Four COVID-era trends will have a lasting effect on the products and experiences that people want

Marvin Chow (VP of Marketing) and Kate Standford (Managing Director for Ads Marketing, Google), share their thoughts on four COVID-era trends. Shaifali Nathan (Director of Large Customer Marketing and Events in APAC) shares APAC-specific insights based on the Year in Search report. This will help to show Stanford and Chow’s perspectives.

It’s difficult to say that COVID restrictions that last more than a year have been difficult. We are pragmatic optimists who are energized and excited by the possibilities of “what’s next.” But we find the silver linings. As devastating and disruptive as the pandemic was, it has also revealed consumer shifts that have already transformed the future of marketing.

Our at-home experience has been the primary driver of these shifts. It has changed the way we shop, work, and live. It has changed the way that we communicate and how we consume content. Businesses also had to adapt to these changes. Businesses had to be creative in order to find meaningful ways to connect to consumers. That’s what makes this exciting. Four trends are transforming the B2C/B2B relationship and improving consumer experiences and products.

Customers will expect more relevant and helpful shopping experiences

One of the most relatable and obvious trends resulting from the pandemic is the acceleration in digital adoption, particularly e-commerce. The need to be able to access the internet led to new users and use cases. It’s only natural that our habits will continue in areas where we have found better ways of getting what we want.

One of the most apparent and relatable trends resulting from the pandemic is the acceleration in digital adoption, particularly e-commerce.

We saw this in 2020 searches APAC. There is an increased expectation that comes with digital adoption. Consumers expect brands that fit their lives and not vice versa. This requires a greater emphasis on seamless, enhanced and tailored shopping experiences.

Although e-commerce has experienced a significant acceleration (India has seen an increase of 42% in the number of daily heavy internet users), the scope and impact of the transformation of shopping will be far greater.

This new space is a result of our extended stay at home. It is sometimes called phygital shopping, which refers to the blurring between digital and physical retail.

These experiences can be used to introduce more people to their benefits.

A simple, user-friendly solution. Digital communication allows you to communicate with your customers in their native language. According to CSA Research, 75% of online shoppers prefer products that are written in their native language.

Consumers will be both locally and collectively aware

We’ve become more aware of the importance of local communities, despite travel restrictions and shelter-in-place requirements. Google has seen this manifest in an increase in searches for “near me” which have reached a global record.

We have shown an invigorated interest in seeing our communities thrive.

The 2020 AUNZ year in search report showed that domestic online sales increased by 53% in New Zealand, while international sales fell 5% over the same period last. We also observed an increase of 90% in searches for local buying in Australia. +84% of Aussies agreed that they value local products more than international brands, while 83% said they would pay more to purchase Australian brands.

Similar trends were observed across APAC. There was a 95% rise in searches for “buatan Indonesia” (made in Indonesia), 35% more for “made In Pakistan” and a 325% jump for “support local” Singapore.

Searches for “support local business” increased globally by more than 20,000% last summer.

This doesn’t mean that we are closing ourselves off to the outside world. We are also looking for a deeper connection with the collective. While exceptions are always true, the pandemic and other shared experiences over the past year have shown that our actions play an important role in the overall picture.

As we saw in our Year in Search report with the Higher Purpose trend, while some behaviors are more localized, our thinking is more connected to our environment and others.

We should all be encouraged by the fact that “how to help” is a hot topic in global communities. Searches for “quyen ungho” (donate-to-support) increased by twofold in Vietnam. In Singapore, there was an increase in interest in “donate” (+40%) as well as “volunteering singapore (+100%). The searches for “charity work” in Pakistan increased by 120%, and those for “help others” rose by 90%. In Indonesia, the search interest in “menyumbangkan”, (donate), grew by 150%, compared to the 15% growth in the previous year.

The pandemic will make consumers feel more connected to their communities, and they will be more aware of how they can play a part in helping others. This will force brands to connect on a deeper level and with consumers.

This could lead to new roles for “brand communities” and brand experiences that allow consumers to “pay it forward”. Virtual communities are likely to continue to grow, allowing brands better reach their micro-level segments.

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Personal values and brand value will combine to drive spending decisions

The pandemic’s effect on connectivity can also be seen in our abandonment of autopilot. Many of us have experienced a deepening of our psyches, as well as a variety of new insights about our lives. We have had to reevaluate the core values of happiness, family and health. Many people are experiencing a “shedding” of their old selves as they try to become their best selves. South Korea experienced a 20% YoY increase in searches for “eumsigmulsseuregi” in comparison to +10% in the previous years, while India experienced a 25% YoY rise in searches for how to recycle, compared with flat growth the previous year.

The 2020 searches also revealed a greater awareness of the environment. Malaysia saw a 65% YoY increase in searches for “reusable” as compared to the +30% seen in the previous year. We observed a 125% YoY increase in searches for eco-friendly packaging in the Philippines, compared to the +55% last year.

How did YoY search growth look in different markets in 2019 and 2020?

Believer-driven buying is also a sign of the importance values play in consumer decisions. This can be seen in the 140% increase in search interest in “halal food delivery” Singapore and the 150% in Japan for “plant-based beef”.

It’s not only deep reflection on our values, but it is also shaking us. It’s also an economic necessity for many. These new mindsets will continue to influence our purchasing decisions and brand perceptions.

As we move away from mindless buying, we will find the best decisions to strengthen who we are and what we can do financially. The notions of value and values will continue to be merged, regardless of the price of the product.

Consumers will be more active in promoting their values, whether they are buying an electric car to help the environment or giving Rs100 to a women-owned coffee shop in India.

It will be easier for brands to enable this, moving beyond just talking about their brand values and embedding them as distinctive “features” of their products or services.

Marketers’ at-home experiences can lead to empathy and creativity in creative

Last, but not least, the people who develop them can change the products, services and creative they experience. What is the reason? We stopped “going to work”; instead, we began “bringing work into the lives of our families.”

The idea of bringing your whole self to work has become a common reality over the past year. We have been able to see and hear everyone (leaders and executives included) in their natural habitat via videoconferencing. We can’t deny that our team knows each other on a deeper, more vulnerable and human level, even with hybrid and remote work models.

APAC 2020 searches show how APAC has shifted mental health to the forefront and how people are more considerate. We saw a 40% increase in mental health-related searches in several markets across SEA. These included “how to take good care of your mental health”, “mental tips”, and the “mental health test”. We saw more specifically that people were looking for ways to help others. In the Philippines, there was a 250% increase in searches for how to help someone who is depressed and in Australia, there was a 220% rise in searches for “employing persons with disabilities”.

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We have entered a new dimension in professional-plus personal empathy and respect. This should lead to greater understanding of our customers’ needs and wants as marketers and businesspeople. We can unlock powerful ideas and deepen our relationships with consumers by embracing our shared experiences, the beauty and complexity of human beings.

In 2020, for example, consumers were more open to activities, products, and services that bring joy to their lives and allow them to relax and connect with others. In India, there was a 75% rise in searches for “birthday decorations”, a 95% jump in balloon delivery, a 700% increase of “doraibuin” (drive-in theatre) in Japan, and a 125% growth in “kaaiiekm ming (gaming chair).

We cannot turn back the clock on the fact we know our colleagues on a deeper, more vulnerable, and more human level.

Although we cannot predict the future, we do have the ability to create it. When we look back at the consumer products and experiences created from historical moments in the past, it is easy to see that we have the same chance to create the future we want. Let’s harness the positive momentum.