What’s on Trend?

Six Trends to Bring Your Brand into a Covid-Normal

This is part of a series related to how your business can become more relevant and connected to your consumer by demonstrating how your business meets their needs, responds effectively to trends and selectively embraces new fads to emerge successful during a pandemic.

This has been a most unusual year.

For many, 2020 has been all about survival. Expressing ourselves and investing in experiences gave way to pinching pennies, home hobbies, prioritising personal connections and appreciating simple pleasures. Needs are more important than trends, but we’ve naturally seen some trends and fads emerge during these pandemic times.

Needs are fundamental to our human condition. Trends are generated from wants and desires. And trends tend to take hold over time, often in backlash to trends in previous generations (think localisation in opposition to globalisation, grunge music in opposition to disco). Trends build momentum through people or brands which are seen as credible and desirable.

For businesses trying to survive in a COVID-19 world, the words ‘change and adapt’ have been critical. To move beyond survival and into growth, businesses will need to pivot into new spaces designed to give consumers greater confidence and long term connection with the brand, particularly while there are high levels of anxiety and economic uncertainty.

The Future Laboratory suggests as consumers find their balance in a new COVID-normal world, societies and brands will need to further reshape the way they respond to resonate. Evidence to date has shown people are embracing a more introspective, slower and more joyful life than pre-pandemic.

Some emerging trends are now fully realised. Online shopping, supporting more local, sustainable choices and mindful consumerism were fringe considerations  prior to 2020, and have now taken hold both consciously and through necessity.

So what does this mean exactly? Here are the top six trends your business should plan for and build into your future direction…

1. Go Slow

How are you allowing consumers to feel a sense of well-being and nourishment with your brand? This might sound and seem too new-age for you, but with what we’ve all been through our mental well-being is literally top of mind for many.

Christine McKinnon from Dentsu, wrote in Marketing Magazine in August: “In 2021, we’re looking at a consumer without certainty. We will see Aussies who are distressed, disconnected, and disillusioned and with a demand for more diversity.”

The slow food movement has been around since the 1980s, started in backlash to McDonalds opening in Rome. It found its feet in many regional foodie centres of the world, where people have tended to value more time to grow, harvest, pickle, preserve, make, bake and create at home. In 2020, we have seen this trend embed itself in urban, suburban, single, shared, family and retirement homes. Slow living is no longer just about food. It’s also about fashion, hobbies and a more mindful lifestyle.

This backlash is not just in reaction to large corporations, it’s also in reaction to speed. Slow living makes us appreciate things that take time, such as homemade, artisan and beautifully crafted foods and goods.  They might cost a little more but they tend to have a longer shelf life and a higher sense of reward.

There are many ways for you to bring slow living into your business. Classes, communities, sharing knowledge, fostering talent and investing time in creating connections will bring your consumer closer to your brand for the personal or mental nourishment it gives them.

2. Have Purpose

I’ve been talking about the need for brands to embrace a purpose for a while, but it has never meant more to consumers than now. In 2018, Accenture did a comprehensive survey to understand global consumer preferences. They found 62 percent of their nearly 30,000 respondents wanted companies to take a stand on issues like sustainability, diversity and fair employment practices.

Consumers have a growing expectation for brands they invest in to align with their personal values. In a social media age, brands are no longer the property of a company but of their community. What is said, shared and tagged by consumers online holds a lot more value than the product itself. It’s an ecosystem which has a direct impact on a brand’s bottom line.

Accenture’s ‘To Affinity and Beyond’ report says consumers assess what a brand says, what it stands for and what it does. The companies which are not proactive in this space, pay the price. The survey found 53 percent of consumers who are disappointed with a brand’s words or actions on a social issue complain about it.

Brands like Thank You, Patagonia and The Body Shop are examples of brands which have shaped their brand promise and proposition on a strong sense of purpose. Businesses or brands without a social purpose can easily find it by documenting your brand values and demonstrate how you live by them. Provide consumers with opportunities to engage in causes you support and they’ll feel really good about being an advocate for your brand to their friends.

There’s numerous ways to make this work for your business but the important thing is to ensure the commitment is authentic, transparent and long-lasting.

3. Be Green

Sustainability is now a given. Consumers expect it and as outlined in Top 7 Customer Needs During A Pandemic, sustainability is now a need. In February 2020, as great tracts of land across Australia were still smouldering from catastrophic fires, The ABC surveyed 54,000 Australians. The survey found 72 out of 100 Australians rated climate change as a personal problem. They put it ahead of health and saving for retirement.

You need to show how your business is working to reduce carbon emissions, provide more sustainable options and remove plastic from everything you do. These are systemic changes which will build credibility and trust with consumers over the long term.

The trend lines suggest sustainability is not only about reducing emissions and reliance on plastic, but how your business contributes to ecological rehabilitation and extending beyond ‘zero’ targets.

Starbucks is pursuing a policy of ‘carbon positive’. They are seeking to store more carbon than they emit, eliminate waste, manage water more efficiently and invest in agricultural practices.

As big and dominant as Amazon is, Amazon has also identified how important it is for them to be greener in what they do. Amazon has made a pledge for net zero emissions, a feature of which is a circular economy – working with local governments, companies and communities to improve household recycling, reduce packaging and keep resources in use within the economy for as long as possible.

Beer brands like New Belgium Brewing, Stone & Wood or North Coast Brewing are B Corp Certified brands and in different ways proactively seek ways to contribute to a more productive environmental output.

Explore better production processes, sustainable supply chain options, renewable energy options and packaging improvements, but also find ways to go beyond your own production and proactively improve the health and well-being of our local ecologies.

4. Present your Provenance

An extension of your commitment to sustainability and your community is to source supplies and expertise from your local community. Working on your supply chains and how you choose to work with them can influence whether someone chooses to buy from you or your competitors.

Providing as much information as you can through your website, social media and email marketing will help consumers understand the value and emphasis you put on supporting other small and local businesses.

The ‘Support Local’ campaign has been particularly strong in 2020, yet again this is a trend which was emerging prior to COVID-19. Millennials have been particularly strong advocates for buying local and investing in products or services they value because of their quality and connection to their own identity. Smart Company suggested in 2015 this trend has developed in reaction to globalisation. In 2020, it is now embedded in many communities and people of various generations, with the hope to keep their local traders alive during the pandemic.

Consumers have expressed a desire to buy local because it makes them feel good. It feels more ethical, more healthy, more sustainable and more unique. Your brand can connect with these emotional motivators by sourcing local, employing local, engaging directly with locals and telling local stories. In some circumstances, brands can also help promote local culture and heritage by working with indigenous people and organisations or other groups which help to foster connections with the distinct characteristics of their community.

Future priorities are set to get even more micro – providing invitational, exclusive experiences to consumers within a micro-community connected to the brand, segmented by their priorities and interests. How could your brand help facilitate this?

5. Get Healthy

The activewear trend is a clear indicator of how much people are embracing a healthy lifestyle or perceptions of such.

Plant-based diets, low to no alcoholic drinks and a rejection of petrochemicals in beauty, packaging, medicine and cleaning products are additional indicators.

Health fads like activated charcoal, ketogenic diets and oat milk are constantly replaced by the next fad. But the biggest driver for health right now is the ability to manage weight and fitness while our communities are going in and out of pandemic lockdowns. Virtual fitness classes, growing vegetables, meditation and choosing low carb and low alcohol drinks have begun to take hold. Solo-based activities like yoga and pilates, running and cycling have become clear growth sports as they are COVID-safe and less reliant on clubs and organisations for people to participate in like football or hockey.

Social media influencers have a significant impact in the health and beauty market, and can extend your audience to people who value health outcomes.  A public health study in 2019 by BMC Public Health, found influencers gain the trust and friendship of their followers and can therefore be a powerful force to help their followers have a more positive relationship with their bodies.

If your business seeks to find new audiences and create a tribe or community of followers focused on health and personal improvement, influencer and digital marketing are very effective ways to convert new customers to your brand.

Despite the effectiveness of what might seem a superficial tactic, audiences are becoming more savvy about what is actually healthy. For example, alternative milks like oat and almond are being dismissed for the amount of sugar they include. So if you’re producing a low-alcohol RTD but including lots of additives, it may not get the take up you’re looking for.

With regards to alcohol, there might be a perception we’ve all been drinking more over 2020, however the Federal Government suggests in reality, we have continued to drink in moderation, and forecast a considerable decline in alcohol tax revenue. Alcohol consumption in Australia has been on a decline for a number of years primarily due to health concerns. According to Roy Morgan, regular adult drinkers in 2020 is 66.3% compared to 73.5% in 2006. And consumer interest in low- and no- alcohol products has been gaining pace, as has consumer interest in organic, low-calorie, gluten free, lactose free or vegan drinks for health and sustainability purposes. This is a trend very worthy of your attention.

6. Find your Post-Digital Vibe

Be digital but don’t be digital. Get it?

What is post-digital you might say? It’s about being more human than digital. But in a COVID-19 world, your business needs to be more digital. If this year has proved anything, it’s that your business needs to have a good website, robust order system and an online shop. And if you have a brick and mortar space, you’re probably using more technology than before, to take payments by card or phone, scan QR-codes for check-in and to collect personal data.

I am a strong advocate for getting more digital in how you operate your business – integrating systems such as your customer relationship management system (CRM) with your point of sale and your website, your inventory system with your accounting system and your sales systems and beyond. If you can digitise and data harvest more from what you do with your customers, you can actually do more for your customers which is carefully tailored and personalised.

It might sound like an oxymoron, but using technology better helps you to provide a more human experience. By developing a post-digital strategy, you will create a clear differentiation to others in your industry.

Think about when we all started to deal with automated telephone services, asking you to state your name clearly, give yes or no answers and enter numbers with a hashtag. It didn’t take long for us to all think we were being treated like a number and customer service had gone to the dogs.

With ready access to your database you can call your  customer by name when you greet them, you can see what they last purchased, how often they’ve visited and collect specific data to help them experience your brand in a way which is deeply personal to them. Artificial Intelligence (AI) also has the potential to contribute to a post-digital life because it gives us the time and freedom to keep our human lives more simple.

Accenture’s Group Chief Executive Technology, Paul Daugherty said businesses which choose a post-digital approach, “will be able to cater to individuals in every aspect of their lives, careers or business relationships—in effect, shaping their very realities. In order to do this, organisations will need to both understand people at a holistic level—and deliver as needs change at a moment’s notice.”

The guiding principle he says is “innovation with purpose” linking us back to other trends I’ve listed in this piece.

By investing in an overarching future growth strategy for your business, you can identify ways your brand can effectively and proactively embrace a post-digital approach and use the data you keep to better assess the needs, trends and fads most relevant to your consumers and growing audience.

– Kerrie
9 November 2020