by Marc Horne (@ThisIsMachineZA) Here are some cultural shifts I’m anticipating that will represent profound strategic opportunities for brands willing not only to embrace them but to lead them.

Not new but accelerated

A common term used to describe what lies beyond is the “new normal” but, in reality and if we’re honest, it’s not accurate. Many of the changes we’re experiencing and are going to experience are an amplification of what’s already transpiring. These aren’t new but rather accelerated because of this crisis we’re facing.

Furthermore, the desire to ‘standardise’ in an effort to postulate what’s to come as some sort of constant future state is wholly unrealistic — because the truth is things have never been ‘normal’. The reality is that instability is a state of being that’s more likely than ever before to become the status quo and perhaps a better way to characterise where we’re heading.

Cultural shifts

However, the intention behind the ‘new normal’ is the right one. It reflects our desire to express how much has changed and how profoundly altered consumers’ reality will be after covid-19. So, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is: What accelerated cultural shifts can we expect?

Anti-consumerism as counter-culture to considered consumption

The excessive purchasing and consumption of material possessions has long been challenged, where consumers have been focusing on the reasons they buy things. What we’re now seeing is a pronounced shift, with consumers placing increasing emphasis on what they buy and, importantly, where it comes from.

Flexible working conditions — an acceleration towards virtual human capital

Flexible working was something many companies were looking into, trying out, putting models together for; however, it’d been met with some resistance, partly due to operational challenges and partly due to the uneasiness around productivity.

Now that most of us in certain industries have experienced working remotely and have realised that it’s no longer necessary to be physically present in a location where we’re doing business, we’re going to see an acceleration towards virtual human capital. This will be further driven by businesses actively looking to reduce operational overheads and ways to further improve efficiencies.

The rise of ecommerce to default digital

Since the lockdown started, we’ve seen a 300% increase in ecommerce, a 30% increase in unique browsers, and a recent study revealed that 85% of the respondents claimed to have tried new digital apps (Kantar, SA Covid-19 Consumer Barometer, March 2020). This behaviour is here to stay. We’re not going back to pre-pandemic norms.

What this means is that digital transformation has shifted from being a competitive advantage to being a competitive necessity. Companies are now overinvesting in ecommerce as part of their push for omni channel distribution.

‘Hometainment’ to home-centred living

Pre-covid-19, there was much talk about “hometainment” as a growing occasion, driven partly by economic pressure. Now that we’ve experienced ‘properly’ living at home and we’re under even more financial pressure, we’re going to see an accelerated move towards home-centred living.

The home has gained a new primacy in consumers’ lives, and the quality of home life has become all-important.

Rise of Asia to Asia First

This year, the Asian economies should grow larger than the rest of the world’s economies combined, especially with China, a dominant player, recovering far faster from the novel coronavirus crisis. China’s depth of experience with epidemics, its digitally evolved economy, high-economic resilience, and unparalleled consumer optimism will result in a shift to the rest of the world looking to Asia first.

You need only look at the ecommerce space, where ecommerce brands in China for a long time have prioritised making their ecommerce initiatives innovative experiences. We’re now seeing the ‘West’ increasingly adopting these trends, and large blue-chip brands such as Alibaba (through Alibaba Express) expand into the ‘West’.

Relativism and ‘fake news’ to science as the authority

Fake news has been one of the most hotly debated socio-political topics of recent years. A recent stat I read stated that that over 50% of news regarding covid-19 is fake (this stat itself could even be fake). Now, whenever an article is shared on one of my work or social groups, inevitably someone asks for the source to be validated.

What this all means is we’re fast moving away from accepting and sharing news, even from trusted sources, to turning to science as the ultimate authority.

Communications-led brand purpose to brands as stakeholders in society.

What consumers want and need from brands has fundamentally changed. It’s no longer good enough for a brand to talk about their brand purpose; what people want is for brands to ‘act’. Consumers expect brands to authentically flex their authority and better the world.

See also


Marc HorneMarc Horne is the chief strategy officer at Machine_ (@ThisIsMachineZA), part of the Publicis Groupe. His interest in understanding human behaviour, cultural insights and the creative process, plus his desire to help make brands part of culture, have forged his career for almost two decades.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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