Rahul Sachitanand
Feb 11, 2021

Brands must be prepared for an era of uncertainty, as Covid-19 accelerates market shifts

Pandemic will only hasten shift to ecommerce, even as brand and customer experience meld, according to a new Essence study.

Brands must be prepared for an era of uncertainty, as Covid-19 accelerates market shifts

The uncertainty wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic and strong economic and political cross currents across the marketing ecosystem are likely to have a deep impact on the way marketers strategise in 2021 and beyond, a new study from Essence has revealed. Foundationally, using historical data to inform future decisions will only become harder, given the uncertainty worldwide. As the report asks, how do brands prepare if a future a populist government nationalises Amazon or if China’s internet is fully “decoupled”?

Experts polled by Essence forecast eight scenarios to be even more likely following the events of 2020, including the use of biometric data (65% more likely), virtual environments (59%), the rise of subscription services, personalisation (56%), and micropayments (46%). This report showed that almost 60% felt 2020 will see consumers prioritise the environment, even as 40% expected job and wage losses from AI and automation.

In all this churn, would anything stay the same? Despite the flux, five scenarios were seen to have been largely unaffected by the year’s upheaval, with Essence's stated just two being less likely than at the start of 2020: —the adoption of a global privacy law (50% less likely) and the fragmentation of large technology behemoths (41% less likely). Across the board, the frigid winds of polarisation was noted, even as warmer global cooperation seemed to fade. 

Looking ahead, this report titled Advertising in 2030 - experts rate the impact of 2020 - also forecast the acceleration of already hot trends such as ecommerce. Unsurprisingly, nearly three quarters of panelists named the move to digital or virtual offerings and ecommerce, as a big and continuing shift, driven by the pandemic. GroupM predicts retail ecommerce will grow from $4 trillion in 2020 to $10 trillion globally by 2027 and for economies that were lagging in ecommerce penetration (e.g. Australia, Canada, and Japan) growth should be much faster over the coming years. 

Elsewhere, other trends would accelerate too. One key change would be purpose and social reckoning replacing price alone as a buying decision for consumers. While Essence had initially asked its experts about this subject in early 2020, a majority of panelists believe environmental impact will equal or surpass price as a purchase consideration by 2030, this report noted. Now, the events of 2020 show that other social causes have the potential to become vital to consumers as well.

To try to cope with these changes and an uncertain decade, experts on Essence's panel advised marketers to own the customer end point experiment with different future scenarios, to try to come to grips with this flux. Finally, the report noted that it is the end of mass communication. Instead, marketers face a future where brand will meld into customer experience and that experience will be increasingly personalised and fragmented for each individual consumer. 

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