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It’s the not knowing that gets you.

Coming out of the pandemic – or not, as the case may be – means we’re all in uncharted territory.

In a year of huge change, uncertainty is everywhere.

The challenge facing most brands is how on earth to make sense of the situation. Where can they turn to understand the changes that have been happening, and where consumer trends will go next?

Because whoever reads the signs correctly will have a huge head start on their competition.

That’s where our Connecting the dots 2022 report comes in. We’ve taken the temperature of consumer sentiment around the world, and presented the results in the most accessible format we’ve ever offered.

We’ve decided to use our freely-available Zeitgeist data in much of the report. That means anyone – client or otherwise – can freely explore the data for themselves on our platform. 

For any future-focused business, this is essential reading (or indeed viewing, because we’re offering all content in video form this year as well). 

This blog takes a quick tour through the six uber-trends we think will really shape consumer behavior in the year ahead. 

How the pandemic changed consumers’ approach to life

For better or for worse, the pandemic prompted us to hit the reset button in many different parts of our lives. It acted as a catalyst not only for business and digital innovation but somewhere in the background it spurred a form of personal innovation too.

At one point all we had was time to reflect and reassess our priorities and find out what ultimately makes us happy. What we’re seeing today are seismic changes in the collective mindset. 

We’ve seen U.S. consumers in the past year feeling bolder, more adventurous, and empowered. They don’t feel the need to be quite so careful and responsible, especially with finances – with a 55% increase in consumers saying they feel more optimistic about their personal finances. 

One way for brands to stand out in 2022 is to make sure their tone matches this YOLO mood. Campaigns that encourage people to be bold and pursue what makes them truly happy are likely to strike the biggest chord. 

We’re also seeing this mentality in practice in the workplace where the majority of people looking for jobs are actually pretty satisfied with their current roles. These professionals are willing to sacrifice stability just to fulfil their desire for something new and exciting. 

How media preferences are changing

“Time’s precious.” We hear that constantly.

It’s the job of media brands to occupy as much of our day as they can. And that 24-hour window is becoming a pretty fierce battleground.

In 2022, vaccine rollout will continue driving a slow return to some sort of normality, making that competition even fiercer in what some are labeling an “attention recession”. 

By some measures the attention recession is already here. Virtually all media activity spiked during widespread lockdowns, then died back. Now, we’re in a kind of interim period where it’s not immediately clear if activity will return to its previous levels, or reach new heights. 

There will be winners and losers in this battle. 

We can find the winners by looking beyond simple “time spent” metrics and uncovering the deeper motivations behind consumers’ engagement with different media formats, and how these motivations might be changing. 

We suggest three key principles to help media brands retain or win back customers in this attention recession:

  1. Focus on distinctive assets, and become more than just another timesink.
  2. Add value to someone’s life beyond just capturing their attention
  3. Provide escapism as the world transitions from a pandemic to an endemic

The new looks in personal care and what it means for marketing

Lockdown was a chance to experiment. Without the steady hands of a professional, consumers’ beauty regimes were left up to them.

This doesn’t mean people became beauticians overnight (one look at #lockdownhaircuts will tell you that) but it was an opportunity to learn something new. For some, this was a long time coming – beauty/cosmetics is now the fastest-growing interest among male consumers worldwide.

However, despite new beauty audiences being brought into the spotlight, purchase behaviors failed to match their level of interest. The onus is now on marketers to change this by reaching new audiences and adapting strategies to meet their needs.

Figures among heterosexual males and LGBTIQA+ consumers still continue to pip their pre-pandemic beauty interest/purchase figures, but growth is slowing and, without intervention, will decline.

It’s much the same story for people of color, with figures for beauty interest and purchases falling by 15% and 13%, respectively since 2018 – the majority of which occurred shortly after the pandemic began. 

Brands urgently need to make the most of this waning enthusiasm with product variations that prevent this trend dropping off. 

The number of consumers who say beauty standards are changing for the better stands at 19%, and brands can help to raise this by listening to what consumers want and adapting their messaging to ensure beauty standards are truly inclusive.

Exploring the uncertain future of crypto

The last 18 months have transformed cryptocurrency. Its growth has been faster than ever, yet its future has never been so unclear. 

With the influx of new investors, the profile of crypto investors has changed. 

Their collective purchasing power ended up creating a whole new category of meme stocks with sky-high prices. Because of them, crypto has moved from the fringe of finance to being a household word. 

But crypto can’t seem to escape a series of paradoxes. The average crypto investor believes in regulation, yet is worried about many of the impacts that regulation will bring. They support the environment, but throw money at digital currencies consuming the same amount of electricity as a small nation.

Digging into these is key to understanding consumer sentiment and predicting consumer behavior around the opaque topic of crypto. 

The only thing certain is that the market in 5 years’ time will be just as unrecognizable to us now as it was 5 years ago.

While crypto’s fate will be shaped by regulators, it can also be influenced by brands, many of which are jumping into the market to fill the needs of the growing marketplace that governments have so far ignored. This could mean facilitating trades in a more comfortable, safe environment to reassure “newbies,” or offering education and resources for curious intenders. 

How consumers are sharing the whole picture on social media

For some time now, we’ve heard that consumers are increasingly fed up with the manufactured images they see everywhere online. But while words like “end” and “death” do tend to exaggerate reality, this might be the closest we’ve ever come to closing the chapter on online perfection. Interestingly, influencers are both the drivers and victims of this trend.

Gen Zs are powerful trendsetters in the world of social media and often offer glimpses into where global consumer sentiment is headed. 

According to our GWI USA research, they’re less interested in influencers and celebrity news compared to last year.

 They’re also less likely to want their lifestyle to impress others, and more likely to think it’s ok for people to speak up when they’re struggling.

If that’s not convincing enough, new social media movements and layouts like the “photo-dump” offer more evidence; this format involves grouping random photos together in a post without the usual carefully thought-through curation. Similarly, Cluttercore is a craze that celebrates mess by encouraging people to share their lived-in interiors, which tend to be full of meaningful, mismatched stuff.

While there’s still demand for inspirational images, some consumers want content to support people and better reflect the reality of post-lockdown life. Luxury or fashion brands that traditionally rely on glamor shots might drive growth by adding some eccentricity to their marketing.

Whether that’s in the form of raw, messy images or self-deprecating memes, the up-and-coming vibe is characterized by light-heartedness and impulsive creativity. 

Investing in these qualities, both from a brand and influencer marketing perspective, will help players adapt in an online social climate where many want to see the world as it truly is, in all its tainted glory.

How consumers are taking control of their wellbeing

It’s impossible to go through a pandemic and not think about wellbeing differently in some way.

As a result, there’s been a step-change in how many consumers think about their health and how they manage it. 

Two-thirds of consumers say they’re more conscious about looking after their physical and mental health than before the pandemic. 

There’s a shift in mindset from “What do I do when I get sick?” to “How can I prevent illness and stay healthy?”. 

In parallel, the fact that COVID impacted every area of our lives means it’s no surprise that we’re seeing reported wellbeing decline more broadly.

Our GWI USA dataset details how several chronic conditions like anxiety, stress, and back or muscle pain have risen since Q2 2020, hinting at the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on complex conditions. At the same time, we’ve seen declines in the portion of consumers who say they rarely feel unwell. 

Moving forward, we need to reframe the narrative around wellbeing. 

For employers, recognizing that more people will face mental health issues and putting practical steps in place to support them is a must.

For consumer health companies, supporting people on their self-care journey is equally important. Collectively, we can move from a culture of addressing health problems when they arise, to taking proactive measures to reduce or stop them from happening in the first place. 

We told you there’s a lot to unpack.

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