What trends have marked 2020 and how will they evolve this year? How can companies respond to these new trends to emerge as a winner from the crisis? We discussed this with trend analyst Herman Konings.
What do you think were the main trends in 2020?
Herman Konings: “As a result of the corona crisis, scientists – along with people from the healthcare sector – became the new heroes. Surveys by universities show that confidence in science rose sharply in 2020. At the same time, we also see all kinds of conspiracy theories emerging, which are often spread by ‘trolls’ on social media. Steered by algorithms, after a while you get to see the same information online each time, which means people sometimes get blinkered and become trapped in their own way of thinking. Now there is more polarisation than ever, driven by the corona crisis.”
“Another important issue of 2020 was globalisation. On the one hand, this causes misery on a global scale – a pandemic – causing us to fall back on local resources and on a short supply chain. On the other hand, globalisation is also helping us to escape from this crisis. We need each other to find a solution, to arrive at scientific insights quickly, and to fill algorithms with data. So you see that trends and counter-trends always exist side by side.”
“Viewed more broadly, there are always ‘megatrends’ – processes of civilisation that enable people to raise themselves to a higher level time after time. Due to Covid, we saw a boost in these processes in order to make contact with each other. As a result of enforced distancing, digitalisation became a must to make connectivity possible. Elderly people in residential care homes suddenly started using video calls, children of all ages used technology for their schoolwork and digitalisation became a tool for sales (e-commerce) and entertainment as never before. Other processes of civilisation have also been accelerated by the corona crisis, for example the attention given to ecology, health – exercise and healthy food – and to sustainable mobility.”
Can you give some examples of companies that have responded well to this?
“In hospitality, there were numerous initiatives to keep businesses running despite the restrictions. Many catering businesses have switched to online ordering and collection or home delivery. The well-known chain Foodmaker took an original approach and started an online offering with ‘vedge bags’ that respond to the desire for healthy, plant-based food.”
“The entertainment sector also had to look for solutions. Many artists and events agencies have started streaming performances and virtual events. Some hotels, in turn, created additional income through ‘hybrid hospitality’. This involves offering their facilities as a co-working space, with the added benefit of their services such as a swimming pool, gym ... and possibly even the option of taking a nap in a comfortable room in between times.”
What do you see emerging as the main trends in 2021?
“The trends that emerged during the corona crisis will certainly not continue to the same extent afterwards. Already during the pandemic, people got tired of the many hours behind their screens. For example, they started sending huge numbers of paper Christmas cards. Hallmark saw the demand for Christmas cards increase by 185%! So there is a typical human backlash to this profusion of technology. No doubt we will all go back to physical experiences when we can again. E-commerce is definitely here to stay, but the physical shopping experience will see a revival.”
“In the business world, where teleworking is now the norm, people will alternate between working from home and being physically present at the office. Here, too, working from home full-time is certainly not ideal. Most employees say that they miss their colleagues and find it more difficult to keep work and private life separate. ‘Trop is te veel, en te veel is trop’ (‘Too much is too much’), as the late Belgian prime minister Paul Vanden Boeynants said. A trend that will certainly continue to evolve and grow is anything to do with sustainability or ESG – ‘Environmental, Social & Governance’. Consumers, employees and organisations are paying increasing attention to issues such as energy consumption, climate, health and social equality. In fact, it all boils down to empathy.”
What can companies do to ensure they will be ahead of the curve when the corona crisis is over?
“Resilience is vital, particularly for hospitality, tourism and the events sector, but by extension for all individuals and organisations. Entrepreneurs and HR departments should certainly take into account the mental impact of the corona crisis on employees. It is therefore important to really invest in connectedness and empathy. After ‘resilience’ as the key term of 2020, 2021 will be the year of resonance. That is, we are looking for relationships that evoke an emotional resonance. In the travel sector, in recent years we have seen the growing popularity of travel to the Northern Lights, a good example of an emotional experience. Resonance is also important in the relationship with employees for creating more engagement. You can even create resonance in the relationship with goods, for example with special packaging or a sustainable production process. A personal and authentic approach is essential, especially now that technology has such a strong presence.”
Herman Konings has a master's degree in theoretical psychology and is managing director of the Antwerp-based agency for trend analysis and future research Pocket Marketing/nXt. As a trend analyst and consumer psychologist, Herman regularly gives advice, workshops and lectures to companies, associations, governments and higher education on changes in trends and expectations for the future. His seventh book 'Gap the Mind’, on the impact of mind-blowing events on people, the market and society, will be published in April 2021.