Melanie Nambiar
Melanie is Mintel's Southeast Asia Trends Analyst based in the Kuala Lumpur office, focusing on how intriguing innovations and thought-provoking regulations impact consumer behaviour in the region and vice versa.

Global shutdowns. Recessionary conditions. Environmental and political shifts. Not to mention a global pandemic. 2020 was a year of multiple crises, with events shaking the world like no other in recent memory. People (and brands) have been forced to adapt to new realities and ways of doing things, forming many new habits that look set to last. These new habits will have profound implications on consumer spending and brand activity.

For 2021, Mintel has identified seven macro consumer trends which are set to impact global consumer markets. All of these trends are embedded within Mintel’s system of the seven Trend Drivers, which include Wellbeing, Surroundings, Rights, Experiences, Value, Identity and Technology. We’ve centred our predictions around the Now (the next 12 months), the Next (18 months+) and the Future (five years+).

As consumers redefine their priorities, here are the key consumer trends we believe brands and marketers will need to plan for in 2021 and beyond.

Health Undefined

The pandemic caused consumers to redefine what wellbeing encompasses. Beyond the masks and other forms of physical protection from the virus, a greater sense of holistic wellbeing has come into focus. People are seeking products, services and brands that can help them achieve these holistic wellbeing goals, whether those are optimising their mood or establishing healthy financial habits ahead of a looming recession. Across Asia-Pacific, 76% of consumers say they are actively seeking ways to reduce stress. Broader, emerging wellbeing motivations are putting the consumer in control of their own personal ‘why?’ versus relying on legacy motivators such as working out for the sole purpose of losing weight. It will be worth it for brands to ask themselves how they can connect with and support consumers through the new, more personalised wellbeing journeys they intend to take.

Central to that connection and support will be technology. With the home being the centre of wellbeing in the years to come, convenient, seamless solutions that enable consumers to measure and maintain healthy lifestyles will be highly sought after. Further, into the future, technology will give consumers immediate access to wellness information and support via AI-based services. Mintel also predicts that the advancement of health tech could make healthcare more accessible for underserved consumer groups across the region.

Sustainable Spaces

Driven by the Trend Driver, ‘Surroundings,’ Sustainable Spaces looks at how consumer consciousness of sustainability will evolve beyond recycling and carbon emissions into a more holistic, longer-term view. Hyper-localism has come to the forefront as consumers’ concept of ‘local’ has shrunk, and they increasingly look to support their local communities and economies. Indeed, in the Asia-Pacific region, 66% of consumers say that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are willing to buy more from local businesses. From a focus on localism and supporting communities to nudging consumers towards incrementally better habits that combine to great effect, the range of tactics brands have at their disposal to create sustainable communities is widening and ever-evolving.

Beyond 2021, the climate crisis will be impossible to ignore, and consumers will look to brands to help them live in an increasingly unpredictable environment. Consumers will seek climate-resilient tech solutions from brands that allow them to be self-sufficient while cooperating with brands locally to reduce waste and build more equitable, ethical economies. In the longer-term, and as people live longer, their needs will change, as will their demand that brand offerings include more localised urban farming, respect sustainability, reduce waste and promote circular economies.

Collective Empowerment

The past year highlighted many of the existing social inequalities within our respective countries and communities. Consumers have found more connection with their local communities, and are demanding that brands be agents of positive change for the benefit of the underserved and disadvantaged. In Asia-Pacific, 3 in 5 consumers say they are prepared to boycott companies who behave unethically. While consumers have become louder than ever, their voices aren’t always negative. Instead, they are looking to support the causes and brands they believe in and feel serve their communities. Consumers will continue to call on businesses and regulators to make truly systemic changes, responding to community needs, with a sense of urgency. This is already playing out (slowly but surely) in interesting ways across the region, with companies publicly addressing their shortcomings and committing to tangible positive change.

Looking toward the next 18-24 months, many brands will be starting to see the results of their initiatives, and this will set a precedent for guiding strategies. Ethically-minded and purpose-driven business philosophies will move into the mainstream. And in the long term, a much more collaborative partnership between consumers and brands will emerge, moving away from the more tension-filled times of the early 2020s.

Virtual Lives

Raise your hand if, like many of us over the past year, you managed to fit in a quick getaway to a beautiful tropical island where you could collect shells, catch fish and visit friends to your heart’s content…(I’m talking about Animal Crossing if you haven’t already caught on). The game proved extremely popular with consumers of all ages and gaming levels, as the need for some form of escapism soared during lockdown periods. This year, we will see gaming move away from being just an entertainment source to being an integral space in which consumers of all ages and demographics form connections with their peers and preferred brands. As such, brands of all categories have the opportunity to reach the vast number of consumers spending their leisure time in the virtual world by advertising within games or partnering with gaming companies and eSports teams.

The mainstream 5G adoption set to occur in the years beyond 2021 will open new vistas in online and gamified experiences and events, into which brands can further embed their strategies around entertainment, working and learning. The increased time spent in the virtual world will also open up more conversations around issues like non-addictive game design as consumers seek a balanced approach to digital entertainment.

Priority Shift

This 2021 trend, driven by the Value Trend Driver, focuses on how consumers are returning to the essentials, seeking flexible possession and reframing what ownership means. Consumers are already tightening their purse strings for tough times ahead, and are looking to save more and spend less in areas that don’t provide value. Across the Asia-Pacific region, 72% of consumers say they have a budget they are trying to stick to as much as possible. While affordability and convenience will remain important, safety, protection and durability of goods will also hold much value. It will be critical for brands to deliver and communicate the tangible benefits that make their products indispensable.

The uncertainty that is likely to persist in the coming years will lead consumers to further prioritise flexibility. Flexible rental terms, payment options and ways to obtain (rather than necessarily own) goods can be a winning factor for consumers who are unable to plan too far ahead. What convenience means to consumers will also evolve. Rather than just speed or portability, convenience could also mean helping people plan ahead, or giving them much easier access to previously unattainable products and services. In the years to come, brands can find opportunities within this expanded definition of convenience.

Coming Together

The collective trauma experienced at the start of the pandemic will carry through the next 12 months, as consumers continue to see the effects of the pandemic play out in very real, immediate ways. Consumers will seek brands that can bring people together, whether digitally or not, to help them overcome the mental stresses of the pandemic. A loss of normality will also mean that consumers will be looking for new ways to celebrate their heritage, values and lifestyles to feel a sense of connection with their communities. Brands would do well to create initiatives that connect with consumer identities and promote feelings of belonging and unity.

Years from now, this strong sense of community, born out of social isolation and the need to support each other, will evolve. Consumers will continue to seek new forms of connection not just based on their local identity, but rather, based on their interests, beliefs and goals. And as this strengthens further into the future, it could impact our immediate surroundings, with city spaces being designed with communal versatility in mind.

Digital Dilemmas

Tech-based solutions have been immensely helpful to both consumers and brands during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, many consumers in the region still lack experience and familiarity with different technologies, indicating that brands have the opportunity to lead and create inclusive tech-based solutions to gain increased consumer adoption and favour. People are also still finding it difficult to actualise the separation of home and work life, so in 2021, pre-emptive solutions that use (or don’t use) technology to promote mental wellbeing will be welcome.

In the coming years, technology will become more ingrained in our daily lives, and consumers will become more anxious about their competition with technology. As technology takes over more roles in the future, businesses will have to make a conscious choice between balancing the promise of technology and prioritising the unique things that only human interactions can deliver. And while the promise of future urban design seems incredibly exciting (autonomous fleets, flying cars maybe?) the greatest area of concern for our future hyper-connected world will be privacy, both online and offline. Can brands and consumers ultimately work together to monetise and benefit from sharing people’s data?

The years ahead will still be characterised by many uncertainties, but what Mintel is certain of is that consumers will continue to adapt as they face new circumstances, so it will be the brands that keep up-to-date with these emerging and evolving consumer trends, and innovate in tandem with those changes, that will stay relevant and thrive long after the pandemic is over.