Mapping a new territory

2021 will bring new reflections and new opportunities for businesses.

The year 2020 was one of chaos and tragedy, but it was also the critical catalyst for a new era of thinking. How we've adapted to living and working amidst a global pandemic has highlighted what is most important to us, inspired community spirit and human ingenuity, and generated change at a scale never seen before.

The implication for brands and businesses in every sector cannot be understated. Many shifts in human behaviour will become permanent, providing a rare opportunity for organizations to understand people's new reality and help them solve their biggest challenges on their own terms. But the ultimate challenge for every company will be staying afloat in an extraordinarily precarious economy, making 2021's emerging business priorities among the most essential and transformative yet.

The Fjord 2021 trend of Accenture Interactive explores the top trends set to impact businesses, technology and design over the next 12 months and beyond, crowdsourced from a global network of 2,000+ creatives from more than 40 locations. With 2020 being largely defined by the theme of displacement, 2021 will be about navigating that displacement and re-imagining how the world, and the people in it, operate in fundamental yet innovative – and agile – ways.

Dive into this year's 7 major trends as we begin jointly shaping the 21st century renaissance.

1. Collective displacement

How and where people experience things – from simple pleasures like shopping and grabbing coffee, to their overall sense of agency – is drastically different mid-pandemic compared to pre-pandemic. There is a shared sense of displacement affecting businesses and brands, and employees and customers. With human uncertainty and unease at an all-time high, brands must seize the moment to give people hope as well as new ways to return to their favourite experiences. In turn, businesses will be able to simultaneously maximize customer retention and expand their market reach through solutioning for constantly changing consumer behaviour – all in a context typically outside of a brand's control.

Local Montreal restaurant chain Mandy's Gourmet Salads of Montreal has leveraged technologies such as cloud to re-imagine the way its eight locations do business in accordance with collective and social displacement and the need to connect with the community in new ways. They repositioned staff from head office, shifted to operating with takeout and delivery services, grocery boxes and catering, and have since seen sales tick upward. In fact, the chain is also considering starting its own delivery service to continue expanding their offering.

2. Do-it-yourself (DIY) innovation

Due to restrictions on movement and the closure of many non-essential businesses and services, people are taking innovation into their own hands, "hacking" their lives and homes to solve challenges – both out of necessity and a desire to make their lives easier. At the end of 2020, Google had recorded an 80 % increase in searches for "DIY" compared to 2019, and a 200 % increase in global watch time of "coffee recipe" videos. Consumers are no longer waiting for companies to prescribe the latest and greatest products, recipes, and innovations to them. Instead, they're taking charge and innovating for themselves – and it's up to brands to take notice and act accordingly.

The role of co-creation will be critical in the year ahead as organizations stay open to seeing how people adapt released products and services to best fit their needs, including in ways not originally imagined or intended. Experiences are also not out of the scope of this trend, as people are getting creative with new yet familiar activities for leisure and wellness.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and adhere to gathering limits, a Toronto yoga studio installed 50 outdoor domes for safe, socially-distanced summer yoga sessions. All participants had their temperature taken upon arrival and domes were cleaned between use. The outdoor space also featured an audio/video system so attendees could hear and see their instructor and ensure the experience was as close to that of a regularly scheduled class as possible.

3. Sweet teams are made of this

For many working professionals, working from home since the start of the pandemic has meant living in the office. This is having a huge effect on the reciprocal employer-work team relationship, as well as employee experience expectations. We're hearing new, never-before-posed questions about appropriate home office attire and paid leave policies for employees exposed to COVID-19 or caring for a loved one affected by the virus.

Many companies are already downsizing their physical office space or looking at flexible work spaces, recognizing a significant number of employees will continue working from home post-pandemic. In fact, office vacancies in downtown Toronto accelerated at the end of 2020 to 7.2 %, an increase of more than 50 % from the 4.7 % rate in Q3. Companies like GitLab – home to the world's largest all-remote workforce – are proof this model can work. However, the key is not just moving processes that worked in a traditional office setting to a digital framework but rethinking the entire end-to-end framework.

As employers and employees rapidly prototype new work experiences and environments, there are four specific pillars to consider:

  • Technology (meeting the needs for long-term connected remote work and breaking the device innovation plateau, especially within the supply chain),
  • Culture (maintaining the human aspect of collaboration and brainstorm and personalizing 'care packages' using lifestyle-oriented benefits platforms like Fringe),
  • Talent (adopting a wide-scale global hiring lens, increasing pressure on hard skills over soft skills and cultural fit), and
  • Control (balancing the fine line between office and home security in terms of IT and surveillance, personal devices and networks, and branded backgrounds).

4. Interaction wanderlust

In a world now dominated by virtual experiences for everything, people are more likely to find themselves awash in a sea of sameness caused by dull, impersonal, and templated digital design. According to recent Accenture research, unique and memorable brand interactions are driving long-term business growth and relevance. However, in the interest of public safety, companies are being forced to rely on a small reference system—the screen—with an emphasis on contactless solutions to minimize physical touch. Organizations should reconsider design, content, audience, and the interaction between them in order to restore serendipity and excitement to both screen interfaces and experiences.

One-of-a-kind experiences will enable more brands to disrupt people's digital fatigue. The online video game Fortnite successfully blended the thrill of virtual worlds and live events to host a Travis Scott concert experience viewed by over 12 million fans – the biggest live audience in the game's history.

5. Liquid infrastructure

How and where people get things is changing, impacting the systems involved in the infrastructure of goods and services. More people are shopping online or local, supporting small businesses, and seeking out sustainable options. At the same time, consumers still expect the same level of immediate gratification from the delivery experience as they would have had in store, regardless of where they are. As the pandemic progresses, businesses may consider combining direct contact and low contact experiences by following in the footsteps of brands like Starbucks who in addition to in-store checkout, are constantly optimizing pickup points, drive-thru and mobile application.

Capitalizing on liquid expectations, this trend looks at how businesses can rethink the supply chain to win the last few feet before purchase and into consumers' homes, not just the final mile. Leading organizations are also rethinking how to best use physical assets while exploring entirely new business models. Kraft Heinz Canada recently transformed the kitchens of its Toronto and Montreal office buildings into 'dark kitchens' that serve customers exclusively via delivery. Many of these plans were initially put in place pre-COVID and continue to grow, indicating the new, revolutionized approach to the supply chain is more than reactionary.

6. Empathy challenge

In addition to COVID-19, 2020 will be forever remembered for the sociopolitical events and movements that caught the world's gaze, including Black Lives Matter and the ongoing fight for equality. More than ever, organizations need to be in touch with consumers and the greater community, lean into their brand purpose, and be empathetic at their core.

Early in the pandemic, Snap – a company that encourages close friends to express themselves freely and be creative together – accelerated its roll out of a new search tool, Here for You. The tool is designed to connect Snapchat users with expert mental health knowledge when they search for topics like anxiety, depression, or bullying. Through this initiative, Snap is tapping directly into its mission and demonstrating it looks out for its users, just like a good friend would do.

Transparency and authenticity will be critical considerations as successful companies move from empathy as a message to a way of acting. We saw the effects of inauthentic social messaging in real time last year on Blackout Tuesday, when brands who posted regular campaigns on a day designated to uplift Black voices promptly faced backlash and lost followers and customers. Brand values need to be known, defined, and prioritized to avoid the financial and moral consequences of sitting in silence.

7. Rituals lost and found

Routines and rituals are part of the "fun" of being human. Understandably, when life as we knew it was upended at the start of the pandemic, the loss of tradition significantly impacted people's personal well-being and sense of self. However, the activities we found ourselves turning to most – the sourdough baking craze, at-home workouts, and reading challenges, among others – allowed us to rethink our personal value systems, question the systems that shape society, and change our daily habits.

Brands should be exploring what new consumer rituals they can help create or own, where they can step in to support people and communities, and which rituals have remained where consumer habits have fallen apart. With hairdressers closed or reduced to limited capacity but still in demand, L'Oreal created a Hair Colour Concierge service, offering personalized advice, virtual try-ons, and trend articles to make colouring at home convenient and inspiring.

Mapping out new territory

In the current transition phase from crisis response to a new operational model, it's clear we're all in the same boat of uncertainty and unpredictability – as global citizens and as corporations. Looking ahead with these trends as a north star, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to examine the changes thrust upon us and reflect on how we want to move forward, setting the tone for 2021 and many more years to come.

Despite all we've lost, what will your brand contribute to your customers and the world as we collectively look to restore hope and define a better future?

About the author
Claude Chaffiotte is a Managing Director at Accenture Interactive where he currently leads growth and the Communicate pillar for the Quebec Market. Claude previously led Accenture Interactive in France and Benelux where he was also in charge of the acquisition program.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.

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