that only 19% of ‘yes’ answers and ‘8%’ of ‘no’s were strong. These scores show how unprecedented times we are living in are and the overall uncertainty. It is not surprising that the fear and the need to take back control is getting stronger worldwide because people have never been in a situation like this and thus, we do not know what to expect.

Simplicity is what institutions and brands require more than ever before. It helps to generate emotional engagement. Brains look for information easy to process. Keep it simple. Brains are prioritizing, ignoring or making an assumption in a matter of milliseconds.

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