SHIFT’s 2021 Consumer Trends Survey: Key Takeaways

By Sarah Babbitt, VP, Agency Marketing

73 percent of consumers scroll past most brands’ posts on social media or only stop to look if there’s something highly relevant or special. Of current consumer trends, that’s a tough reality for marketers and communicators.

This was just one of the findings from the SHIFT Communications “2021 Changed Consumer Survey,” conducted March 2021 amongst 2,000 consumers age 18+ to identify preferences toward brand content and communications.

As we know, things have changed drastically these past 18 months. The pandemic upended day-to-day routines and connections with family and friends. It drove many of us into virtual overload and to revise our priorities as health concerns governed decisions and stay-at-home became the norm.

The resulting macro-changes are ones marketers and communicators need to understand to shape timely, strategic brand narratives — and to build the content, stories and experiences that bring them to life in a way consumers want to receive them.

After reading the key takeaways from our survey below, give our “2021 Brand Equity & Growth Shifts Report” a read for actionable examples and engagement strategies for these consumer trends.

Consumers Want Brands to Enrich & Provide – Beyond Products

  • Content consumers most want to see from brands: “contest/games” and “tips/helpful advice” were the top two, with contests leading by 8%. “Other customers using products/offering honest reviews” came third, while “virtual experiences/events,” “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “influencers” were much less desirable.
  • What they want to hear from brands about: Surprisingly, the largest group of respondents (56%) said they want to hear “news about the brand’s product/service” closely followed by “useful advice I can incorporate into my life” (55%). Only 27% chose “entertainment/interactive activities” and 31% “the people/stories behind the business.”

Consumers Want to Engage on Social, But Scroll Past Most Content

  • When consumers see social media posts from brands: 39% “only stop and look at posts with something relevant or special” while another 34% “scroll right past most of it”. Only 27% said they “stop and look at most brands’ posts/stories.”
  • 35-44-year-olds were toughest to engage: For this group, 41% scroll past most brand content and only 23% look at most of it.
  • Top places they like to learn about what brands are doing: Facebook led (64%), followed by Email (52%), Instagram (51%) and online/social media ads (42%). Other channels like offline advertising, magazines/news, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok and LinkedIn were considerably lower.
  • Each age group has its own channel preferences: For ages 18-34, Instagram led (67%) and TikTok made an appearance (41%).  For ages 35-44, Facebook led considerably (72%), followed by Instagram (56%) and Email (53%).

Consumer Trend: They Want Brands to Get Real

  • Unfiltered content is preferred: 58% want to see content that features “real people and real stories” and 52% want content that “reflects real-life.” Even a “mix of highly designed/real-life posts” was less appealing (chosen by just 40%) and far fewer like “highly designed posts” (28%).

Consumers Want Brands to Have Purpose & Take Action

  • When it comes to brand purpose: most (62%) say they feel most brands they know/follow have a clear purpose. However, 55% “only somewhat” trust brands’ claims about purpose and efforts to better the world. Only 10 did not trust the claims at all.
  • How consumers want brands to respond to social issues: 60% say “they should take action,” an expectation that’s even higher for ages 18-34 at 65%. 41% say “they should release a statement/acknowledge the issues.” Just 36% say “they should only respond if it ties to their business/purpose.”
  • Social issues impact brand loyalties: 53% of consumers have started or stopped interacting with a brand because of a political or social statement they’ve made that they did/did not agree with. This number peaks for 35-44-year-olds at 60%.

Consumers Still Purchasing, With Revised Priorities & Influences

  • Consumers feel empowered: 53% said the pandemic “empowered them to take control of their life (finances, career, family, etc.).” Just 17% feel less empowered.
  • Priorities people are most interested in products/services to solve for: health/wellness (67%), small indulgences (48%) and improving their house (42%) led for all ages.
  • Impulse buys continued amid the pandemic: 33% of all respondents and 42% of 35-44-year-olds made an impulse buy after seeing a product on social media. Only 15% (and just 12% of ages 18-34 and 10% of ages 35-44) reported tightening discretionary spend.
  • The most common ways consumers found out about new products/services purchased during the pandemic: “searching online” (70%) led by far, followed by “friends/family” (57%) and “scrolling social media” (54%).Influencers were chosen by just 20% — surprisingly even lower than “digital/social ads” (32%) and traditional ads (33%). That said, influencers rose in importance for younger consumers at 35% for ages 18-24 and 27% for 25-34.

Consumer Trend: Online Shopping & Events Here to Stay

  • Consumers plans continued online shopping: the largest group (45%) plan to continue most shopping online post-pandemic while another 28% will increase in-person shopping but maintain some online shopping. Only 20% will do as much in-person/at stores as possible.
  • When it comes to buying directly on social media: 45% of consumers either have or are willing to do so, while 32% want to find out on social media but then go to a website to complete the purchase. Willingness to buy on social is highest for 35-44-year-olds at 55%.
  • Virtual events are an expectation, despite mixed attendance: During the pandemic, only 29% said they “attended many virtual events,” 38% “attended a few” and 33% “attended none.” That said, 75% said moving forward they’ll attend online events with the same (40%) or more (35%) frequency as during the pandemic and 66% expect brands to offer virtual extensions to live events moving forward. It’s even higher for 35-44-year-olds at 74%.

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