Consumers are getting more complex. Brands need to keep up to survive

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Alicia Friend, Senior Communications Analyst, dentsu


  • The pandemic has shifted consumer habits and values in ways that present longer-term implications.
  • A new report by dentsu highlights four consumer trends that brands need to heed for their survival.
  • First: socio-political values will diversify and increasingly inform consumer decision-making.
  • Second: consumers will become more comfortable using technology to optimize themselves and embrace immersive virtual experiences that may overtake real ones.
  • Third: brands will be expected to provide broader services, leveraging consumer data and empowering wellbeing.
  • Fourth: consumers will begin to recognize and celebrate distinctly human traits as the world becomes more influenced by other forms of intelligence.

The shared experience of rapid and widespread disruption prompted by the pandemic has altered many of our longstanding habits and values. While some of these changes may prove to be short-lived, others present longer-term implications for our collective future. For brands looking to chart a long-term path to recovery and growth, it’s crucial to understand how these changes will shape the decade ahead.

A new multi-market report by dentsu international has identified four overarching themes spanning these emerging consumer trends, which offer brands a roadmap for identifying how they will need to evolve in the coming decade:

  • Universal Activism: A new range of influences and causes will drive consumer decision-making, prompting a need for brands to reconceive of people as activists.
  • Synthetic Society: Synthetic enhancements and virtual experiences will be embraced for their potential benefits to our health, but also pose serious ethical questions for brands.
  • Bigger Bolder Brands: Brands will shift focus to servicing consumers more effectively across all aspects of their lifestyle; data will be key to identifying who will be the most lucrative segments to engage in the long-term.
  • The Human Dividend: Our attention will shift towards the traits and capabilities that make us human, leading to a renewed celebration of what makes us unique—as well as understanding its limitations.

Here we present two of these themes in more detail, and introduce the concept of ‘Inclusive Intelligence’, a set of behaviours to help brands navigate continued uncertainty.

Universal Activism: every consumer is an activist

A central influence on the notion of consumers as activists is climate change. Seven in 10 people (68%) believe that by 2030, brands will be penalized through fines or higher taxation if they fail to reduce their environmental impact.

For many brands, communicating concrete climate actions is therefore both a challenge and a growth opportunity.

By 2030, inaction on climate change will be considered by consumers as an act verging on criminal negligence.
By 2030, inaction on climate change will be considered by consumers as an act verging on criminal negligence. Image: dentsu international

With 69% of people also saying they are afraid that by 2030 they will have less control over their data than they do today, personal data assistants will increasingly be used to govern brand relationships in the coming decade. Finding new ‘offline’ strategies to reach under-the-radar communities and communicating the benefits of sharing effectively will be key.

Meanwhile, concepts of identity will continue to expand to incorporate a broader range of values, including attitudes to sustainability, granular minority rights and urban or rural dwelling, for example. With one-third (29%) of consumers agreeing they are troubled by ads that do not reflect society in terms of race and gender, brands will need to take action to address concerns. Targeting approaches beyond demographics to more nuanced combinations of contextual data will help.

This evolution also has implications for companies in how they recruit and manage their workforces. Nearly two-thirds of 18-24 year olds (63%) believe that traditional concepts of identity will be redundant by 2030. For brands to understand an increasingly diverse consumer base, they must ensure that their own workforce is reflective of wider society, in turn enhancing their own talent pool.

Synthetic Society – consumers using tech to enhance performance

Technology will increasingly enable people to upgrade their physical and psychological state. These enhancements, however, will be the preserve of a privileged few who can afford them. Indeed, two-thirds of consumers globally expect organizations in the next five to ten years to use technology in a way that has wider societal impact, signalling that brands will need to prioritize the ethical and equitable application of tech.

Moreover, almost a third (32%) of consumers would consider undergoing non-essential surgery by 2030 in order to improve their mental health, not only raising new ethical questions but forcing brands to update their strategies to an evolved notion of what it means to be “human”.

By 2030, most people would consider undergoing potentially invasive procedures to enhance their psychological wellbeing
By 2030, most people would consider undergoing potentially invasive procedures to enhance their psychological wellbeing Image: dentsu international

For many, the pandemic has been a test of our ability to maintain our physical and mental health. This heightened awareness of health and wellbeing is only set to continue, facilitated by developing technology that will empower consumers to continually gain better insight into their health. More than half (53%) of the people surveyed expect to use technology on a daily basis to measure aspects of their health over the next 5-10 years.

So, where do we go from here?

In view of these findings, there is a clear set of behaviours that will be key for brands to succeed, which dentsu calls ‘Inclusive Intelligence’. This term describes the ability to incorporate new views, values and behaviours into a brand’s value proposition, against a backdrop of widening inequality and ethical complexity.

The key tenets of ‘Inclusive Intelligence’ can be used by brands as a reference point and strategic guide for the coming decade, informing a mindset that will result in not only enhanced consumer connection but long-term business growth.

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