It’s undeniable that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on behaviour and attitudes – not only towards our health, but our beliefs about government, society, work/life balance, and beyond. Our sister company, Huxly, conducted a segmentation of 1000 UK consumers to examine emerging groups: from the “optimists”, through to the “overwhelmed”. Cathy Haw, Research Director, shares a few thoughts on their findings below. Please get in touch to receive a booklet containing the full findings from this endeavour!

All of us have been touched by the virus in some way – whether catching it ourselves; knowing someone who has been unwell; or tragically experiencing someone passing away. But beyond the broad-reaching and undeniably catastrophic implications of the pandemic, there are emerging conversations about how this global event has changed the smaller facets of our behaviour at home and at work as well as igniting discussions around what the longer term picture may look like.

Even within my own “echo chamber” of like-minded friends and family, I have been struck by the varying emotional and behavioural responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some seem to be devoting more time to self-improvement; making more time for exercise, going vegetarian, or cutting back on booze – whereas others are (understandably) putting less pressure on themselves and turning to comfort foods, box sets, and delicious wines. I can completely sympathise with both perspectives, and find myself oscillating wildly between the two depending on mood, how my research projects are going, or the day of the week…

And when lockdown restrictions were (temporarily) eased here in the UK, I was intrigued by the variability in attitudes to this development: some were eager to “bend” the rules slightly (seven people in a garden, when the limit is six?? Er, the police are on their way…), whereas for others this led to a lot of anxiety and an instinctive eagerness to follow guidelines to the letter- even if, thanks to the governments dodgy comms strategy, these letters where somewhat difficult to read. I recall mixed views on the efficacy of masks, and a particularly memorable conversation with a friend who took her mask off in order to sneeze whilst on the bus, somewhat defeating the object (“what, I’m meant to sneeze into it??”)

But stepping away from my anecdotal experience, our sister company Huxly have done a much more robust analysis into exploring behavioural and attitudinal segments when it comes to COVID-19. Their project, involving 1000 UK consumers, describes six segments – often most defined by their affluence and their fear of the virus.


On one extreme, we have “Relentless Optimists” – young, fearless, living in house shares, and desperate to return to normal life- a group who essentially think they are not going to get the virus. From a behavioural science perspective, this is interesting! Optimism can be dangerous, and not particularly motivating to adapt behaviour or adherence to rules…



And on another, we have the “Scared and Lonely”– older, living alone, and very worried about catching the virus. Importantly, this group anticipate greater financial impact as a result of the pandemic and are less optimistic about a return to normality – showing how our situation, capabilities, and resources can dramatically impact our attitudes.


Huxly’s report also contains an interesting insight into shopping behaviour: it will be no surprise to hear that online shopping and the purchasing of cleaning products is on the up, along with sales of chocolate and crisps (taking us right back to those comfort foods and the need to “go easy” on ourselves!).Whilst focusing in particular on the consumer space and some interesting implications for the “sensory” experience of products (particularly at home), there’s plenty to learn and lots of food for thought in this report for anyone interested in the changing mindsets amidst a pandemic.


I’m fascinated to consider how the healthcare sector will adapt to the post-COVID world; and how we communicate with physicians and patients alike with regard to their pandemic experience. How we value the proposition of a patient support programme, for example, could be tailored depending on residual anxiety in different groups: or how messaging for physicians could tap into either the desire for normality or a need for caution, depending on the segment in front of you.

We’d love to share the findings of this  report with you, so drop us a line and we’ll send you a full PDF. At HRW, we value our experience and heritage in the consumer sector and consider how we can leverage these learnings to our work in pharma- so we hope you’ll enjoy this as much as we did!


Words by Cathy Haw

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