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Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

1. Vocal for Local

In these strange times, the Dutch have wanted to keep close to home when it comes to purchasing goods and services. In a COVID-19 Barometer survey conducted in April 2020, some 69 percent of Dutch consumers said they preferred or strongly preferred buying products that had been produced in the Netherlands, followed by products that had been produced in other European countries. Services and goods produced in the USA and China, by contrast, were significantly less preferred.

2. 5G is here

The Netherlands’ largest telecom providers began to roll out 5G service in major metro areas in mid-2020, with a goal achieving of nationwide service in 2021. This should be a boon for personal data usage in a country that already boasts Europe’s highest internet connectivity and smartphone usage. But beyond providing ordinary people with higher download speeds, 5G could also mean huge advances in a number of industries and project categories – for the way that it promises to finally make the “Internet of Things” a widespread reality by allowing devices to talk to each other near-instantaneously. In one creative application of 5G’s potential, T-Mobile Netherlands held a demonstration where a tattooist remotely inked a design on a woman using a “smart pen” connected by 5G to a needle-wielding robot.

3. Helping the elderly

Much of the rhetoric around wearing a facemask has centered around the importance of coming together to help the Netherlands’ most vulnerable people. In this way, the pandemic has reminded people about the importance of the country’s elderly population: not only are they beloved family members – they are the country’s institutional memory, people worked hard in decades past to give today’s young Dutch people a good life. This is an especially opportune time for brands and businesses to focus on reaching and helping the country’s mature citizens. Innovations like contactless delivery, dead-simple online shopping interfaces, and easy-open packaging may be conveniences for younger consumers in a time of social distancing – but they are real lifelines for older Dutch shopprs.

4. Employee welfare

At the height of the Spring 2020 coronavirus outbreak, when surveyed by Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, a majority of Dutch consumers said that the most important thing companies should be doing for society was “protecting employees’ health.” Now more than ever, brand image in the Netherlands is shaped by the way a company treats not just its customers, or the environment, but also its own employees. Labor relations has become more important than ever to a brand’s reputation. When companies fall short of their responsibilities to workers – for example, in the cases of inadequate protections at a number of Dutch meatpacking plants in mid-2020 – consequences could be swift. By contrast, companies that go above and beyond to care for employees at difficult times – by looking after employees’ mental health, say, or supporting their families – can boost their overall brand reputations in lasting ways.

5. Room for optimism

Temperamentally, the Dutch have responded to the coronavirus crisis in ways that were quite distinct from the rest of Europe. By July 2020, a significant proportion of Dutch consumers – more one in five – wanted brands to “be optimistic and think unconventionally” as their main reaction to the ongoing pandemic. This desire was almost totally absent in other countries. Relative to other markets in 2021, then, there is room for brands in the Netherlands to strike a more positive and proactive tone in not just their messaging, but also in their offerings to consumers. Kantar consumer testing has also shown that Dutch consumers are in no way “bothered” by advertising that doesn’t mention or allude to coronavirus in any way.

6. Reducing leftover waste

As part of its emergence as a leader in next-gen global sustainability, the Dutch have become especially ingenious in using mobile platforms to reduce waste and use up excess production – most notably in the leftover food platform Too Good To Go. This year, the Dutch startup Otrium raised €24m for its platform aimed at selling fashion merchandise that’s left over in stores at the end of a fashion season. Typically this unsold stock languishes in warehouses – or worse, heads to landfills or incinerators. And the volume of unsold clothing has soared to an all-time high of late, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Otrium wants to change that, and to that end it currently has over a million registered users and 200 brand partners. It is shaping up to be a major player in the world of “circular fashion.”

7. Finding a new balance

While “stay at home” recommendations led to ample hardships and difficulties, for some Millennial and Gen Z Dutch people, it also provided an opportunity to step off the treadmill of work stress that has characterized much of their adult lives. A May 2020 Kantar qualitative study features stories from young Dutch people about finally finding the time to cook healthy food, plan for the future, and take care of mental health: as one female Millennial put it, “The lockdown gave me time to finally calm down and [prevented] me from having a burnout.” Going forward, these young citizens will reward brands and employers who help them to protect this newfound sense of balance.

8. Transparent sourcing

Dutch consumers are increasingly interested in understanding the provenance and supply chains behind the products they buy. In part, this is due to a “shop local” desire to support one’s compatriots during tough times. In part, it’s because in the quest for health and safety, knowledge is power – and consumers want to avoid sourcing products from faraway areas where less is known about safety risks. The desire for transparent sourcing is especially strong in the food and beverage space. Many startups in these categories, such as the online grocer Crisp, have publicized their connections to local farms as a strong selling point for their brands; established grocery player Albert Heijn, meanwhile, has launched a new online tracker that illustrates the sourcing journey for all of its own-label products.

9. Reclaiming public space

The importance of fresh air and abundant outdoor public space became clearer than ever in Spring and Summer 2020. In April, more than half of Dutch respondents in the COVID-19 Barometer reported that “catching sunlight” was one of the main ways they were trying to manage their mental health. As the country begins to envision its “New Normal,” there is ample opportunity for businesses and government to gift a grateful public with new types of public space and al fresco infrastructure. Witness, for instance, the happiness with which Utrecht residents met the 2020 reopening of the full Catharijnesingel canal, parts of which had been converted into a highway in the 1970s.

10. Rural Netherlands in transition

The Netherlands’ rural areas have always been a vital part of Dutch identity and culture; in 2020, for instance, the novelist Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s raw portrait of life on a farm, “The Discomfort of Evening,” won the prestigious International Booker Prize. Now, however, in the wake of the 2019 Urgenda Foundation ruling, the coming decade promises to be a transformative one for the Dutch countryside. The government has announced schemes to phase out many high-emissions forms of agriculture – and while some types of farming will persist, there’s nevertheless a sense that rural Dutch communities will need to redesign what it means to live with, and off, the land. Are there waysways for rural life to simultaneous become more high-tech and more traditional? More proud, yet also more inclusive?  Should the goal be to preserve as much of the old ways as possible, or to build a new vision of the Dutch countryside? These are the questions that lie ahead.

11. Encouraging travel dreams

No category has more pent-up demand at the moment than travel. In August 2020, more than half of Dutch people surveyed in Kantar’s COVID-19 barometer said they were planning to wait a month or more before they felt safe travelling for pleasure domestically and internationally – and then, in September, a renewed wave of coronavirus infections hit the Netherlands and delayed many travel plans even further. Going forward, consumers are eager for solutions to help them manage risks around travel – from hygienic products they can take with them on their trip, to flexible financing solutions that make it easy to cancel or postpone a booking. In the meantime, people are also eager for products and experiences (from transporting foods, to immersive entertainments) that can give them the kinds of escapism and discovery that are the next best thing to a real vacation.

12. Private transit

2020 marked a retreat from the Netherlands’ embrace of public transit, as safety concerns and work-from-home protocols led many to let their train and bus passes lapse. Over the next few years, the famously bike-loving Dutch may see increased interest in car usage and road trips: both for the sense of freedom that cars represent, as well as the way they offer a kind of “personal sanitary bubble” unique among forms of long-distance transportation. This is not to say that the Netherlands will become a country of widespread car usage – but there will be more opportunity for solutions geared around car rentals and partial ownership, as well as new codes of culture and consumption geared around the appeal of “the open road.” For instance: drive-throughs, drive-ins, and car camping.

13. Child enrichment

Although in-person Dutch schooling was not suspended for as long as in other countries, there is still a desire on the part of adults to help children “catch up” and “make up” for the disruptions of 2020. This can take the form of extra educational enrichment - or even more simply, it could mean providing young citizens with fun experiences that help them regain the experience of being a normal kid. Parents appreciate any help they can get in this regard - for instance, Bol.com’s pandemic-era promotion that offered children’s books and stories for just a cent.

14. Inequity and inclusion

Spurred in part by global “Black Lives Matter” protests, in 2020 the Netherlands’ has taken a step forward in publicly grappling with issues of racial equity. Annual debates over the “Black Peter” character have now broadened in scope to include a wider reckoning with symbols of Dutch colonialism, as well with the barriers to inclusion that many people of color still face in modern Dutch society. Although led by young people and activists, these efforts have also gained support from leading athletes and celebrities. This is not a moment – it’s a lasting movement.

15. Climate adaptive design

Thanks to low-lying geography, the Netherlands has long been at the forefront of using architecture and design to minimize the impact of environmental threats like rising sea levels. Now, as the effects of global climate change begin to accelerate worldwide, the country has an opportunity to export that design expertise to help the world confront a new wave of climatic damage. The resilient cities of the future will need to guard against not just against floods and storm surge, but also heat waves, fires, tornados and hail. In 2020, for instance, the Dutch town of Arnhem launched a 10-year construction plan to prepare for the effects of extreme heat – an overhaul that includes replacing 10 percent of existing asphalt with grass, the better to disperse heat and capture water.