Predictions Series 2021: Connecting the Dots – 8 Must-Know Technology Trends After a Year Unlike Any Other
Want to move on from 2020? You're not alone!
Technology trends have paved the way for the COVID-19 era in 2021. Want to move on from 2020? You’re not alone. YouTube recently revealed it would cancel its annual Rewind video because “2020 has been different”.
It sure has.
But we can’t ignore the shake-up it’s given the marketing world. The world has changed, and so have your audiences.
At GWI, we’ve crunched all the numbers from a year unlike any other, and pulled out eight trends in our annual report that we believe will define the next 12 months and beyond.
Cities won’t die, but they will change.
Wuhan, Turin, New York City. As COVID-19 moved across the globe in March, a photographic cliché was established – a city’s streets devoid of people.
Many speculated, and continue to speculate, whether COVID-19 meant the end for cities. But this is far from the case – cities still hold considerable appeal.
86% of city-dwellers in 7 countries said they would remain in the city when asked what their ideal place to live was.
So we shouldn’t expect a mass exodus to the suburbs anytime soon. As was the case with historical epidemics, cities will survive COVID-19.
What will change about them is their shape.
COVID-19 has forced city-dwellers to re-evaluate their relationship with their home environment, and city centers. Since stay-at-home orders were issued we’ve seen consumers’ personal interests change to favor the former over the latter. Interest in “going out” activities like the theater, museums, and restaurants are all down, while interest in cooking, gardening, and local issues are all up. These are more than simply pastimes picked up because of the outbreak, they speak to a desire to push the brakes on the fast-paced pre-COVID way of life, which businesses and marketers can tap into.
The WFH revolution isn’t over.
For some employers, the troops can’t return to the office soon enough.
But it would be wrong to leave 2020 as a one-off WFH experiment. Not committing to it may in fact prevent businesses from riding out the economic turbulence of the next few years.
Our research has continually shown that remote working boosts worker performance in a number of areas. Not just in productivity, but also collaboration – the very thing usually cited as the drawback to remote working at scale.
2021 should be the year where employers provide workers more autonomy over their working hours. Flexible working is a keystone to a good work/life balance, and that in turn is one of the biggest factors in driving business outcomes.
While the economic climate will be difficult, businesses can’t forget that their results depend on people, and the conditions they work in. The fallout of COVID will continue to test businesses on their agility and innovation – qualities which are both boosted when workers have more freedom to choose when they work.
Health Charging New Apps: Technology Trend Shows a new health crisis is on the way
Very few would have predicted 2020 would be defined by a global pandemic. But there’s a new health issue we can confidently predict will dominate 2021 – even if it gets far less attention.
The issue at hand is mental health. Because of social isolation, disrupted routines, and the far-reaching effects of the virus itself, incidences of mental health conditions will rise.
Mental wellbeing (31%) was actually more of a concern than access to a vaccine (29%) when we surveyed consumers in September.
At the time of writing, promising results of vaccine trials have led to some cautious optimism about the future.
But much of society will be under collective trauma as we emerge from 2020. Businesses can contribute by adopting the same proactive, front-foot approach that marked their initial responses to COVID-19.
The groups feeling particular strain are crucial if they’re in your target audience. They include those who are in precarious employment, those living with roommates/friends (for whom cabin fever may well have set in), young women, and those spending a lot of time on social media. Social media is a great channel for people to reach out, but without more intervention, may also be a place where people find themselves “doomscrolling” – a negative technology trend is in the making.
The bottom line: even if next year’s health crisis doesn’t carry the risk of infection, it doesn’t make it any less important.
It will pay to be kind
Businesses made vital contributions in the initial fight against COVID-19, supporting governments and people in their time of need. PPE was donated in droves; perfume makers and beer brewers became sanitizer specialists. A few months after that, the Black Lives Matter movement forced businesses to take a stand on racism.
By any yardstick, 2020 made businesses come to the plate on social issues.
As the pandemic and its after-effects linger on, people will still need support from businesses, but in a different way. Headline-grabbing initiatives are less likely to have the same effect, but everyday acts of kindness will count for a lot.
Bad PR and poor politics can still cost brands, but the biggest deal-breaker remains bad customer service, and the biggest wish consumers have from them at the moment is support through the COVID-19 ordeal.
Those two insights, taken in combination, point to the value of small acts of kindness during the customer journey. They don’t need to be big. They don’t need to be expensive. But something that shows empathy and a human face will really land. Zappos set up a helpline for customers to call for any reason, even if they just wanted to hear someone’s voice. Hallmark gave away free greetings cards to let people thank essential workers.
Think outside the box, bring in your values, show a human side to your brand, and you’ll make a real impact with consumers.
Content will be the new battleground for e-commerce
Ecommerce exploded in 2020, bringing adoption of it forward by a number of years.
What’s less discussed is what comes next. When everyone’s online, and everyone’s fighting for customers, how can you make your brand stand out?
Consider the situation for a moment. Consumers are likely to remain more housebound for quite some time, with a social deficit in their lives. Online shopping is very convenient, but hasn’t elevated other aspects of consumer psychology – like the browsing experience, or shopping with friends.
With the help of new features from Instagram, TikTok, Amazon, and a host of other apps, livestreams will become a new battleground for retailers.
Already established in China, they will be important as they will keep consumers entertained during the purchase process – something just as important to them (29%) as supporting social causes (29%).
While retailers can opt to use their own representatives on a livestream, using trusted influencers can help consumers feel that their shopping experience is more social, more fun, and more human.
Attitudes toward data privacy are due a big change
No-one needs reminding of what a hot topic data privacy has been in recent years. But one of the less-explored effects of COVID-19, which we’ve seen in our research, has been how much it’s softened attitudes to data privacy.
Consumers are more willing to accept data collection as they’ve seen it in practice keeping them safe, especially through test-and-trace apps.
As Google prepares to kill off the cookie, and Apple has big changes planned for IDFA, this has come at a fortuitous time.
Publishers exploring first-party data collection can benefit, with a great chance to strike while the iron’s hot. But it doesn’t give carte blanche to be opaque about how data is collected and used. The key is informing consumers that data is used “for good”. While reader/viewer data might not be used to fight a pandemic, publishers can remind readers of the important functions they carry out, tapping into a sense of purpose.
A backlash on the environment is coming as technology trends change
If lockdowns had any benefits, they made the world feel cleaner. Transport stopped, factories went quiet, and beauty spots looked immaculate for the first time in decades.
And people noticed. Optimism for the future of the environment rose 29% after initial lockdowns in our data – an unprecedented growth for that kind of data in our research, but it dropped by 13% as the world returned to activity in its aftermath.
Air pollutant levels have virtually returned to pre-pandemic levels, not to mention that the response to COVID-19 can be detrimental to the environment by its very nature. Online shopping and food delivery means more packaging waste. We’re also pretty confident in predicting 2021 will see more images of single-use masks littering beaches.
Consumers haven’t forgotten about one crisis in the middle of another. Environmental credentials will be very much under scrutiny even as we walk the long road to normality.
Old dogs, new tricks
Most businesses dedicate a lot of time to figuring out how to gain the approval of the always in-demand Gen Z and millennial age groups, but you shouldn’t overlook their older counterparts, given how much their behavior changed under lockdown.
Stay-at-home orders encouraged Gen X and baby boomers to go online in ways they hadn’t before, whether for buying their weekly shop, catching up with friends, checking their bank balance, or watching TV. Whether for a sense of belonging, safety, or security, online services are now fulfilling basic psychological needs.
When all is said and done, there will be few hold-outs of online life left. Marketing mixes for 2021 should bear this in mind, as the consumers with the biggest buying power now need to be reached and supported in different places. Any marketers that have been hesitant to move the needle from traditional to digital channels now have little excuse not to do so.