4 Trends, Accelerated by The Pandemic, That Will Persist Through Recovery

By Polly Wong, Belardi Wong

We know it as consumers as well as marketers: the COVID pandemic precipitated profound social, economic, technological and behavioral changes in 2020. Upon further analysis, we see that many of these trends were already in motion well before the pandemic, and are also likely to continue through the recovery and persist in the months and years that follow.

These changes impact marketers at every level of their business and operations, particularly in payment and delivery methods and marketing creativity and strategy.

Here are a few of the top considerations that we’ve drawn from our work with over 300 leading DTC brands:

Shopping Options: Meeting the Consumer Where They Are

Understanding the fears and hesitation of shopping in-store, brands kept consumers abreast of safety protocols. There will be an urgent, pressing need for this type of messaging as long as we navigate ongoing shutdowns and public health provisions, but marketers shouldn’t think of these as short-term fixes.

Over the next few years, it will be more important than ever that brands meet consumers wherever they are on their shopping comfort level, regardless of state and local regulations.

Buy Online Pickup At Curb (BOPAC) soon joined Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) as a shopping option when the pandemic hit. The number of orders placed online and picked up at stores surged 208% between April 1 and 20 compared to the same time last year.  BOPAC allowed stores to act as mini fulfillment centers when they were closed and provided socially-distanced shopping alternatives when they reopened.

Consumers liked it – and not just because it was one of the only ways to shop. BOPAC is typically fast, free, and convenient for consumers, and for those reasons, it’s almost certain to remain a desired shopping option well into the future.

Payment Options: Installment Plans Grow In Popularity, Even for Smaller-Ticket Items

The concept of payment installment plans is not new, especially for big-ticket items. Over the past year, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of installment plans among smaller-ticket items. Advertising showing partnerships with Klarna, Affirm, Afterpay and other comparable services is now becoming a more standard feature across all product categories. “Buy now, pay later, (of course there’s an acronym for it: BNPL) options are especially popular with millennials who tend to have lower discretionary income and less credit.

These services are proving to do more than just provide options to consumers facing hard financial constraints; they also facilitate conversion by reducing sticker shock, even for consumers with the means to pay full price. For this reason, we expect installment plans to continue expanding to a wider variety of goods at multiple price points.

Brand Identity and Messaging: No More Staying On The Sidelines

Today’s consumers want to do business with companies they can relate to – businesses that reflect their social, cultural and even political values. Indeed 64% of consumers choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. While brands dipped their toes in showing support for causes in marketing prior to 2020, the response to Black Lives Matter from more than 950 brands participating in #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram reflected a new level of participation.

This is a trend that will only continue to grow in importance and will extend to other pressing national and global concerns. For example, the majority (73%) of global consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Brands have responded by promoting “sustainability,” a broad concept that implies minimizing negative impacts to the environment and maximizing fair working conditions for workers as products are produced. But consumers today are demanding ever more tangible forms of demonstrable impact from brands – holding them to account on their promises of sustainability.

This is a critical dimension for brands today, which consumers now trust more than establishment institutions like the government or media. Consumers expect them to come off the sidelines and weigh in on important topics.

Marketing: Embrace New Channels for Customer Acquisition

As the pandemic changed media habits and disrupted media markets, companies with a diverse marketing mix across channels (e.g., Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Google, display, affiliates, email, direct mail, print) and campaign types (e.g., acquisition, retention, reactivation) proved the most resilient.

Broad omnichannel diversification insulated brands from some of the most volatile swings in media pricing and consumption habits. Those that built institutional know-how across all of these channels were able to act more nimbly to rebalance their media mix.

Big changes are on the horizon for digital channels: the deprecation of the third party cookie, changes to iOS that will opt consumers out of Mobile Ad Identifiers (MAIDs), a rising tide of privacy legislation like GDPR and CCPA, and pending antitrust actions against the social giants. All of these trends are likely to cause further turbulence and uncertainty in media markets, rewarding marketers with diversified capabilities across multiple channels, including traditional channels like print, direct mail, radio, and television that are now becoming more and more precise thanks to innovations in data and targeting.

Short-term Pivots, Long-Term Adaptations

It’s been nearly a year, but we are still in the throws of the pandemic economy with all of its disruptions. As we begin the long road to rebound and recovery, many of marketers’ short term pivots will prove essential for the long haul.

The changes to which they are adapting were underway well before the pandemic began and will be with us long afterward. The brands that realize this – and act accordingly – will be the ones to emerge stronger than before.