How do brands stay relevant in a post-pandemic world? They can start by creating safe spaces, setting regenerative goals and enhancing digital experiences for their customers, writes WGSN's Andrea Bell.
1. Safety and security
The pandemic, social unrest and economic uncertainty are resulting in a re-prioritisation of needs, with safety and security (physical and mental) being top of mind. Institutions, businesses and consumers are focusing on protection, mitigating risk and creating safe spaces.
Although the virus could be largely contained by 2023, the need for hygienic and/or sterilising products will continue. New hygiene demands are changing business practices and products beyond masks, hand sanitisers and cleaning products. Sterile and antiviral packaging will continue to be a key value creator for consumers. Touchless products and payment methods will come to the fore.
There has also been a renewed appreciation of robots in 2020, given their pandemic-fighting efforts in 33 countries, according to research organisation Robotics for Infectious Diseases. Examples include robotic dogs dispensing hand sanitiser in Thai malls and drone deliveries for immune-compromised shoppers in Ireland.
2. The tech paradox
Amid accelerated digital transformation, opportunities are being created, but division is also increasing. Now is the time to hit the great reset button and rebuild technology for a better digital future. Armed with accessibility and inclusivity, new tools and innovations will emerge to elevate people’s full potential through tech.
Global spending in robotics and automation is expected to reach US$241.4b by 2023, according to the International Data Corporation. Research advisory Gartner predicts that by 2025, at least two out of the top 10 global retailers will have formed robot resource organisations to manage their non-human workers.
As social media engagement rates flag, and influencer fatigue spreads, consumers will increasingly seek more meaning from the people they follow. To maintain interest and engagement, brands must invest in content that empowers, inspires and educates. This is especially important given the “infodemic” of unreliable information during the pandemic, which made it difficult for people to find trustworthy sources and guidance.
3. Community 3.0
The pandemic has driven a renewed appreciation of local community, with people of all ages gravitating towards collective conservation over individual preservation. The need to reframe the agenda on housing, environment, employment and social justice will be foundational for 2023.
In the UK and US, according to a survey by Pew Research Centre, only 46 and 41 per cent, respectively, feel their government did a good job of managing the pandemic. The comparative mismanagement of the crisis, along with the perceived abandonment of frontline workers, has shifted the collective dial towards grassroots action and mobilisation.
Along with the demand for services in the suburbs, consumers are enjoying access to open spaces, with access to nature a second safe space. As migratory shifts continue over the next few years, access to green spaces will be a key decision factor in where people move next, feeling they can get the best of both words as they work remotely.
4. Environment — from urgency to emergency
Corporations setting regenerative goals will be a key area of innovation for 2023. For example, in Western Australia, OatUp is producing the world’s first oat milk that uses oats sourced from farmers committed to regenerative practices.
It’s hard to create a sustainable product at a competitive price point, but brands need to either swallow the extra cost or transfer a portion of that cost to the end consumer. According to a 2020 study by Genomatica, 37 per cent of US consumers are still willing to pay more for sustainable products, rising to 43 per cent among Gen Z. Pre-order and/or made-to-order products can help cut customs and eliminate waste and deadstock.
Regenerative tourism (whereby a location is left in a better state than it was found) is a prime area for growth. For example, Tourism New Zealand is now working towards measuring the wellbeing of the country, human health and preserving communities as measurements of success, alongside economic metrics.
5. Radical reform
The confluence of COVID-19, racial disparities and widespread civil unrest has culminated in a fractured society. Citizens are questioning the foundations and structures of the societies they inhabit and are pushing to address the root cause of issues, not just the symptoms, to drive systemic change.
Many countries are re-evaluating their educational structures to make them more equitable. In many parts of the world, curriculums are under the spotlight as historical “negationism” — also known as “denialism” — is called into question. In the UK, a social enterprise group known as The Black Curriculum is fighting to reform “the future of education through Black British history” in the school syllabus.
6. Recession generation
In an unstable job market, new hiring routes (including virtual internships) and the gig economy will result in a generational shift towards new spending and consumption patterns. In 2023 and beyond, a new generation of hybrid experts will fuel the passion economy — with young professionals monetising their skills on emerging platforms such as South Korea’s Otwojob.
By 2023, what’s being called a “mental health tsunami” will bring about mass change in society — shaping how we choose to rebuild and increasing compassion for each other. Young people will be at the forefront of bridging mental health treatment gaps with new tools and resources. According to CB Insights, funding to mental health startups hit a record US$576m in the first quarter of 2020.
7. New alliances
A breakdown in the world order is weakening international relations and having knock-on effects. Assertive technology agendas from the US and China are underscoring political tensions and forcing countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to form new allegiances.
China’s Digital Silk Road initiative — along with various countries banning Chinese tech companies such as Huawei, WeChat and TikTok — is challenging the international supply chain and raising questions about the future of globalisation. With the ongoing uncertainty around trade deals and new alliances, “nearshoring” — which involves moving manufacturing operations geographically closer to the country where the goods or services ultimately will be sold — is becoming a growing area of corporate investment.
Sourced from WGSN Future Drivers 2023 report. Andrea Bell is director of consumer insight at global consumer and design trend forecaster WGSN.
Times are changing
In 2023, consumers will expect brands and retailers to hold themselves accountable for diversity at every level of the business, so directors must be transparent with diversity and sustainability initiatives.
Consumers are now more fearful of product contamination. Companies that assuage these fears through messaging around deep-cleaning processes and antiviral measures will prevail.
The World Economic Forum projects that by 2022, 54 per cent of global employees will need reskilling and upskilling to adapt to changing work requirements as technology becomes an even more important part of business operations. By 2025, 25 per cent of CIOs at traditional enterprises could be held accountable for digital business operational results, says Gartner.
Brace for the environmental impact of accelerated digitisation. According to The Shift Project, digital technologies accounted for 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, four per cent in 2020, and eight per cent by 2025. To build a more sustainable digital future, brands should look to low-tech, carbon-aware solutions.
In 2019, the NZ government adopted the Happiness Index metric, instead of GDP as the driver of the national budget. All new spending will now advance one of five government priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing inequalities faced by Maori/Pacific Island people, thriving in a digital age and transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy.
Consumers want to support businesses that help local people. Respond to these needs with strategies that involve hiring locally.
Consumers also expect businesses to support and build community through positive initiatives. London’s Wild and Woolly wool shop runs darning workshops to help customers fix their garments and boost footfall to the store.
Responsible directors will explore the potential to incorporate “closed-loop” manufacturing and business processes. Fashion conglomerate Inditex aims to send nothing to landfill by 2023, from its own headquarters, logistics centres, stores and factories. The transition to closed-loop practices won’t be an overnight process, so start evaluating and work towards a scalable implementation.
As a recessionary mindset permanently shapes the spending habits of younger generations, thrifty lifestyles and conscious consumerism will push more businesses to adopt frugal innovation and do better with less. The crisis is an opportunity to guide change and offer practical solutions for consumers looking to simplify their lives.
To engage a new generation of price-conscious consumers, take a more agile and flexible approach to product portfolios and supply chains. Consider innovative ways to minimise resource use and focus on top-selling core items instead of complicated product offerings.
Source: WSGN Future Drivers 2023 report
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