Consumers in 2021: Diverse, Distressed, Disconnected and Disillusioned

Research says that future consumers will be disillusioned and demanding for more diversity. Christine McKinnon examines the ways in which people are fundamentally changing and provides tangible tips for marketers and brands to act now.

The consumer landscape is evolving at rapid pace. As a social researcher it has been fascinating to examine the way consumer mind states have shifted and how this will influence the year ahead.

Mind states are not attitudes or trends – they are the inescapable mood, the undertone that influences attitudes, and the lens through which marketing messages are received, interpreted and decisions are made.

For marketers, the customers you knew at the beginning of this year will not be the same in 2021. Understanding how they have changed will help you deliver powerful and purposeful campaigns that lead to tangible action.

In 2019, we defined the ‘4D Consumer’. Just like in physics where the 4th dimension of time is added to the 3rd dimension of space, the ‘4D Consumer’ was defined by their own time and space, and the discerning way that they would share these elements with brands. This was based on an analysis of megatrends and the resulting ways they shape consumer expectations of brands.

This premise has not changed in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change significantly.

To supercharge your way into 2021, now more than ever it’s important to have your finger on the pulse with what consumers are wanting, expecting and needing to see and hear from brands.

Winding back to 2019

In 2019, our research revealed that Aussies were caught between their need for authenticity and their digitally optimised ‘i-self’, as well as tossing between living longer, better quality lives versus the constant need for immediate gratification.

The demand placed on brands was facilitation, enabling us to achieve personal transformation and become our ultimate selves.

What this resulted in was a consumer in control – consumers were demanding, distracted, distrusting, and were demanding recognition of diversity.

We no longer have a consumer in control

Today, those mega trends have been disrupted. As we approach 2021, ‘marketing’ will be about ‘supporting’ consumers and helping them regain confidence to reset and thrive.

COVID-19 has caused a desynchronised society and people are struggling to figure out how to navigate what’s on the horizon. Commuting, community sport, gym time, grocery shopping – these were once reliable, scheduled moments that are disappearing at accelerated rates, causing communities to fracture.

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.

A distressed consumer

Mental health was already a topic of concern in Australia pre-pandemic. However, COVID-19 has thrown us into times of unprecedented uncertainty and fear, exposing some of the deepest tensions and flaws in society. Stress and anxiety levels are increasing across the country.

Brands need to understand what implications this has on their customers and how they will respond, connect and engage with marketing messages.

Qantas, Woolworths and many banks have stepped up to help consumers, but as the pandemic continues, all marketing teams need to assess whether they have the right strategies in place.

Tips for marketers:

  • Is your brand making people feel better?
  • Think about ways to connect with consumers through positive content.
  • Campaigns should be understanding, empathetic and helpful.
  • Steer clear of using consumers’ pain as a marketing strategy.
  • Help people ask for help. Brands are well positioned to reduce the stigma and shame around asking for help by offering tips and resources.

A disconnected consumer

With more hours spent on social media and streaming platforms, and less face-to-face contact with family and friends, we could say that Australians have been in training for self-isolation for years.

However even with extensive access to social media, 40 percent of people are saying they still feel isolated – a number likely to increase with the extended lockdown in Victoria.

As we move closer toward Christmas holidays, this presents an opportunity for brands to help people reconnect, recharge and reboot coming into 2021.

Marketers can do this by forming deeper connections with their customers – this ranges from not only connecting with customers virtually and providing genuine experiences, but also encouraging them to connect with other people through your brand platform.

Once the pandemic passes, tangible and sensory experiences will be highly demanded. But while social distancing measures remain in place, brands need to step up and help consumers discover the true engagement potential of virtual experiences.

Tips for marketers:

  • Reimagine your brand experience for the virtual age and unite consumers either literally or through comradery.
  • Invest in personalised virtual experiences.
  • Think about how you can blend virtual and physical experiences for when restrictions ease.

A disillusioned consumer

During the bushfires we saw great examples of solidarity and community spirit, but this pandemic is testing our ‘spirit of mateship’.

According to Insightfully, Australians are frustrated with those in the community who are failing to adhere to social distancing rules, panic-buying, hoarding of goods or not self-isolating.

This presents an opportunity for brands to step in and instil hope and harmony in our society, encouraging generosity and helping consumers recover some of the Aussie values that make us proud.

Consumers are now expecting brands to help in the ‘new everyday life’ and lead by example. When people see brands like Woolworths looking after their in-store staff, or working in partnership with Qantas, this builds brand trust, respect and customer loyalty.

Tips for marketers:

  • Helping your customers help other people is a great initiative to employ during 2020.
  • Recover some of the Australian values that make us proud in your campaigns.
  • Be relevant. Demonstrate that your brand has a purpose and serves a real need for people.
  • Stay close and truly support local communities.

Diversity is more critical than ever

We are all in it together… but are we really? The last few months has highlighted the vulnerable and consumers are wanting brands to take more action.

Adobe’s Diversity in Advertising survey revealed that 62 percent of Australian consumers are more likely to purchase products and services from brands with diverse advertisements, and 21 percent of respondents have boycotted brands that don’t feature diversity.

It’s time for marketers to take diversity seriously, both from a targeting and brand ethos perspective. Diverse stories and voices need to be heard.

We tend to think of mass market as an efficient catch all, but we are fooling ourselves. When looking across classifications such as country of birth, marital status, dwelling type, and religion, it would be fair to think that many Australians have these in common. In fact, only 5,782 people have the same commonalities across the country (according to the 2016 Census).

The ‘ordinary’ Australian doesn’t really exist, certainly not in large numbers, and therefore neither does the traditional idea of a mass market audience. Marketers need to start thinking about the common human needs that unite us all.

There have been some great examples of brands integrating diversity into their work. The Iconic incorporated diverse models into their 2019 fashion show, and IKEA has introduced 3D printing to help make their products more accessible for those with disabilities.

Tips for marketers:

  • Treat diversity as a brand pillar and a behaviour – from product design to marketing and distribution.
  • Question stereotypes and understand the diversity of contemporary Australia.
  • Listen to diverse voices, creating memorable stories and experiences that need to be heard and retold.
  • Accept that mass market in Australia is dead. Marketing should be intersectional and inclusive.

The time is now

As we look toward the end of 2020 and begin developing our strategies for 2021, consider how consumers are feeling: overwhelmed and vulnerable. To set your team and business up for success going into the new year, the time to act is now.

Consumer centricity and relevance are more important than ever before. What people need is empathy, action and genuine support. As marketers, we play a pivotal role in helping people cope with, and emerge form, this pandemic.

Those brands that can lean in and meet the genuine needs of Aussies today will be the ones that end up on top and, walk away with more loyal customers in the future.

Christine McKinnon is the head of intelligence at Dentsu.

Photo by Garidy Sanders on Unsplash.