The following article was originally published in Adweek.
Trees, grass and gardens aren’t the only things about to experience a rebirth this spring. As COVID-19 vaccines roll out and restrictions are lifted, there’s a growing sense of optimism among consumers indicating a post-pandemic surge in spending.
Historically when a pandemic ends, an economic boom begins and strong indicators show that this time around seems to be no different. Recently, Goldman Sachs upped their 2021 GDP growth estimate to a whopping 6.8% and the unemployment rate is expected to drop to 4.1% by December.
Get ready for the Roaring 2020s! Which has us asking, what do brands need to do to prepare? After all, growth of this magnitude doesn’t come around often. There may be bumps along the way and time is still needed to vaccinate the entire population, but the general direction seems clear. Here are the top five steps marketers should consider taking to prepare for this boom.
Be Ready to Join the Party
History shows that pandemics are generally followed by a period of extensive social activity. This makes sense in 2021 as people look to alleviate loneliness – the number one driver of the anxiety and depression we’ve collectively been feeling. As we re-emerge from seclusion, there may be awkwardness as we realign social norms, but it won’t deter us.
As groups come together and social gathering spaces become increasingly repopulated, a resurgence in brand experiences and out-of-home (OOH) advertising are likely to follow. Events, malls and movie theaters are a just few places that come to mind for brands to play in as a result. Brands can celebrate the return to these spaces with timely messaging or by bringing some added value with digital utilities or experiences to help people get even more out of their return. As we travel and return to urban centers again, brands have an advantage to invest in exciting OOH advertising. Experiential activations can include additional layers of digital utility, entertainment or an IRL experience with pre, during and after extensions that ensure the experience influence consumers well beyond those who engage with it live. Brands that create magical experiences to build connections will reap the rewards.
Tap into the Pent-up Demand for Travel
While Airbnb has seen impressive growth during the pandemic, the picture hasn’t been rosy for much of the tourism industry. However, a turnaround is set to happen there first since people have been longing for travel. Eighty-one percent of Americans say not being able to travel has been one of the worst parts of the pandemic. And just under half of Americans are planning a vacation this summer.
Brands can find immense cultural relevancy by tapping into travel, especially outdoor experiences that are hugely in demand. Mountain DEW is a great example of a brand finding an adjacent role and avid community among new anglers and boaters who discovered these passions amid the pandemic. And even if there’s not a direct connection, brands can still learn from travel and appeal to the higher-order longing for freedom, fun and exploration, and the North Face’s fall campaign encouraged consumers to reset their lives through exploration and the company is dedicating $7 million to initiatives that make the outdoors more inclusive.
Promote Brand Benefits for Self-Expression
Maybe it’s just us, but a common COVID-themed ice breaker we hear is, “When’s the last time you wore jeans?” As the restrictions enforcing isolation and small bubbles lift, we’ll remember self-expression through appearance. The fashion, footwear and cosmetics sectors are ready for a rebound as consumers spend money on personal style again. Adidas, for example, is bullish on growth over the next five years. We wouldn’t be surprised if teeth straightening starts to rise as we see each other’s smiles again!
As with travel, there’s a higher-order benefit for brands to consider. The things that make us feel good will be in high demand. Optimism is up which leads to greater self-expression and discovery. As part of the rediscovery, we anticipate many new trends will emerge to reflect the identities that underwent a metamorphosis during lockdown. Brands have an opportunity to connect with new consumers willing to experiment and to dial up targeted marketing to capture those dreaming of a new and improved versions of themselves.
Keep on Streaming
Not all of the behaviors we picked up during the pandemic will go away when it finally does. One that looks here to stay is hybrid off- and online-living and the consumption of digital video and content. According to Harris Poll, digital has gone from the next generation to the only generation: Americans of many kinds are shopping, working and entertaining online. And while it’s unlikely we’ll continue to watch seven hours of online content every day, with the rise of connected TV devices and the growth of YouTube and TikTok, it’s unlikely we’ll return to the previous daily average of 3 hours and 17 minutes.
Appointment viewing continued its decline during COVID and smart marketers should rethink the user experience rather than dump all investment in these areas. Many brands turned to digital channels to keep their marketing efforts going during lockdown. Investing in digital video is a smart way to go after the pandemic since the amount of time people are watching linear TV is decreasing as viewership of connected TV is increasing. Streaming audio is growing too, with nearly 75% of all U.S. adults expected to be streaming audio in some way (podcasts, live terrestrial radio online, etc.) by 2025. Even when we’re on the go, travelling or otherwise away from home, those subscriptions and digital videos come with us wherever we go.
Prepare for Increasing Expectations on Social Issues
It’s no secret that COVID put immense pressures on basic human needs and people were forced to focus on the essentials. As the pandemic winds down, many of those more fundamental needs will have been met and we’ll have the time, space and capacity to consider other important matters or social issues that may have taken a back burner, like the environment and sustainability. In a September study, Ipsos found that 86% of adults agree that they “want the world to change significantly and become more sustainable and equitable rather than returning to how it was before COVID-19.”
Brands should be prepared for increasing expectations (and scrutiny) from consumers on these issues. They could face backlash if they don’t but be rewarded if they do. At least that’s the view the world’s largest asset management company, Blackrock, Inc., is taking (specifically on sustainability). As their CEO Larry Fink said, “The more [brands] are seen to embrace the climate transition and the opportunities it brings, the more the market will reward your [brands] with higher valuations.” Brands that take the time to develop a brand citizenship framework and an accompanying communications plan to address the issues that are important to their consumers will nurture credible advocacy and neutralize reputational threats that might arise.
Addressing these five areas of opportunity can set up brands to thrive during the Roaring 2020s. This time of great change should inspire a great reset for brands. Consumers have fundamentally changed, and they are not going back to pre-pandemic brand expectations. This is the time for brands to experiment and explore new ways to connect and engage with consumers as they re-emerge ready for new experiences.