The Shifting Consumer Behaviours Set to Challenge Brands in 2024

By India Doyle, Editorial Director, Canvas8

Record heat, record flooding, record inflation, record polarisation, record trust decline, record existential fear… here comes 2024.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen the worst-case scenarios play out with increasing frequency. These shocks, experienced in intensifying waves, are fracturing people’s grasp on reality and making them scrutinise the value of products and ways of life they previously took for granted. In the coming year, people will look for anchor points in stormy waters and the desire for reprieve and release will grow. Giving people stabilisation points or ‘anchors’ through knowledge, shared resources, co-creation, and honest communication will help them feel more rooted, loyal, and engaged amid significant instability.

Here we break down four of the key consumer behaviour shifts set to challenge bands in the coming year.

People will find it harder to control their finances

People are struggling to maintain their quality of life – and even as inflation comes down, the aftershocks of economic stress will linger. With economic stress seeing people become critical spenders, communicating worth will need to become more holistic to flexibly accommodate alternative concepts of value.

In the past, when people have felt insecure, physical possessions have proved comforting. Yet, a study examining responses to insecurity has found that “looming uncertainty can render solid consumption a source of vulnerability and an unwanted anchor in turbulent times that call for agility and adaptability.” As we move deeper into a period of economic instability some people, having houses, cars, and big-ticket items makes them feel more stressed in an unstable economic environment.

Understanding that traditional stabilising markers are becoming less appealing presents an opportunity to make people feel financially secure in different ways. Moves towards rental economising – from platforming easy car sharing to Depop’s ‘Old is New’ campaign – show how brands can support liquid consumer security.

A feeling of overload will make people less committed to products and places

As priorities among the workforce evolve, there’s a growing sense of detachment, with burnout continuing to make it hard for businesses to retain employees.

This challenge within the workforce can be tracked against waning loyalty more widely. With an increasing number of factors informing decision-making, people feel less attached to one brand, instead looking for the most affordable and convenient option. Indeed, product and content overwhelm is also generating a sense of purposelessness, manifesting in fad fatigue.

Businesses will have to work harder to make consumers understand why their product or offer exists and stress deeper value to keep people engaged. In the office, employers will be challenged to counter apathy as people struggle with burnout and making ends meet.

In light of this deeply ingrained detachment, the power of community culture in moments of uncertainty cannot be overstated and represents a key opportunity for businesses to ground their audiences and address feelings of alienation. For example, Nike has collaborated with FitLab to launch its Nike Studios concept, a network of boutique fitness studios addressing physical and social health through group exercise.

A sense of human devaluation will drive unrest

While 61% of US employers say they’re confident AI could help their companies reach objectives more effectively than traditional means, 22% of workers worry technology will make their jobs obsolete. And across the globe, 47% of people report feeling fearful about the applications of AI. With the economic benefits of AI clear, a growing tension between feelings of human worth and business leaders’ desires for innovation effectiveness has the propensity to rock social stability next year.

While AI has generated existential unease, it has also refocused the spotlight on poor labour conditions globally, and generated heightened tensions – as can be seen at the strikes at Ford – as people advocate for a higher premium of human value worldwide.

Ensuring the rollout of AI doesn’t leave behind employees is crucial. An approach anchored in radical transparency about how and where new technologies are being integrated into the workforce and media, coupled with proactive training, can help to bolster external and internal trust. The nature of the relationship with AI means another key anchoring opportunity for businesses is to lean into human value and celebrate it as a USP. For example, Pinterest has launched AI technology to increase the representation of plus-sized bodies within its women’s fashion and wedding-related content, and Meta is letting people opt out of algorithmic feeds.

AI is accelerating cognitive stress and challenging perceptions of truth

Half of Americans believe national news organisations intend to mislead, misinform, or persuade the public, and AI will make it even harder to earn back this trust.

Elsewhere, more than 70% of citizens in the UK and Germany who understand AI and deepfake technology say they’re concerned about the threat such technology poses for elections. With major general elections across the globe happening in 2024 alongside the acceleration of AI-disinformation campaigns, anxiety around fake news and the state of reality will be at an all-time high, resulting in stress as people attempt to read between the lines. In this state of reality split, we can expect heightened expectations around moderation and safeguarding – as well as a more precarious and flammable communications landscape.

With misinformation set to drive polarisation in a contentious year, being clear on what makes something real for your audience and community will be important. Brands that demonstrate how they’re keeping audiences rooted in what’s real – whatever that means to them – and supporting them from being overwhelmed amid an algorithmic apocalypse will resonate. Events like the 2024 Paris Olympics and live music events (such as Taylor Swift’s Eras tour) offer a moment to connect people with shared, positive, and tangible narratives.

Preview Canvas8’s full list of behaviours set to define and disrupt 2024 here: