The far-reaching impact of the events of 2020 — not just the pandemic, but the economic instability, the protests for racial equality, and a history-making US presidential election — will likely take years to sort through and assess. In the meantime, a lot can be learned about how the year’s events affected people’s attitudes and mindsets simply by analyzing Google search queries. Think with Google, which uses Google’s data to offer marketing insights, sifted through billions of search queries, as well as surveys and interviews, to come up with five key insights to help marketers better understand their audience’s experience in 2020. “Consumer Truths to Get Your Marketing Ready for 2021” looks forward as well, offering tips for successful marketing this year and beyond.
1. Creating Control
If there’s one thing we could all count on over the past year, it was a high level of near-constant uncertainty, a state of mind that breeds anxiety and worry. Many people responded to that feeling by seizing control of whatever parts of their lives they could, whether starting a new exercise routine (searches related to fitness apps went up 200 percent year over year) or looking for insights on making remote schooling more successful (searches related to online learning went up 400 percent). While many searches related to gaining control over our immediate environment — from home office equipment to recipe ideas — others focused on the emotional benefits of a walk in nature, a camping trip, a hobby, or a new pet. Think with Google suggests to marketers that, in 2021 and beyond, consumers “will continue to value signals of reassurance and safety, and seek out ways to proactively take control of and improve their lives.”
2. Bargaining for Balance
Closely related to the desire to control our environment is a need to achieve balance and set healthy boundaries, and the pandemic times have intensified that need. Millions of people sought safe outlets for exploring the great outdoors in places near and far. Searches containing “RV rental near” went up 200 percent in 2020, and “staycation” searches increased by 100 percent. But many also looked within to find balance and a greater sense of calm, reflected by search queries related to meditation apps, which increased by 90 percent.
3. Cultivating Connection
Another prevailing theme of 2020 was isolation. With the loss of nearly every usual mode of connecting with others — chatting in the break room at work, going out for dinner with friends, celebrating holidays at family gatherings — we were left to seek new, creative ways to maintain contact and get much-needed social interaction. It was the year of the bonfire and propane heaters, using any means necessary to spend time with friends outside. It was also the year of video calls and watch parties. Search queries containing the phrase “with friends online” went up 300 percent year over year. For many people, especially in urban settings, the pandemic brought the unexpected gift of establishing connections where before there had been none. As one Google survey respondent from Japan said, “It’s brought me closer together with my neighbors.… As city dwellers, for so long we didn’t even know who our neighbors were, but now we have realized the importance of that bond.”
4. Curating the Home
It turns out there’s nothing like being stuck at home for months at a time to make you realize how much you can’t stand certain things about your home. People undertook projects big and small throughout 2020, seeking both a productive way to spend their time and a refreshed environment. Searches for “simple home design” went up 200 percent during 2020. People also sought new ways to entertain themselves at home. While searches related to dining and nightlife went down, for obvious reasons, queries related to home and garden, hobbies and leisure, food and groceries, and beauty and personal care skyrocketed. Overall, searches containing the phrase “to do at home,” like “things to do at home during quarantine,” went up 600 percent during the first few months of the pandemic. While the increasing availability of vaccines and the hoped-for return to normalcy will move the focus outside the home in the coming months, it seems likely that many of the newfound home-based hobbies, like bread-baking and herb gardening, will persist.
5. Acting on Allyship
While desire for social change is not new to 2020 by any means, the passionate protests for racial justice and an end to police brutality throughout the summer of 2020 did heighten awareness and highlight the need for progress. And many consumers have made it clear they will vote with their wallets, making purchase decisions based on a company’s reputation for social responsibility. It’s not enough to simply cause no harm; companies should actively seek ways to make the world a better place and let their customers know how they’re doing their part.
Think with Google concludes with suggestions to help marketers achieve success in 2021 and beyond:
- Embrace agility over certainty. We should all have learned from 2020 to expect the unexpected and be ready to pivot when necessary.
- Provide consumers with a seamless, personal digital experience. Things like faster load times and content that offers value and information rather than just selling a product are not luxuries, they are essentials.
- Boost consumer confidence. Marketers should continue to reassure consumers about things like safety protocols and product availability, while also offering hopeful, affirming messages about a return to normalcy.
- Market with purpose. Neutrality will not be enough for many consumers — companies should find ways to make positive contributions to society and marketers should publicize those efforts.
- Understand the balance between new and old behaviors. Marketers should keep a close eye on trends showing how consumers are balancing their pre-pandemic ways with habits acquired during the pandemic, as we emerge into the next phase of this upside-down world we’ve all been living in for the past year.