Trends in Two Minutes is a monthly bulletin of trends hitting businesses across
Asia-Pacific with a focus on marketing and communications. 
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Solving For The Loneliness Pandemic

Years before the world was thrust into the isolation of quarantines, lockdowns, and remote working, researchers were already identifying loneliness as an increasingly crucial public health issue. In 2018, one study found approximately 75% of Americans struggled with loneliness. In the same year, similar numbers were reported in South Korea.

Brands, governments, and platforms have been attempting to combat the rising loneliness of modern living for just as long, if not longer. China saw the launch of an AI robot dog in 2018 to help mitigate the impact of a lonely lifestyle. In 2019, planners suggested creating communal gardens in Singapore to combat loneliness.

Following COVID-19, these concerns have escalated to a profound degree. Loneliness is no longer a growing public health issue; it is a widespread pandemic. As key potential agents of connection for both consumers and employees alike, this escalation has significant impacts (and opportunities) for brands and businesses.  

A pre-pandemic survey found, for example, that more than half of today’s professionals prioritise workplace culture over salary in terms of determining where to work. These priorities have only become more pronounced in the wake of COVID-19; with physical workplaces transformed, cultural connections are more important than ever.

For brands looking to engage consumers, understanding the new loneliness needs of the global marketplace can offer new solutions and opportunities. In the early months of the pandemic, for example, Weber Shandwick client Johnson & Johnson Vision reoriented an entire product launch to provide an opportunity for connection for people in lockdown.

The In-Between Space: Phygital Reality

In the past five years, the retail sector has evolved into several different (albeit interrelated) hybrid forms. Following the widespread advent of e-commerce, ‘New Retail’ emerged – with digital brands moving into the physical realm. In (partial) response, physical retailers began embracing new drawcards and morphed into retailtainment.

Like many long-term trends, this remixing and permutation was only accelerated by the rise of the pandemic – with service brands moving into the retail product space to keep afloat during lockdown and retail real estate embracing temporary, exclusive exercises in pop-up retail to keep consumers engaged under COVID-19 restrictions.

As restrictions begin to ease and vaccines are distributed throughout Asia, retail have begun to metamorphose into the next permutation: Phygital Reality. Encompassing a fluid experience with the benefits of both digital and physical engagement, phygital reality arguably represents the culmination of retail’s recent developments.

Like many of its retail sector forebears, phygital reality is a shift in popular expectations that will rapidly radiate out to other sectors. Regardless of engaging at home or on location, 2021’s demographics will increasingly expect the convenience of online and the immediacy of in-person experiences – and an ability to shift between the two, as needed.

For communicators, an integrated, strategic, and responsive customer experience will be key to success. With customers operating across so many different touchpoints and across so many different permutations of the digital-physical spectrum, communicators will need to be amply prepared to deliver brand narratives and experiences that leverage customer interactions in a myriad of ways.

No Going Back – Better Tomorrows

The pandemic immediately facilitated major shifts in the general infrastructure of consumers’ lives and lifestyles. Carbon emissions rapidly went down in response to lockdowns around the world, for example. In countries like Australia, the sudden rise in job losses shifted attitudes towards the unemployed and those on welfare.

Taken in sum, such rapid shifts in reality demonstrated that it was entirely possible to effect dramatic change in response to social issues like poverty, climate change, and racism, under the right circumstances. As the world endeavours to return to pre-COVID norms, consumers are determined not to forsake the potential of such changes.  

Consumer attitudes around ethical consumption and wellness have been growing more popular and more defined for many years, spurred in part by the purpose-driven values of Generation Z and Millennials. Even during the pandemic, causes like company employee welfare and supporting artists became major trends.

As we enter a new phase of post-pandemic realities, communicators and brands will need to prepare for greater scrutiny of their conduct around ethics, sustainability, inclusion, employee welfare, and other issues. In fact, in early 2020, Weber Shandwick research found corporate reputation being shaped by nearly two dozen such facets of company practices.

Over the past twelve months, that reality has been exacerbated by the abundance of stressors and challenges faced by consumers and companies alike. Entering 2021, communicators need to focus on a comprehensive communications strategy that embraces the entirety of a business’ practices, underpinned by a clearly defined social and corporate purpose.

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