Originally posted on The Drum
It’s both a cliche and an understatement to say that the pandemic turned the world upside-down. While some regions of the globe are beginning to return to “normal,” we still have a long way to go until the public health and cultural upheaval become memories.
Stay-at-home orders have meant a return to the basics, while simultaneously catapulting our lives into the future. While the UK is still in the thick of it with a national lockdown and a slow vaccine rollout, analysts have set their sights on what we’ll be doing when we’re allowed to leave home for the first time in months. As it turns out, many of the habits we developed over the course of the longest year in history are here to stay – and marketers should take note as they plan for the year ahead.
Last spring, we saw sales of household goods soar in a number of countries, as consumers sought to stock up on the essentials. Brands like AngelSoft and Lysol became hot commodities, as did little luxuries like Cadbury, Gordon’s and Dove. But yesteryears needs are sticking around as 2021’s wants. We can expect consumers to continue to buy products they know, trust, and crave throughout the next year, as they prioritise value and comfort in a volatile market. Emblematic of this is the renewed popularity of processed cheese in America – after years of decline, this cheap, shelf-stable, nostalgic ingredient has made a big comeback.
But it’s not all bad news for challenger brands. According to GlobalWebIndex, 72% of consumers said companies behaving sustainably was more important during the pandemic, and 86% wanted brands to support their communities during tough times. Emerging brands that root their identity in sustainability and social justice will have plenty of stickiness this year. In fact, we’re already off to a flying start with Veganuary, with vegetarian and vegan brands seeing the continuation of their rise to prominence in 2020.
For most of us, our world has been reduced to the few miles (or meters) in which we live. This has been a 180 for the way marketers understand the millennial mindset of the 2010’s, one that values experiences over ownership, and places the “digital nomad” lifestyle on a pedestal. Instead, we’ve seen a decrease in interest in pastimes like live music, theatre, and dining out, and a boom in the furniture industry. Consumers have traded their concert tickets for connected speakers, their co-working spaces for home offices, and food trucks for Deliveroo.
Some unexpected beneficiaries of stay-at-home orders have been brands like Wayfair and Lowe’s. Whether dealing in home goods online, or retaining the ability to stay open as an essential business. Even Gen Z is getting in on the action, as GWI has reported a spike in their interest in cooking, DIY and gardening – hobbies we’d typically associate with pensioners. An entirely new market has opened in the leisure category, with DIY kits for everything from soapmaking to molecular gastronomy to pottery seeing rising popularity.
But you can’t stay inside forever. According to GWI, 42% of regular public transport users say they’d prefer to walk for their commute to work in the future – and this is good news for brick-and-mortars. We can expect to see a greater emphasis in shopping on the high street, especially when it comes to supporting local business, as working from home and commuting on foot and bike are here to stay. To capitalise on this trend, local retailers should work hard to raise local awareness, and be sure they’re set up to accept online and contactless payments. This shouldn’t be hard, as card and payments services like PayPal, Stripe, and Revolut have seen huge gains.
If any category won over the last year, it was streaming services. From Disney+ to Netflix, streaming video has kept us fit, educated, entertained and most of all, sane, throughout the pandemic. And it wasn’t all movies and tv.
Twitch viewership grew by 26.2% in the US, as gamers and audiences gathered in virtual spaces. Social games like Apex Legends, Fall Guys, and Among Us have experienced unprecedented popularity. Speaking from personal experience, my wife has spent a whopping 500+ hours catching fish and planting flowers in Animal Crossing – but the game has also allowed her to “visit” friends virtually. Gamified experiences have transcended consoles too, with the popularity of dating apps also on the rise.
Peloton also saw its user base more than double – it turns out, that commercial we all made fun of in 2019 was more prophetic than pathetic. In a perfect storm of on-demand content, gym closures and self-improvement, the spinning brand has dominated the category as it launched in new markets. To cope with the changing needs of consumers, other brands have pivoted to streaming content, even in the events and travel industry. This virtual alternative to experiential marketing and engagement is cheaper, more flexible, and more convenient than IRL events, even if it may not pack quite as big a punch.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. There are sure to be new challenges and opportunities presented by the ongoing global health crisis, the aftermath of the Trump era, a Biden/Harris White House, Brexit, climate change – you name it. Not to mention industry-specific concerns like an increased emphasis on consumer privacy and industry-wide belt-tightening when it comes to ad spend.
Ultimately, the most vital takeaway for brands and advertisers is to stay flexible, available, and to communicate well with prospective customers. A well-researched and actively optimised digital creative strategy is always a good bet. I’d also expect high demand for assets that can be adjusted on the fly. After all, how often have you wanted to make urgent announcements across your channels over the past year? And of course, video isn’t going anywhere (hey there, TikTok).
Brands, you have your audiences’ attention – don’t miss your opportunity! The pandemic has created a captive audience, and that audience wants brands to do better. Delivering better marketing content, greater convenience, and a more human approach to corporate citizenship, any brand can succeed in 2021.