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How 2020 changed your audience

Moving into 2021, consumer confidence is starting to improve

By: Barbie Chiu from Creative Digital Agency

How 2020 changed your audience

The tumultuous events of 2020 have changed the brand/audience relationship. Much of what marketers considered popular wisdom and best practices just 12 months ago no longer apply.

Here are some of the major ways audiences changed over the past year: 

Consumer confidence plummeted

Consumers had high expectations for 2020. It was a new year, a new decade! On January 1, 2020, the top trending hashtags on Twitter were #WelcomeTo2020 and #2020SoFar– a testament to the hope consumers believed 2020 would bring.

Consumer Confidence Index
Consumer Confidence Index

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, financial prospects looked good: in January, unemployment was low at 3.6%. Incomes rose 0.6% (the biggest jump in almost a year), and consumer confidence neared a 5-year all-time high. 

As the largest demographic and core spenders in the United States, Millennials were projected to spend $1.4 trillion in the US in 2020. Gen Zers were trailing closely behind and were predicted to be the largest demographic in the world. As the oldest Gen Zers begin to graduate college, their annual spend in the US is expected to surpass Millennials in 10 years. 

Brands could confidently contextualize this financial optimism into their strategies for the year. 

That optimism fell off a cliff once the pandemic hit. Audiences became financially cautious, and their wallets became a bigger consideration than ever when making purchases.

Media consumption habits changed. 

Not only was a parade of new streaming services released, but people were stuck at home, desperate for new ways to entertain themselves. Consequently, this was a big year for streaming video content. According to Nielsen, video streaming times in Q2 2020 increased by nearly 75% compared to Q2 in 2019. 

But not everyone was a winner. Streaming service Quibi, which launched in 2020 by leaning hard on targeting Gen Z by providing bite-sized content only accessible via mobile, failed to get off the ground largely due to its initial content offering not resonating with its target demo. 

TikTok went through a pretty crazy year, gaining a record number of active users across multiple generations, then facing a prospective ban in the US. We reached out to Gen Zers across the United States to measure the app’s user privacy scandal’s impact on its core Gen Z audience. 

While the app is still alive and running today, TikTok brought attention to an important topic, data privacy, which will continue to be a hot topic of discussion moving forward into 2021. 

Social issues hit the forefront.

The Black Lives Matter movement sparked a massive change in how audiences perceive brands’ role regarding social issues. In particular, young people became hypervigilant about how their favourite brands and services responded (or staying silent). 

Audiences channelled their loyalty to those brands who vocally shared their stance on social issues, and invested in promoting those issues. While historically, brands have considered it “safe” to stay out of the discourse around social issues, audiences shifted their perspective, considering silence on key social issues to be a statement in and of itself. 

In other words, 2020 was the year we saw consumers turn their backs on brands who did not actively support their audience’s social and political convictions. 

What’s next?

Moving into 2021, consumer confidence is starting to improve with the news of a vaccine and the sense of a fresh start with the new year – but the economic and emotional impact across the board is undeniable. 

What’s more, new shopping behaviours (specifically the heavy expansion in e-commerce shopping and delivery) have become normalized. They will likely not be going back to the way they were before the pandemic hit. 

But if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that conditions can change on a dime — and as marketers, we need to be prepared to always adapt to the shifting needs of our audience.

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