It’s that time of the year when we reflect on the past and consider the implications for the future. As consumers, as business leaders, as humans. The great global restart has begun and we offer our trend outlook as we all envision a post-vaccine world.
2020 offered us the greatest collective deprivation study ever conducted, creating a shared experience and dramatic shifts in action, attention and intention that need to be considered by all business leaders.
2021 presents more than a simple return to life as normal. We aren’t necessarily craving a return to the old normal, we want a restart that allows us to operate with more individualized humanity in this changed world. We see three big themes that are shaping this restart as we move into our new future.
There is no shortage of major challenges to solve and we will need all of our human collective brainpower to build a world for future generations and for ourselves. In the past year, we had to dig deep and rely on our own ingenuity to tackle both everyday challenges and ever mounting concerns. With technology as a great accelerant, we were emboldened by our pioneer mindset. We are now raising the bar on our own individual abilities and we will be looking for brands and experiences that recognize and empower our advancement.
From the ingenious ways we became self-sufficient in in 2020 with mask and sanitizer making, cooking and bartering to kid-genuity in virtual builder games like Roblox and Tik Tok content creation, and platform innovation as Fortnite became a concert venue, there’s real long-term economic value to creativity as currency.
One major example of creativity as currency is the extreme rise and acceptance of user-generated content (UGC). While streaming had a stellar year with huge launches like Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max and Peacock, shows like the Mandalorian captivated the zeitgeist, and “big screen” movies premiered sans theaters. At the same time, consumers shared the center stage with help from Tik Tok bringing UGC solidly into the mainstream. Hamstrung by pandemic restrictions, Hollywood moved quickly to embrace the style (à la the trifecta of Disney/ABC Singalongs) while gamers engaged to an even greater extent in passive gaming content on YouTube and Twitch. UGC offers smart economics for production, but perhaps more importantly, it offers audience acceptance and even preference as illustrated in Magid insights from earlier this year below.
The intersection of the pioneer mindset, creativity as currency, and sheer necessity is dramatically fueling small business entrepreneurship. According to the U.S. Census Bureau via WSJ, applications for the employer identification numbers have passed 3.2 million so far this year, compared with 2.7 million at the same point in 2019. Even excluding gig-economy workers and other independent contractor applicants, new filings among a subset of business owners who tend to employ other workers increased 12% over the same period last year – the most since 2007. The balance of big business and small business is shifting and the landscape of how, why and where people will work will continue to evolve.
On the education front, the same dynamics are allowing us to break down traditional education as people, businesses and governments better understand – and more actively embrace – the need for collaboration, creativity, and new ways of thinking to advance. If your company isn’t unlocking ideas from all levels of the organization and does not have plans for reskilling and upskilling your employees, you risk being left behind. Innovation garages, incubation labs, and other paths to rapid innovation and iteration are the best ways to invent and re-invent the future. All organizations must harness their own creative currency to retain talent and advance their offerings.
Beyond the bubble: smaller circles, larger world
How we relate to each other has also fundamentally changed. With social distancing the norm, we are craving emotional connection and fulfillment.
In these new time-abundant worlds, many are embracing and relishing the space for hobbies, self-care and family dinners over endless activities like kids’ sports or office happy hours. We are decluttering closets, calendars and social circles. It remains to be seen just how long these pandemic pods and our catharsis will last, but we expect long-term shifts toward more intimate gatherings, closer connections and a desire for more meaningful exchanges to impact the decisions we make.
While our physical social circles have gotten smaller our worlds have also expanded. Exploring beyond our bubbles has become easier. We are connecting more globally fueled by our shared experience and we have taken our exercise and entertainment outside. Winnebago conducted a survey in 2020 finding that 60% of the U.S. population pursued an outdoor activity in 2020; for 31% of those consumers, it was their first time participating in an outdoor activity. The company has done extraordinarily well through the pandemic, driven by both the work-from-anywhere mentality and desire to move beyond our bubbles that will require employers rethink engagement, recruitment and retention with employees.
Employers are also going to need to demonstrate advanced emotional IQ. Empathy is prevailing over superficial social media echo chambers in many cases. Our individual perspective is expanding as we cook our own food, take on the role of teacher and coach, see the environment from a new vantage point as we lace up our walking shoes, and look in the face of injustice captured on video. In the next year, we will be more selective regarding what we take ownership over versus outsource. The prevailing hope is that our understanding of what’s essential, and the people who provide it, from the new-gig delivery workers to teachers to nurses, will forever be deepened.
As individuals, and as a society, we are setting new bars regarding who and what we trust in a world of truth decay. Our trust circles have been redrawn with our own [better] understanding of the world at the center. We are all awake and more engaged than ever. As we continue to experience a crisis of trust in our leaders, institutions and even religious organizations, we’re increasingly turning to brands. While Patagonia has long been a beacon for environmentalists, other brands like Pfizer are seeing the strength of their voice rise as consumers look for new arbiters of truth – does your brand or business have the permission to be one of these voices and if so, what can you do with that permission to deepen loyalty?
When it comes to the news media, there is still a trust halo as found in this IAB study, and there is a rise in the desire for more in-depth formats that align to our reignited desire for depth. With more kids online than ever, gaming, consuming content, creating content, it is imperative you start from a place of trust if you play in this space (see Magid’s work with FOSI on digital tools for today’s parents).
Expect a renewed desire for consumers to engage with companies that actively do good. Not just in word but also in deed. We all are expected to do better, be better and try harder. Consumers expect the same – and more from brands. Sure, Ben & Jerry’s is putting its fight for social justice front and center as it always has, but it backs it up. Around the time of this tweet, the company was more quietly engaged in a seven-week campaign as part of its efforts to reform and reimagine the criminal justice system.
If you do not know what that means to your consumers, employees, families and friends, you better figure that out quickly because consumers have had a lot of success with trying new brands and experiences.
Understanding what matters most to your audience in the rapidly evolving present has tangible value for driving consumer trial and loyalty in 2021 – and it isn’t just for B corps. Consumers want conscientious convenience. Brands and businesses will need to figure out how to break into that trusted circle by authentically appealing to what matters most for their core consumers – many of whom may be new due to pandemic sampling – and proving that they understand it in the experiences, products and corporate practices they employ.
Mindful time and spending
When we have more options with how to spend our time and money, how will we? We all had to be more intentional in 2020. From wearing masks to what we touch to how we shop, this intentionality made us consider and own each decision. We acutely recognize the value of our time and money now and in the future, we will continue to be more discerning in the spend of each.
The efficiency we have found in our lives is something we will not want to lose. We will challenge the need for in-person experiences and will expect a continuation of robust virtual offerings as well as delivery and curbside pickup options for everything including retail, meals and medications. Our understanding of delayed delivery times will wane as we are able move about the country more freely. Many of us have shifted commute times into working out, engaging with kids, and even caring for COVID pets – now that we’ve found more time and formed new habits, we will embrace doing more of what we value most. We have learned to say “no.” The “busy-ness” badge of honor will be replaced by an appreciation for those who operate with extreme intention.
Expect hybrid lives and offerings that balance digital and virtual in everything: from mental health and fitness to work and education to movie releases in home and theater. Employers and travel destinations alike will need to be prepared to accommodate and craft experiences aligned to this new way of living.
Our hybrid lives will be more authentic. Being on video all day, every day, has forced us all to look into the eyes of each other more often and has brought us all into each other’s homes, families and behind the scenes experiences. Insta-perfect lives have given way to reality, and there is a desire to retain this level of authenticity, humanity and contextual understanding. We will still get dressed up and go out in the future, business attire will not disappear, and we will all start to wear shoes and makeup again – but everything will be more authentic and intentional. How will you break into that intentionality cycle? What are the new life patterns where your brand needs to focus?
We are reprioritizing where and how we spend our dollars – for many this is a dire time. Jobless claims and first-time food shelf visits are up. For others, paying for gas, commuting, dining out, and entertainment has been stunted and those expenditures have been re-allocated to pandemic pursuits or micro-indulgences. For those with money coming in, savings rates are up, and they are paying off debt. As we look to the year ahead, the complex calculus of how we will allocate our disposable income will be balanced by our confidence in the economy and our authentic, post-pandemic selves.
Millennials and Gen Z do not want to finance their lives and this crisis has presented an opportunity for them to renew their focus on being responsible for their own personal finance.
Companies will need to figure out ways to engage and incentivize the behaviors that these generations want to and will continue to embrace. Companies like Afterpay will be a lifeline to retailers and these consumers. They incentivize consumers to make payments on time instead of penalizing and making money on late payments like credit card companies. They pay the merchant upfront, and in full, and are rewarded with a percentage of the increased basket size. For many merchants, they’ve become a top referrer of traffic. More companies will need to figure out how to work in concert with other organizations to their mutual benefit and tap into the desires and expectations of the consumer to mutual benefit in a true win-win-win scenario.
Global citizens have changed their mindset – from their relationships with one another to what they find meaningful. As business leaders need to consider the implications for our consumers, employees, offerings and industries. It is essential for brands, content, product and experience creators to truly understand the emotional experience that they are uniquely delivering and what parts of the consumer mind, body and soul they are feeding. Consumers expect companies to be as mindful about their experience as they are about the time and money that they spend.
As the global restart powers on, these are just a few themes we are discussing with our clients as we help them execute and prepare for the pivots now required of every business. Moving through the next phase, we will continue to share our thoughts and perspectives just as we did throughout 2020.