2021 trends: mental health, diversity, and digital sovereignty

Last year set the world on a new course. Here’s what we think you should know so you can navigate it with ease.

It feels like a lifetime ago but 2020 - the year that basically coined the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘pivot’ - was a rollercoaster of unexpected events and curve balls. Now that we’re adapting to the huge changes rolled out by the past 12 months, what lies ahead for us?

The Spitfire team - a hodge podge of experts with different experiences - collaborated on what we think is coming up in the next year.

2021 trends

What do we think lies ahead in the next year?

  • Mental health 

If there’s one thing the past year has emphasised, it’s the importance of mental health. From the stress of a global pandemic, to homeschooling and childcare, widespread job and financial insecurity, and pervasive isolation, 2020 has really taken its toll. South African psychologists (some of our frontline workers) have been busier than ever and in the USA, 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use in June 2020. 

“For the first time in my 36 years as a Clinical Psychologist,” says Annette du Toit Steele, Pretoria based Clinical Psychologist, “I've felt the weight of people’s sadness, grief, fear, and desperation weighing on me. It’s been heavy on mental health workers and there is lots of grief and guilt from 2020.” 

Another way people focus on mental health is the emphasis on “self-care” - this can be moments of meditation, eating well, grooming and exercise. Like everything else, self-care has adapted to the rigours of 2020, and balance has become the key word for individuals and corporates alike. There’s nothing like weeks on end of homeschooling on top of job responsibilities to make parents - and businesses - realise that there needs to be more balance between differing responsibilities.

  • Digitisation 

Working from home (renamed to “Working from Anywhere” by Harvard Business Review) and e-learning are part of the wider digitisation trend we’re seeing globally, where activities that are normally offline are being redirected into the online space to enable social distancing. 

Working from anywhere is a widespread trend that the Spitfire team reckons is here to stay. As HBR points out, though it’s not perfect and doesn’t work in every industry, the advantages of a remote working culture are numerous: “Without question, the model offers notable benefits to companies and their employees. Organizations can reduce or eliminate real estate costs, hire and use talent globally while mitigating immigration issues, and, research indicates, perhaps enjoy productivity gains. Workers get geographic flexibility (that is, live where they prefer to), eliminate commutes, and report better work/life balance.” And a quick punt for Spitfire... In the past year, not only have we adapted to a remote working strategy (for example, the writer of this piece has only been in the office a handful of times since March 2020) , we’ve also helped clients pivot with inbound strategies that cater to both customers and prospects new, digital needs.

  • Digital sovereignty 

Since we’re basically living online now… people have become way more aware of their online digital rights. 

But there is a broader history behind people’s current mistrust of putting out their information online. Through a series of privacy scandals dating back to 2018 with Cambridge Analytica and the roll out of legislation like GDPR and in South Africa, POPIA, people have become keenly aware of the fact that whatever you put online allows you to be manipulated by the unethical. Mark Zuckerberg himself (founder of Facebook) has become a massively mistrusted figure and his ruthless attitude to using data for financial gain has bled over into newly acquired products like WhatsApp. As we saw late in 2020, “WhatsApp… asked its more than 2 billion global users to agree to new terms regarding the way it shares their personal information with Facebook by February 8, or they will no longer be able to use its services. The move triggered an outcry from everyday WhatsApp users and Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog alike, with many jumping ship to rivals such as Signal and Telegram.”

What this means for marketers and businesses today is that you need to be incredibly respectful of how you collect, store and use people’s personal information. This mistrust means that people are increasingly reluctant to fill out forms on landing pages (the so-called ‘death of the landing page’) and are more keen to engage with chatbots. 

This also means that people expect their data to be used in a way that benefits them. As we wrote in our article on hyper personalisation last year: 

“Let’s face it - the times have changed! It’s 2020 - people know they’re being tracked online (especially with GDPR legislation - how many cookies have you accepted online in the past year?), and they expect you to use the data you’re collecting to improve their online experience. It is up to us to take users from a ‘nice’ online experience to a truly personal and delightful one by tailoring the articles, CTAs, the imagery and even the next steps on a page designed to their needs and interests, making every website interaction memorable. As HubSpot explains, personalised content does 178% better than generic content and calls to action.”

  • Unforgiving customers 

Brands are being given less wiggle room to make mistakes. The pandemic has triggered a tsunami of informed buyers - people who want to buy from brands with a conscience. As Deloitte points out, “While it’s not the first time in history businesses are pondering why they exist and who they are to their customers, the current trend based on our research shows that businesses are using purpose to create deeper connections with consumers, do more for the communities with which they work, attract and retain talent, and in the process, are achieving greater results and impact.” 

This spills over in many ways: how businesses are treating their staff during the pandemic, how environmentally friendly is the brand, and what values does the business have? 

Since multiple global lockdowns, the public has also realised the fragility of small businesses, and this has emphasised the trend towards a strong but brittle brand loyalty. According to a study by McKinsey, supply chain disruptions and stay-at-home orders meant that people have tried different brands over lockdown. They explain, “Beyond availability, the reasons for the consumer loyalty shift include value and convenience. People are looking for deals as money gets tight—and they are trying to get their shopping done in as few places as possible.”

In this way, there is a greater reliance on word of mouth and micro-influencers to not only find local brands, but also to navigate a new world of online shopping.

  • Diversity and inclusivity 

It’s no longer enough to simply say the right things about a diverse and inclusive work culture. Gender, race, identity and more are all part of a robust culture that shouldn’t just rubber stamp having the “right” people on staff, but also listening to their voices. As Harvard Business Review says, “In the wake of major social and political changes over the past decades, leading companies are taking steps to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

Diversity and inclusivity matter not only from the perspective of equality and fairness - they’re also linked to greater business success. “McKinsey’s research on diversity showed that companies with more diverse gender, culture and ethnicity outperform employers that don’t support diversity. The research found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity experience outperform by 21%. For ethnic and cultural diversity, there was a 33% likelihood of outperformance.”

2020 was a rollercoaster of a year, and both individuals and corporates had to be adaptable and flexible. Existing trends were emphasised - like the move to digitisation and inclusivity - and others became crucially important - like mental health and finding work-life balance. 

We don’t know what 2021 holds, but we can certainly anticipate some of these key factors we highlighted above will play a role in how the year rolls out. As that ancient curse says, “May you live in interesting times”. Hopefully 2021 is slightly less interesting than 2020.

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