State of the Nation: the forces shaping consumer trends

Let’s face it. It’s been a tough year for the people of the UK.

The lingering presence of Brexit has weighed down on all of us, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty that will most likely continue for months, if not years. This – combined with wider economic, environmental and social challenges – has put a strain on society, and consumers are feeling the pinch.

However, it’s important to remember that people are not passive recipients of change. We are active agents who react and adapt as we seek out happiness in the new norm.

As Culture and Trends consultants, it’s our job to understand the evolving ways consumers are responding to macro forces such as these, and to analyse the impact alongside other important factors in their lives.

In such a fascinating albeit precarious time, we are seeing consumers’ needs evolve rapidly, resulting in significant shifts to the emerging consumer mind set. In the new year, we’ll be articulating this mind set in the form of our 14 brand new consumer trends for the UK. What’s exciting is our trends are backed up with consumer data, which has allowed us to quantify and map our findings.

Ahead of this, we wanted to share our take on the state of the British nation as it moves into 2019, taking a closer look at the forces that are shaping us as we look forward into an uncertain future. Only by looking at what’s happening now, can we begin to understand the future.

 

Political and economic: uncertainty becomes the norm and consumers seek solace in the now.

The current political and economic climate in the UK is characterised by ambiguity. We are surrounded by Brexit and its ongoing shape shifting and in-battles while a precarious economic outlook has made big financial investments such as home and car ownership more difficult to attain. In times like these, seeking escapism is a natural and common response.

What is unique to the current climate however, is the specific ways we’re seeking to escape. The combination of constant uncertainty, economic pressure and instant gratification culture has created a desire to escape into the present and celebrate spontaneity. We are focusing on short-term rewards, where a spend here is offset with a save there. Brands like Klarna who help us indulge in the now without the guilt are winning us over. Our data shows that this trend is Expanding – with 84% of respondents agreeing that saving money on essentials means they can spend on the things that make them feel good. We expect it to stay on an upward trajectory for some time before being adopted as a mainstream habit.

As well as uncertainty, political betrayals, public scandals and the fake news phenomena have created the ‘crisis of trust’. We don’t know who to believe any more. We can see our trust focused trend – which puts the onus on brands to bare all – is Expanding. In fact, 90% of respondents agree that brands who are quick to admit they are wrong and apologise are more trustworthy. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for brands, and those who become synonymous with transparency and accountability will begin to form part of a newly configured trust landscape.

 

Environment: as sustainability goes mainstream, it’s time to take a stance.

2018 was the year that sustainability went mainstream – with the likes of Blue Planet 2 and Stacey Dooley’s ‘Are Your Clothes Wrecking the Planet?’ documentary opening our eyes to the monumental damage everyday consumerism is doing to the world. Everything suddenly feels real, and we know we need to do something. Quick.

What’s more, in response to consumer demand for brands to take positive action – many are taking a stance. Examples include Iceland with its recently blocked anti-Palm Oil ad and Lush with its packaging free revolution. As more and more brands make sustainable products available, we expect pro-sustainability attitudes to tip into behaviours for more and more consumers.

The sustainability narrative forms part of a broader shift where we’re seeing consumers being more pro-active in their involvement with societal issues. Interestingly, for the first time, we have seen our society focused trends move into the Expanding category, where they have been niche before. In other words, people are on a shared mission and are now coming together to act.

Despite this, our expectations of convenience is still a factor – and solutions that are sustainable but also engage the lazier side of our brains will be the most successful, as they offer a ‘win-win’.

 

Technological: Human-tech ecosystem evolves while ‘techlash’ drives desire for control.

It’s a fascinating moment for humans and technology – and in many ways we are living through developments that we never imagined would be possible, even in our sci-fi fantasies. Technologies like Crispr have made designer babies a genuine possibility while CGI influencers are creating new debates about what is actually ‘real’.

Some consumers are embracing the opportunities associated with this shifting tech / human ecosystem and using its capabilities to build new relationships, enjoy more immersive experiences and improve themselves. Others are a little more wary about what this means for our collective futures, and are seeking experiences that feel a little more human.

This complex response to rise of the human-tech ecosystem is articulated in a number of our trends – with our Togetherness focused trend exploring its impact on our ability to build new and niche communities, and our Experience focused trend examining our rising expectations on what makes an engaging experience. Our trends that touch on these tech-embracing themes are all either Nascent or Emerging – they are very much in their early stages and not yet adopted by all.

Alongside Togetherness and Experience, Trust and Control are major themes surrounding technology, which is no surprise given the anxious rhetoric around artificial intelligence, micro-tech and autonomous bots. As concerns rise and consumers seek to get a better grip on their interactions, we can see our Control focused trend Expanding. We are actively taking control.

 

Social: normalising taboos and driving the Gen Z agenda.

Finally, there have been a series of significant social shifts taking place over the last year or so which we predict will impact the demands of consumers in the future.

The latest iterations of the female empowerment movement originally spurred on by #metoo has opened up a wider debate around gender roles – and many of the old stereotypes have been challenged. This means as much for marketing to men as it does to women – as issues like male suicide and mental health have been put centre stage and male beauty has become much more mainstream. While the issues tackled here will likely grow and change all the time, what is consistent is a pattern of normalisation of issues previously considered taboo.

What’s more, governments and local powers are failing to meet our community needs and frustration is driving us to action. We are rallying together over a mutual desire to fill the gaps and provide meaningful solutions to issues like homelessness, food waste and the treatment of refugees. 88% of the consumers we asked said they felt we must take action ourselves to address the social issues affecting us.

Finally, Gen Z – with their practical independence, action orientation and liberal social values – are gaining influence. With Gen Z being set to become the biggest consumer group by 2020, we expect to see their values, attitudes and behaviours impacting the consumer world more in 2019. For brands, delivering authenticity will be key, as Gen Z voice their demands for unfiltered, raw representations that tell the true story. Capturing their attention will also be a challenge, as they skim the surface, engaging only with the hyper-relevant and engaging.

 

What’s next?

As you can see there are a number of tensions and forces in the macro environment that are impacting the consumer mind set in the UK. These tensions are producing specific expectations, attitudes and behaviours in consumers, which we are excited to be articulating in our 14 brand new trends. Stay tuned in January for the full launch!

 


Lily Charnock

 

 

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