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Key takeaways

Key takeaways

High-speed connectivity promises to open new doors

The ongoing rollout of 5G mobile data services in the UK signals the start of a new era for the way consumers – and brands – use the internet. As well as providing connection and download speeds up to 20 times faster than the 4G service most consumers are used to, 5G has the power to transform people’s homes and their environment. Better connectivity is expected to be a catalyst for greater take-up of connected “Internet of Things” items like connected fridges, heating systems and cars. It could also provide a boost to the retail environment, making it easier for shoppers to use data-intense services such as augmented and virtual reality, and will improve live streaming and gaming experiences.

Check-in on your brand ambassadors

No, we’re not talking about George Clooney, the Kardashians or online opinion leaders. We mean your staff: potentially your greatest brand advocates and a way of attracting (or putting off) other talented people to your organisation. They’re also a hugely valuable source of knowledge when thinking about what the customer expects in terms of a seamless experience. An employee “pulse check” can help you stay close to your employees during this period of uncertainty, as well as find out from the front lines how consumers are responding to the experiences on offer.

Think afresh about pampering

Hairdressers and beauty therapists have been reopening, but with strict restrictions still in place, it has hardly offered the kind of indulgent treat that a trip to the salon might have offered before. With many of us still sporting “the lockdown look” – home-trimmed hair and a perhaps less-than-trim waistline – there are opportunities for brands that can help consumers feel special in new ways.

Now for some light relief

In tense times it’s tough to strike the right balance between sensitivity and a desire to offer consumers a few moments of escapism. But for the right brand with a message that’s carefully judged, it’s possible to make people laugh – and make a memorable impression that stands apart from the slew of more serious communications around, built on the idea of togetherness and stoicism. Maltesers’ “Look on the light side” videos about life in lockdown provided some gentle amusement, and gelled neatly with the brand’s pre-coronavirus messaging as well as the role of the product itself in providing little moments of happiness.

Keep listening

When budgets are strained and cutbacks are necessary, it’s tempting to drop customer feedback systems that might feel like an expendable luxury. But these are the times when it’s more important than ever to know what customers are thinking, right now. Real-time feedback – and systems that can feed that feedback into services and experiences for consumers – are essential. Cutting back on customer feedback programmes would be like closing your eyes while driving along an unknown road.

Juicy insights

The launch of a “sugar tax” on soft drinks in the UK last year has led consumers to look a little more closely at labels and more carefully consider the impact of what they drink on their health. The sugar content of drinks previously assumed to be a healthier option than fizzy beverages – juices and smoothies in particular – has made this a challenging time for brands with a fruity focus. But fruit-based brands have found new ways to promise health, adding vegetables, herbs, botanicals and “superfoods” such as acai and goji berries to their recipes to boost their wellbeing credentials. By aligning with changing views of health, smoothies have managed not just to sustain sales but increase them.

Cleaning up

We reported last year on the ability of social media superstar Mrs Hinch’s ability to turn housekeeping chores into both a spectator sport and a source of fun and pride for millions of her followers. The “Hinch Effect” continues this year – and was strong even before we all started stocking up on soap, hand sanitiser, anti-bac spray and bleach. The home care category grew to the tune of £126 million in 2019, with the big beneficiaries being private label providers rather than brands, which accounted for only 20 percent of that growth. The sector is ripe for the kinds of innovations that will help consumers justify paying premium prices.

Going green is getting easier

Consumers worry about plastic pollution and many want to do the right thing in order to reduce it, but Kantar’s Who Cares, Who Does study finds that only 20 percent feel it’s their responsibility to use less plastic, and it’s still a minority of people who are willing to pay more or sacrifice convenience to help the environment. Brands can grow their appeal by making it really easy for people to both help the planet and feel good about themselves, by promoting the fact they have reduced single-use packaging, for instance, or by using recycled and recyclable materials. Several UK supermarkets have removed plastic bags from online deliveries; FMCG producers are also taking action, including Bol ready meals, which use packaging derived from sugar cane.

Sustainability is the latest fashion

A desire to “do the right thing” (provided it’s quite easy and inexpensive, of course) extends to the fashion industry, with one-fifth of UK consumers saying this sector is among those having the greatest impact on the environment. But while over half of shoppers say retailers should be making fashion supply chains more sustainable, only 13 percent could name a fashion retailer or brand they thought were outstanding in this area – signalling an area of potential opportunity. Those people who are most willing to pay more for environmentally friendly materials are likely to be the highest spenders, pointing to further prospects for brands that can develop their green credentials.

Going without is big business

With an estimated 4.2 million Britons embarking on the “dry January” challenge this year, sales of alcohol-free beer surged 37 percent, and demand for adult soft drinks such as premium ginger beer and tonic also rose as shoppers reached for alternatives to their favourite tipples. While January might be the time to make up for festive-season excesses, reducing or cutting out alcohol altogether is becoming increasingly popular all year round, and UK sales of no- and low-alcohol beer have doubled in the past four years. During lockdown, the closure of pubs and restaurants meant sales of alcohol for use in the home shot up, but few of us, it seems, are prepared to splash out big money. Kantar research shows many Britons can’t bring themselves to spend more than a fiver on a bottle of wine, and will switch to pre-mixed cocktails and other cheaper options rather than breach this psychological barrier.

More of us are cutting out the meat

January was not just a time to give up drinking but also eating meat, with “Veganuary” getting more popular every year. Even Burns Night has become a vegan affair in many homes, with sales of vegan haggis alone now worth around £1.5 million. An estimated 9 percent of all Brits started January with intentions of being vegan for the month, though 70 percent had given up by the half-way point, not generally because they missed meat but because they struggled to replace cheese in their diets, our studies show. Veganism is rising in prominence but only 2 percent of the UK population follows a strict vegan diet and 5 percent are vegetarian; what’s changing is that meat-eaters are cutting back on how much they eat, and going “flexitarian”, so going meat-free several days a week. This is a year-round trend, and one that explains why one-fifth of all new foods launched in the UK last year were vegan.

But bangers are back on the barbie

The run of good weather enjoyed by much of the country over spring and summer this year has led to a surge in sausage and burger sales (up by over 40 percent each in May and June compared to the same period a year earlier). An estimated 53 million barbecues were held in the 12 weeks to 17 May – a time when dining out was impossible and social gatherings were restricted to the garden. How meat sales will fare when the sunny spell ends remains to be seen, but burger sales were strong during the 2008-2009 economic downturn, and we have inclement economic conditions on the way again now.

TikTok’s taking off

If you haven’t done the #Raindropchallenge or sung along to #OldTownRoad in front of your webcam, then you’re probably aged over 25. But you should be aware that over 1.6 billion people worldwide very definitely know what we’re talking about, and that’s because they’re using TikTok. The platform only launched in the UK in 2017 and in 2019 managed to double its user base here, which is fast approaching 10 million people. Social media usage in the UK is still led by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, but TikTok is a fast-growing fifth, and the time spent by its young users on this super-sticky app makes it a serious contender for social media budgets.

What’s on TV? Anything you want

The search for home-based entertainment options led many UK householders to take out new pay TV subscriptions this spring. Around a fifth of homes signed up to a new service during lockdown, meaning just over half the population has some form of pay TV service, and many households have several – the average is 2.3. The big winners in this race for something new to watch were Netflix, which is the UK’s most popular streaming service, but newcomer Disney+ is the rising star of this sector, having launched only in March but accounting for over half of new subscriptions in the three months to April.

It’s always time to dine

Changes in what people eat are being accompanied by shifts in when they have meals and snacks. And this is creating new eating occasions that smart brands can tap into with innovative additions to their range. For example, John West is targeting those people unable to take a break from work for lunch, with just-add-boiling-water steam pots that offer a quick and easy way to consume fish. For the sweet-tooths, the shift of biscuit brands into shareable “nibble” format snacks continues with Jaffa Cakes sharing bags and singles, and a premium range of Kit-Kat products, also for sharing.

Paint brushes at the ready!

This has been the year when shelves finally got put up, creaky floorboards were sorted, walls got a coat of paint and all manner of other DIY jobs got done. With so many people off work and with little else to do, around half of Brits got busy sprucing up their homes and gardens – often getting around to jobs that had been hanging around for a year or more. For many young people this was their first attempt at DIY, with lockdown boredom attracting a new generation of shoppers to the sector. Green concerns are guiding DIY purchases among this 18-24 group of novice DIYers; 60 percent say they consider the sustainability of home improvement products before buying.