Crystal Ball: What is Next for 2021?

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It’s hard to imagine that anyone had the foresight to know what 2020 had in store. When the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 2020, many of us were consumed with grand ideations and expectations for the upcoming year – promises of personal development, career growth, and flourishing relationships. Any unconscious acknowledgement of the ruling sentiment ‘you just never know what can happen’ seemed far-removed; 2020 was going to be a big year. We were sure of it.

Perhaps, we weren’t entirely wrong. 2020 has been a big year – an epic one, if anything –  but likely not for the reasons we expected. Since March, our daily experience has been utterly transformed, often ruled by increasingly urgent headlines and the measures ushered in by a pandemic that has taken global communities by storm. Jobs have been lost, industries have been forever changed, and individuals have come to understand the grave reality of social isolation. In that same breath, however, new jobs have been created, industries have revealed themselves as essential, brands have found ways to pivot, and we have realized an opportunity to recalibrate on a personal level, while maintaining connections with loved ones from afar. Change, whether good or bad, has been our only constant – the only guarantee in the uncertain landscape across which a pandemic evolves.

And now, as we approach the end of a year that challenged us on a global scale, both personally and professionally, socially and economically, we arrive at the ultimate question: What now? What comes next? For all this talk of a ‘new normal’, what will the post-pandemic world look like? In their annual ‘Connecting the Dots’ report, Global Web Index surveyed over 2 billion connected consumers to provide clarity and perspective on the year ahead.

A More Responsible, Socially Conscious Approach to Business

A value-driven approach to business isn’t a new concept; the millennial generation has played an integral role in changing brands’ perception of the modern consumer. Over the last decade, consumers have grown increasingly aware of, and sensitive to, the values of the brands they purchase from. Beyond competitive pricing and convenience, consumers want to know what brands care about. Are they good to their employees and customers? What do they stand for? Are they environmentally conscious? Do they help to champion important causes? Oftentimes, these were the questions which helped to determine whether or not a consumer became a loyal customer, or took their business elsewhere.

While the continued spread of COVID-19 incited fear and job insecurity across populations, the positioning of brands was aptly put to the test. Shifting away from a sales-first mentality, companies were expected to offer support to both customers and staff during a time when empathy and sincerity became the hallmark of social and economic well-being. Consumers wanted to feel that brands aligned with them, their values, and their struggles. More than ever before, consumers were holding brands accountable and, in 2021, this will continue to be a prominent theme across industries.

Moving forward, GWI reveals that 59% of consumers want brands to place more focus on supporting people during COVID-19, and 51% want brands to be more eco-friendly. 41% of respondents also noted an emphasis on brands’ support of social causes. What does this mean? Well, a little kindness goes a long way. It doesn’t just matter what brands are selling, it matters what they’re doing to make the world a better place.

Consumer Care Should be Your First Priority

“The customer comes first” mantra is alive and well. In fact, it’s more important than ever before; COVID-19 has seemingly accelerated the consumer-centric approach to service. While customer service has always been a factor in a brand’s success, GWI notes that in the coming year, customers will be won or lost through everyday interactions. It not only matters how companies handle grievances or fulfill purchases, it will also matter how proactive and personalized their service is, how they regularly communicate with current and prospective customers, and how they support their customers across every touch-point.

GWI’s findings reveal that 3 out of 5 internet users say that bad customer service would negatively affect their purchasing decisions, while nearly half say that bad press would do the same. ‘Poor environmental record’ and ‘sub-standard labour conditions’ are also important factors in current purchase decisions. It’s also important to note that customer and staff safety should be a paramount consideration of any brand both now and in the future. Heightened cleanliness and safety standards will continue to prevail throughout 2021, and corresponding policies should be articulated by companies in transparent fashion.

Environmentally Conscious Brands

In July 2020, 72% of consumers across 20 countries said companies behaving sustainably was more important to them because of COVID-19. Moreover, around 70% also said that reducing their own impact on the environment was more important because of the outbreak. The writing is on the wall: COVID-19 opened our eyes, and the environmental concerns we held heading into 2020 are being considered with new weight. In the wake of the pandemic, brands will be expected to place sustainability at the forefront of their offering, while consumers look to consume products and services in a more thoughtful, responsible manner. Staying true to this emerging trend, where consumers would previously drive or board a train, they now prefer a short walk or a cycle. In fact, 42% of regular public transport users say they’d prefer to walk for their commute to work in the future.

As quarantine has forced us to consider our personal and professional lives with a renewed perspective, many consumers are adopting a ‘less is more mindset’. A preference for urban city centres may be replaced by a desire for land, rural community, and nature. A reliance on in-person convenience may shift to virtual, self-service solutions and e-commerce offerings. A demand for technological innovation may also be tempered with the need for meaningful human connection, leading to an influx of hybrid experiences and service models. Mindless consumption is out, and thoughtful brand engagement with public safety at the forefront is in. Brands are expected to adopt a more sincere, community-centric approach to business that prioritizes the well-being and social interests of consumers and staff. Consumers, for their part, are expected to hold brands accountable and continue to move the needle in favour of more conscious and sustainable purchase decisions.

The pandemic may have changed the way we do things forever but, perhaps, that isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps, we’re in the midst of a reset, of sorts; one that will establish a more value-driven, people-centric economic landscape. Perhaps this pandemic allowed us to connect the dots towards a better future.