After a year of remote working and major internal changes for businesses in Western countries, Google has revealed the four trends or ‘pivots’ from the pandemic that are likely to remain in place even when lockdowns come to an end.
The switch to work-from-home practices posed a great challenge to businesses, especially during the first few weeks and months, with Google noting that many sectors faced “astounding disruption”.
This called for a new approach to marketing and a rethink of strategies and campaigns for consumers, who embraced digital platforms in the absence of in-store experiences.
Fortunately, the vast majority of brands were able to make quick changes to keep everything on track. A new study released by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) last week found that 71% of tech marketers changed tack on targeting and messaging, while two-thirds adjusted their editorial calendars.
Like Google, 84% expect at least some of the changes to be permanent, regardless of real-world developments this year. This means that many of the trends that have come to the fore during the last 12 months will still be relevant well into 2021.
Using its own search data, Google has made four predictions about recent pivots that are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future. They are:
The need to use “elevated” insights to respond to fast-changing consumer behaviour and habits.
The importance of live events and tailoring them to deliver the best experiences.
Remote working and the need to nurture a resilient workforce.
Making it easier for people to buy products and services online.
“Tectonic shifts” in consumer habits
Google has been able to see first-hand the significant changes in consumer behaviour. As COVID-19 hit, it said that people were more reticent about venturing out, which is understandable, and that ‘who has’ and ‘in stock’ searches soared. In the UK, there was a rise in ‘can you freeze’ queries as fewer trips were made for groceries.
Consumers were more willing to find alternatives to products and services that they had regularly used in the past. Searches for ‘fitness apps’ spiked 200% and ‘online learning’ queries jumped 400% as many looked to fill the void left by the closures of schools, colleges and gyms.
Zoom and other video messaging apps were also very popular, both in work-based and personal settings. Searches with the term ‘watch party’ rose 400%.
Although these are not all directly business-related, Google says that the “continually shifting patterns” highlight the need to respond more quickly in the future. It advises brands to make use of real-time insights to support decision-making and noted that many were able to put new processes in place to cater to the shifts.
Moving forward, Google believes that the knowledge gleaned from the last 12 months will enable brands to “lead with insights”, rather than being on the back foot and reactive after the fact.
Content goes virtual with live events
Google says that there was an unprecedented number of major conferences cancelled last year, but that streaming platforms were able to pick up at least some of the slack as events switched to online settings.
CMI’s recent study found that virtual events and webinars were a key format for tech marketers last year, with usage rising from 74% in 2019 to 83% in 2020. A third also said that they are now incorporating live streams into their campaigns.
Google believes that virtual events will not be going away in the future as consumers have got used to the convenience of being able to attend them from the comfort of their own living spaces. However, when things do get back to some sort of normality, live events will have to go all in on the experience to keep people engaged.
It concluded that digital settings are not always the “best solution” for events and that brands will probably pick and choose between online and physical. Google recently released an article to help marketers decide on the type of digital format that is best suited to their objectives.
Remote work and being agile
Just as events moved online, so did many core work processes for businesses as entire teams started using online collaboration and communications software to get things done on a daily basis. Google says that brands have tried everything they could to “maintain a sense of community” while fostering inclusion during the last year.
In the future, Google sees a permanent shift away from the in-office-only model and more of a focus on creating a resilient workforce wherever that may be, finding ways to meet employees’ needs more readily.
Online shopping the new normal
Ecommerce was a big thing before the pandemic, but online shopping has become the de-facto way to purchase things since March 2020, with many opting for essentials that were previously bought in-store.
Google said: “There was a meaningful increase in the number of people willing to buy groceries, clothing, and even cars online. In the first six months of 2020, for example, nearly 10% of cars were sold online, compared with just 1% of cars sold online during all of 2018.”
This was driven mostly by necessity as stores closed and brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to cater to the digital demand by offering new click-and-collect services and local delivery.
Like live streaming for events, there is a level of convenience that consumers now demand when shopping, and brands will have to consider these expectations when physical stores eventually reopen in the future.
Google rounded out its predictions by stating that businesses are now in a better place to thrive when they emerge from the pandemic as they now have more access to data and will be able to act on insights more quickly, compared to 12 months ago.
It cautioned that “disruption and uncertainty” have not been banished to the sidelines just yet and that it was important to “rethink readiness” to prepare for the future. This will allow marketers to meet the demands of consumers even if they remain volatile into 2022.