Post COVID: The new articles of association

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While we look forward to a post-pandemic world, the extended time we’ve spent with COVID-19 has fundamentally changed many aspects of our society and culture. We are moving forward as a society, and more than ever, people want to move forward on their own terms. Each of us is now wondering – why go back to the status quo, whether it’s long journeys, overcrowded trains, long waiting times – jobs that pay too little or schools are too expensive? The pandemic has made each of us think about what should remain of the old social contracts that we lived by in the “before” times.

The past year has been more than an acceleration of new technologies like Zoom and Peloton, but an acceleration of an already fragmented culture driven by media and politics that breaks our old social contracts. The pandemic was the final straw as businesses closed, unemployment claims reached the highest levels in our history, and travel came to a standstill. Political divisions divided the country. Injustice and racism came into focus, led by BLM, Stop Asian Hate and MeToo movements. Mobilized new political and social groups. As a nation, we have reached a boiling point: there were approximately 22,000 reported cases of protests and rioting last year, and according to the ACLED group, there have been 21 contextually important events that in some way contributed to the future of our nation.

Perhaps there is no new normal, but we as a society are now returning to our routines under new conditions. Social contracts have always played an important role in our lives. These are things that we accept as norms and have shaped our lives, our expectations and our dealings with one another. They influence our actions, such as buying certain brands, shopping in certain stores, choosing certain schools, entering certain professions, choosing certain partners, and living in certain places. But last year many of those expectations were thrown out the window, and the very social contracts we rely on and accept have been broken by two great forces: fragmentation and transformation.

These two forces have changed the way we interact with our employers, brands, communities, and ourselves. While we will learn a lot about what the future will bring in the coming months, especially in the course of new variants, we are already seeing trends in consumer behavior that focus on conscious living and form what we call The New Social Contract.

Conscious life

One of the great effects of the pandemic is the collective recognition that we all need community. We are not thought of as isolated beings, but as social beings. What used to be more associated with aging, COVID-19 has now accelerated the relevance of the community. Combined with the trend towards remote working, many people have moved, be it for lifestyle, cost of living or family reasons. As many consumers, in some cases, are rebuilding their lives from scratch – with new cities, new jobs, new technologies – they are creating their own new social contracts about when and how we work and the importance of health, wellness and community. We believe that the next chapter in our lives will be more purpose-driven and the long-term effects will be a focus on conscious living from 2020 onwards.

Two of the hallmarks of this shift to conscious living are where and how we work – and the new focus on mental health and wellbeing.

A sequel to WFH

Since the delta variant postponed the transition to professional life for many companies in summer and autumn, more and more employees are getting used to the flexibility of working from home and indicating a preference. In fact, 52% of people still work from home and 61% prefer to work from home. Over the past year we have seen the impact of consumer trends as people have the home as their primary hub for work, life and leisure. Lowes and Home Depot benefited significantly from the lockdown, reporting sales increases of 20% and 23% respectively in 2020. With the craze for remote and hybrid work, we expect the consumer trend to reflect a permanent shift in the need for home offices and the tools needed to work from home.

Prioritizing mental health and wellbeing

The isolation imposed by the pandemic sparked another pandemic, one of loneliness and mental illness. Research shows that social isolation and loneliness have devastating effects on physical and mental health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between August 2020 and February 2021, the number of Americans who said they had experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression in the previous week rose from 36% to 42%. In addition, there is a growing backlog of prevention and medical treatment that needs to be addressed. Based on a CDC study last year, 41% of adults in the United States delayed or completely avoided medical care, including emergency and emergency care.

After a physically and mentally exhausting year, consumers are now focused on their health. They look for brands that will help them prioritize, especially when it comes to food and beverages. In addition, against this backdrop, consumer, health and technology converge with the consumer at the center of one’s own healthcare. For example, telemedicine grew almost 40-fold in 2020.

As one of the most important consumer categories, we expect a shift in consumer behavior towards health-oriented foods and beverages. While the pandemic kept us home eating frozen pizza and cheetos for almost a year, the pandemic also exacerbated health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. We believe that as consumers deal with the effects of habits created during the pandemic, consumers will focus on healthy eating, special diets and weight loss programs. An estimated 42% of Americans have gained an average of 29 pounds during COVID.

One food and beverage trend that is likely to persist after the pandemic is an emphasis on convenience. Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, Kroger and other big grocers have fundamentally changed their supply chains and are delivering to our doors, and we are not seeing people turning back their behavior after the pandemic. In addition, the pandemic has relaxed many regulations on shipping and hauling alcohol, resulting in a surge in alcohol (e.g. Drizly) e-commerce that we believe will be permanent.

Brand Purpose & Values

COVID-19 has put the spotlight on our universal need for connection and community. Many solutions proved inadequate at a time when technology was becoming the primary tool of human connection, especially given the fragmentation in media and politics. Consumers moved away from brands that didn’t share their values. According to a recent Deloitte survey of 2,500 consumers worldwide in April, one in four strongly agreed to turn away from brands they believe were self-interested.

Last year, consumers experienced a metanoia – a turning point caused by the pandemic. As social concerns came into the spotlight, consumers began to grapple with the social contribution they expected from brands that support them economically. With this in mind, the challenge for brands is to grow with consumers. Bringing the “why” to branding can unleash creativity, inspire employees, and create differentiation by creating an emotional connection with consumers – at a time when a connection is desperately needed.

Consumers have now adopted themselves, adopted new habits, and had plenty of time to think. The challenge now is that, given this heightened sense of fragmentation, brands have to work much harder to tap into the universal higher order human desire to authentically connect with their customers.

Consumers have had enough of companies that talk but don’t leave. They look for brands whose actions align with their words and who engage positively with their community. An EY survey found that 69% of consumers believe brands should change the world for the better, especially when it comes to sustainability. This topic has taken center stage for many consumers lately. Consumers want to interact with brands that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. A staggering 76% of consumers say they are proactively looking for sustainably made brands and products.

With our culture and society becoming increasingly fragmented, consumers are now looking at brands through a new, more conscious lens. As brands grow together to reflect our values, we want to be comfortable with what we consume. In a survey by PWC, 76% of consumers said that if they treated their employees, customers and the surrounding area badly, they would end the relationship – a statistic that all brands should be aware of in the future.

The new social contract

While the pandemic and return to work are still very uncertain, we have already seen what we believe are fundamental changes in the way we live before the pandemic. Whether it’s improving the home as a standard physical space or focusing on health and wellbeing after a period of health anxiety and postponement of care, we all emerge from the pandemic with new perspectives. Despite its challenging origins, the New Social Contract will prove to be a positive development as consumers focus on living with purpose and supporting brands that reflect their values.


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