Long after the lockdown is over, Covid-19 will have an enduring impact on society. For the first time in a long time, no-one truly knows what the future holds. Sure, we have seen major events such as 9/11 and the Arab Spring but they have all had regional epicentres, whereas the pandemic is a truly collective experience, felt the world over.
Two years ago, I left Dentsu Aegis Network to start The People. We are powered by a community of 150-plus young, diverse creators with an approach rooted in culture and creativity. And our mission is to unleash the creative potential of young people.
To get a glimpse of what lies ahead, we have consulted our community and Professor Ben Voyer, professor of psychology and behavioral science at LSE, for our latest report "Post-pandemic future", which identifies 10 key behavioural trends to help brands navigate the new world. Here are three of the top trends:
The lengthy shutdown of physical stores has forced consumers to question their deep-rooted shopping habits. Even before lockdown, young people were more likely to shop online. The current pandemic has only served to accelerate the trend. Many young people have moved from buying certain things online to buying most things online—and consistently, too.
Although the internet has made shopping easier, there are elements of physical shopping that ecommerce sites can’t replicate. Mainly, social interaction, group dynamics and in-store subtleties: like your friend’s reaction when you put on a new dress or going for Nando’s, mid-shop. Traditionally, the online customer journey has been focused on the individual. However, given the untapped potential of social commerce, ecommerce brands should consider integrating group activities into their existing online user journey, to create a richer customer experience. This means harnessing the power of peer-to-peer connection and word of mouth.
Social gifting is already popular in Asia. Users on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, gifted $290m in virtual red envelopes over the 2020 Chinese New Year holiday period. Soon, Western Europe and North America could be heading in a similar direction. A new ecommerce feature launched by TikTok called "Small Gestures" now allows users to send free, virtual gifts to each other from a range of brand partners within the app. NYX Cosmetics is already allowing regular users to send a $5 gift card to their contacts via TikTok, and Essie is giving away 8,000 units of its most popular nail polish. The new feature is part of a quarantine-driven renaissance in social gifting.
Trust in media crashes
Trust in media, government and big corporations has been on the decline for decades. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, only 49% of people trust the media, globally. Yet, during the pandemic, we have been left to the mercy of state policy and mainstream news outlets. News used to feel like an undeniable source of truth, like Christianity in mediaeval Europe. But today, many of the same trusted sources of news are seen as manipulators of truth.
When it comes to media consumption, young people want to consume news the same way they consume all other pieces of content. And for this reason, unofficial Instagram accounts and meme pages have become the preferred choice. Naturally, this raises serious questions about source reliability. But in reality, stories from traditional news brands are no longer taken at face value; many young people are now actively seeking alternative media outlets.
In fact, teenagers are rewriting the rules of the news, while traditional media companies are struggling to attract the next generation of viewers. In its annual plans, the BBC revealed only 26% of children use BBC iPlayer, compared with 50% for Netflix and 82% for YouTube. These days, young people expect real-time, reactive and digestible content. It’s no wonder many are heading towards Instagram pages such as @imjustbait, @nowthisnews and @theshaderoom to receive their daily dose of news.
On the edge
When the current pandemic comes to an end, as it eventually will, people will have lived through all kinds of stresses. For many young people, the home has become an oasis—a protective bubble—away from the dangers of the outside world. Despite being ready to spread their wings, a considerable group will choose to play it safe by continuing to stay at home. In Japan, the social phenomenon is known as Hikikomori—a psychological condition where people withdraw from society and seek extreme degrees of isolation.
The Japanese government estimates the county has 1.15 million Hikikomori. In the UK, nearly 10% of 16-24-year-olds reported feeling "always or often" lonely. The added anxiety from lockdown could result in the emergence of a global generation of Hikikomori, beyond the shores of Japan. To combat this, brands, charities and government bodies will need to start creating in-home services to help young people connect, contribute and socialise again.
Animal Crossing has been a thing for almost 20 years, but this year it has exploded. Nintendo’s record-breaking latest version of the game has been embraced by a world in isolation. Although it is perfect escapist entertainment, it’s also helping isolated souls to connect and socialise again. The social nature of the game has even enabled a virtual wedding and political protests in Hong Kong.
David, one of our community members, says: "I genuinely believe that anything that we have that is shared makes it a whole lot better. If we share food with someone else, it’s better than eating alone. If we watch a movie with someone else, it’s better than watching it by ourselves. It can take us out of our own problems"
The current pandemic has no real comparison point in modern history. This means most historical data is, at best, incomplete, and, at worst, irrelevant. From a marketing perspective, most brands will need to radically update their marketing playbook and communication strategy. Because the same-old doesn’t work in a new world.
Kian Bakhtiari is the co-founder of The People (above, left pictured with fellow co-founder Tobi Adesuyi). The report Post Pandemic Future can be viewed here.