2021 COVID-19 Pulse Report


Top Takeaways

2021 COVID-19 Pulse Report

Trust in government and policy makers has steadily declined over the past year, particularly in Canada, which saw a significant decrease in confidence over the past twelve months. Our analysis indicates that while Americans’ trust in the news media was low to begin with, Canadians deteriorating trust is a relatively new state.

2021 COVID-19 Pulse Report

On the surface, the emotional impact of the pandemic seems similar across the border, but our study confirms the personal impact from COVID-19 is felt much more strongly by Canadians than Americans.

2021 COVID-19 Pulse Report

We leveraged the APEX Scoring System to measure the attitudes that drive people’s actions with major brands across five industry verticals to identify the key gaps in these relationships. North Americans are seeking greater dependability, forward-thinking, and respect from the brands they engage with.

Reflecting on the first anniversary of this global, life-altering Covid-19 pandemic, and being an eternal optimist, I was reminded of the adage “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. It speaks to the  desire for all of us to not give in, or give up, no matter the obstacles or odds we face.

Our inaugural Covid Pulse study from May of 2020 uncovered how the pandemic was altering not just people’s actions, but their expectations and attitudes, and to suggest a path forward for brands competing in a handful of categories. We shared the clues that we felt could help “the tough get going.” Now, one year later, we wanted to reach back out to see what’s changed.

What new obstacles do brands, businesses and companies need to understand and address?

On a personal level, the pandemic has taught me a lot. It’s taught me about finding resourcefulness in trying things differently; about overcoming adversity; and about exercising the patience to embrace new behaviors.

What about the emotions behind our collective actions?

At Emotive, we make it our business to go behind the headlines and help clients understand how feelings and beliefs guide actions. Our second Covid Pulse Report does just this, in the context of the current pandemic, and the patterns we see that have emerged since our first report.

This article summarizes what we learned from the most recent study. It points to trends related to those internal drivers which originally surfaced back in 2020’s pulse report.

Here’s what we learned this year.

Already low trust in government and policy makers has declined even further

A revelation of last year’s study was that many people (69%) expected brands to play a fundamental role in leading the way through the pandemic and into the future, while far fewer (46%) believed governments were acting in their best interest.

One year later, with remarkable scientific progress on uncovering more effective anti-viral treatments, the momentum of multiple global pharmaceuticals solving the puzzle of a vaccine in record time, and the launch of an accelerated vaccination program in North America indicating the likelihood of all citizens receiving protection by the end of 2021, you might think people would have more faith and trust in their government this year than last. Not so.

The skepticism people shared with us last year has only deepened.

This trend is particularly acute in Canada, where people are far less likely in 2021 to believe that “government and policy-makers act with my best interests at heart”. Canadians are also less likely to agree this year, in comparison to last, that they “trust the experts”, an effect which holds true for Americans as well (64% in 2020 vs. 54% in 2021).

COVID-19 Pulse Report

Canadians and Americans have different levels of trust in how the news and media will help them navigate the pandemic.

One area of note where Canadians and Americans seem to diverge significantly is in their trust of news and media sources to help them stay informed and understand what’s happening around them.

COVID-19 Pulse Report

Canadians trust their national news providers far less in 2021, and their skepticism of social media as “a good place to find out what’s really happening out there” has grown since July of last year.

Americans, on the other hand, have increased their trust in social media, and remain relatively unchanged in their belief that national news providers are not very trustworthy.

You should continue striving to be seen as relatable, empathetic, and to share in the emotional ups and downs of the public, free of judgement.

Canadians are emotionally distinct to Americans, in ways you may not expect

Decades ago, Michael Adams’ iconic book Fire and Ice used extensive research to debunk the myths of converging values between Canada and the US, and instead highlighted how these two cultures are actually growing further apart. The emotional impact of the pandemic would seem, on the surface, to be one of those few opportunities for the two countries to have shared experiences and similar emotional reactions.

Our study confirms that is not the case. Several key metrics accentuate the differences.

The personal impact from Covid-19 has taken a much greater toll on Canadians than Americans.

More Canadians than Americans feel COVID-19 has negatively impacted their physical health , mental well being, personal finances, and job.

The data also show a nearly 20-point gap between Canadians and Americans when it comes to the negative impact COVID has had on their community.

COVID-19 Pulse Report
COVID-19 Pulse Report

While all North Americans shared negative feelings towards the overall COVID-19 experience, Canadians were significantly more likely to feel frustrated and/or anxious than their US counterparts, further highlighting the downward shift Canadians are going through during this time.

Recognizing these differences is imperative for North American marketers who tap into the shared emotional toll of the pandemic empathetically, across all their customer segments.

Experiences are not universal, north and south of the border, and any attempts to suggest otherwise will fall on deaf ears in at least one of the countries.

Despite the emotional toll, rational beliefs are in greater need now more than ever

Last year, “joy” was the feeling people longed for from the brands and companies in their lives (check out last year’s COVID-19 Pulse Report, here). This year, joy hasn’t gone away, but rather has been deprioritized, and in its place several more rational beliefs people want to experience have bubbled to the top.

Our research shows that the best experiences audiences are having — regardless of industry — are “uncomplicated” and “predictable” ones. (learn more about how your brand can show up in an uncomplicated way, here).

When it comes to the different industries analyzed in our COVID-19 Pulse Report, unique opportunities exist across these industries to deepen audience relationships.

People want their banking institutions and mobile telecom providers to be more “dependable”, in ways that go beyond the simple transactions at hand and demonstrate a sense that they have their back.

They want their hotel and hospitality brands to be more “forward-thinking” and innovative, especially when trying to lure them back into travel whenever that’s possible again.

They want retailers to be more “respectful” of not just what they want, but when and how.

COVID-19 Pulse Report

That’s not to say that feelings about a brand, from “principled” and “meaningful” to “distinct” and “empathetic” aren’t still important, they’ve just become of equal and undeniable value to a set of beliefs.

Brands that respond accordingly, and nurture a more balanced set of attitudes, will reap the rewards.


The APEX Scoring system is the underlying bedrock to our research, and it frames the results we found for this 2021 COVID Pulse report. APEX scores and tracks audience engagement, through measuring 16 core attitudes, and their influence on key behaviors. Most clients use APEX as an alternative with toNPS, and as a meaningful additive to typical brand health metrics.

Attitudes are, by definition, inside the mind. And while they may not be immediately accessible to anyone looking, it doesn’t mean we can’t measure or make sense of them.

With APEX, a technology backed by behavioral science, we’re able to peer inside the mind of your audience members. Capturing these hidden internal drivers is the What of your customers and employees, namely, the things they need to feel engaged and supported. With the What firmly in place, your Why begins to look a heck of a lot clearer … and not just to you but to your audience members as well.

In the midst of this pandemic, people are anxious to re-engage, with friends, family, work colleagues, and the brands in their lives.

Understanding how people want you to make them feel, and what they want to believe, allows you to move upstream of their behaviors, to gain clarity of motivation and to ultimately achieve mutual benefit.

We hope this gives you the signs you’re looking for, to create stronger relationships with all your most important audiences, and helps get you through the pandemic, and build the foundations of audience-centricity for years to come.

COVID-19 Pulse Survey | 1 Year Impact Study: Methodology

This study was developed using our proprietary APEX Scoring System, which allows us to understand the strength and direction of the key attitudes that drive the relationships between brands and their audiences.

Study Details:

  • Online survey of 1332 individuals
  • US and Canada residents (even split)
  • Survey dates: March 8-9, 2021
  • Demographically diverse
  • Industries tested:
  • Banks
  • Quick Service Dining
  • Hotels
  • Mobile Providers
  • Retail (in-store / online)

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