We’re entering a largely unprecedented era in American history, one in which we’re having to rebuild our culture and marketplace from the ruins of the COVID crisis and its aftermath—in many cases, from the ground up. If 2008 gave us the Great Recession, 2021 is bringing about a Great Rebuilding, according to new research and analysis from U.S. media giant Horizon Media.
The firm’s new report, Rebuilding the Future, explores the top trends shaping 2021 and beyond, and related implications for marketers and brands. Among the key findings: Seven in 10 Americans believe brands have an obligation to invest funds and related resources in the communities they serve.
“The Great Rebuilding now underway is being defined by resilience, ingenuity, and responsibility to not just restore our reality as it once was, but rebuild it as something better,” said Kirk Olson, SVP of cultural intelligence at Horizon Media, in a news release. “Ironically, a pandemic that left so many of us feeling powerless has reminded us of the power we have to collectively effect change.”
The research was conducted by The Why Group‘s Cultural Intelligence unit, which is charged with decoding and converting shifts in the global zeitgeist into business opportunities for Horizon clients. The biannual report identified seven trends guiding The Great Rebuilding of 2021:
The Free Agency Imperative
- With workplaces upended and unemployment still above pre-pandemic levels, people are increasingly forging their owns paths to financial resiliency—a trend likely to permanently change the nature of work and the workforce.
- Meanwhile, workers are acting in the present. The study found that 35 percent of U.S. adults say they’ve made additional income via side jobs during the pandemic.
- Self-reliance and an entrepreneurial spirit will increasingly become commonplace. Nearly two thirds (64 percent) of U.S. adults—including the vast majority of 18-34-year-olds (81 percent) – expect more people will work for themselves in the future.
The Emerging Eco-currency
- Now that climate change has been labeled a crisis, people and brands are urgently taking action to protect the planet. The emergence of this eco-currency will increasingly affect both brand valuations and perceptions, and how people spend.
- In Horizon Media’s survey, nearly seven in 10 U.S. adults agreed with the statement: “It’s a personal mission to reduce my own carbon footprint.”
- Intent to do better for the planet is significantly transforming intent to buy. More than six in 10 Americans (61 percent) say the use of sustainable production methods is just as important as price in their buying decisions.
The On-Demand Economy
- More than a year in semi-lockdown has upped the ante when it comes to consumer expectations for immediacy, control and ease. They want everything in a matter of seconds, if not micro-seconds.
- Entertainment is increasingly immediate and personalized. More than half of U.S. adults (55 percent) say they watch most of their TV on digital platforms, such as streaming services, up six percentage points from November 2020.
- Consumers also want fast and frictionless shopping. The study found that 59 percent of American expect the checkout counter to disappear in the near future, where they’ll automatically be charged for what they’ve bought as they walk out the door.
The Self-Care Revolution
- Self-care is the mantra of the moment. Worrying about a world pandemic has refocused people on the equal and simultaneous importance of personal wellbeing, with a sharp focus on and a greater willingness to openly address mental health.
- According to the study, 91 percent of Americans say emotional health is just as important as their physical health, up a staggering 18 percentage points from October 2020.
- Taking stock of relationships is a key part of the process. Nearly one in two Americans (47 percent) say they’ve recently let go of unhealthy relationships to preserve their mental health.
- Humanization as medicine is new territory for brands to make real, lasting connections.
- Torn apart by a pandemic and societal division, people are recharging themselves with media that captures the warmth of ordinary human connection, often shared online in the forms of wholesome and relatable memes.
- Nine in 10 (88 percent) Americans believe the best way to bridge societal division is to refocus on empathy and acts of kindness, while 62 percent seek “feel-good content online” to lift their spirits when feeling down.
- Purpose has become a partnership. Once on separate tracks, individuals and brands are now working together to remedy threats to communities—from relieving poverty and homelessness to addressing racial inequality.
- People increasingly feel good about doing their part in this shared mission. More than six in 10 (64 percent) agree that “contributing to the fundamental needs of others by donating money or resources makes me feel whole.”
- The vast majority of people also expect brands to do their part. According to the report, fully 71 percent of Americans say brands have an obligation to allocate funds and resources to the communities they serve.
United States of Affinity
- Societal division and social isolation reinforced Americans’ group identities rooted in difference; now, the human need to find social cohesion in what unites us has been newly awakened.
- With people seeking enhanced feelings of connection as a counterbalance to division, brands are well advised to brush up on their affinity-marketing toolkits.
- Social media can be a unifying force. Four in 10 U.S. adults—including 60 percent of 18-34-year-olds—believe social media strengthens their personal connections. Some 53 percent say engaging with online communities that share their interests boosts their self-confidence.
Horizon Media’s multi-modal research and analysis—backed by survey, social, and observational techniques—was conducted in May and June 2021.