1. A new digital wave
The Netherlands has long been ahead of the digital curve, leading Europe in measures like cashless payments, internet penetration, and smartphone usage over the past decade. But the events of 2020 have touched off an even bigger wave of digital transformation, bringing the Netherlands even further online in the realms of shopping, communication, work-from-home, and entertainment. According to the Kantar COVID-19 Barometer in July 2020, 44 percent of Dutch consumers aged 18-34, and 34 percent of all Dutch consumers, reported online shopping more than usual – not just because of safety or item availability concerns, but because they found online shopping to be convenient and enjoyable. As a result, even brands with less developed ee-commerce offers have been rushing to build out this side of their business. What’s more, the COVID-19 Barometer also recorded increased levels of internet surfing, social network usage, and online messaging throughout the pandemic – meaning that Dutch people are also spending even more time online even when they don’t have to telecommute or shop from home.
2. Health rules
Health and Wellness were already primed to be a growth driver in the 2020s across a number of product categories in the Netherlands. Now, health-mindedness has become practically become a prerequisite just for doing business. It’s not hard to see why. First, there’s the sanitation and safety imperative: a recent Kantar COVID-19 Barometer study revealed that going forward, some 38 percent of Dutch people say they’re likely to maintain an increased focus on hygiene – a figure that’s much higher than the proportion of citizens who say they plan to maintain online shopping, and working from home after the pandemic is over. It’s no surprise, then, that sales of hand sanitizers, personal protection, and home cleaning progress have continued to remain high. Beyond this, however, many Dutch people have used the disruptions of the past year as an opportunity to pursue healthy lifestyles in a more holistic sense – eating better, exercising more, and monitoring their mental health. Going forward, they will be looking for brand partners to help them maintain this positive momentum.
3. Getting serious about sustainability
The Netherlands Supreme Court’s Urgenda Foundation climate change ruling in late 2019 has created new and actionable energy around sustainability – an urgency that promises to quickly reshape Dutch society. Already the ruling has led the Dutch government to cut back operations at coal energy plants, reduce farmers’ livestock holdings, and retrofit buildings to be more green – all to reduce emissions by 15 megatonnes in 2020. Moreso than perhaps any in other country in the world, “sustainability” in the Netherlands is no longer a matter of taking steps to meet targets by 2030 or 2050; it’s about businesses, government, and ordinary citizens taking concrete action now to reduce the country’s environmental footprint.
4. Focus on the home
Home has evolved to be more than just a shelter. Increasingly, it’s also Dutch citizens’ workplace and entertainment center. At the height of the pandemic, home became a sanitary oasis - so long as it was carefully scrubbed and sanitized - but also a site of mental stress, as people struggled to regain “me time” amid all the togetherness. What’s clear is that after years of chasing new experiences outside the home, Dutch people have been reminded that it’s equally important to invest in and enjoy their immediate surroundings. For brands, then, home represents a site of great upheaval - but also opportunity. From appliances to healthcare, beauty to beverages, entertainment to e-commerce, home is where the heart is. It’s also where the profits lie.
5. The Era of the Public
For years, brands put out advertisements that focused first on products, and then on people – namely, the types of individual lifestyles that those products could enable (e.g. romantic, active, fun). Now consumers are increasingly rewarding brands that also put forth a vision of society – a shift that Kantar’s Chief Knowledge OfficerOfficer J. Walker Smith calls the “Era of the Public.” “Not only must brands deliver a superior product for a more fulfilled person, but brands must also contribute to a better society,” Smith explains. “The Era of the Public means a new brand ethic. This ethic is more than purpose, more than social responsibility, and more than good over greed. It is about brands adding the public to their portfolio of product and person.” Conversely, when brands are seen to act in ways that are contrary to the will of the public, backlash can be swift and hard to reverse.
6. Tighter Wallets
In May 2020, consumer confidence in the Netherlands declined to the lowest level since the crisis days of 2013. Even though the Netherlands has been spared some of the worst health impacts of COVID-19, its deep connectedness to the world economy means that it remains highly exposed to macroeconomic shocks. Diminished household income feels like a certainty to many Dutch people – with younger Dutch workers reporting the highest levels of job loss and salary reductions in Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer. When people have less money, or signs point to a recession, consumer behaviors like “trading down,” opting for generics, and delayed purchasing all rise to the fore. In response to these phenomena, it is not enough to for brands to simply discount prices and offer new value bundles: to hope, in other words, that existing brand goodwill will carry the day. Brand Salience - though important - is no guarantee of purchase in difficult times. Instead, Meaningful Difference matters more than ever, and so do Innovation and Brand Premium (the perception that a brand is “worth what it costs”). Consumers are looking for that “extra push” to go with the brand name.