What’s really going on with consumer behaviour...

and how you can leverage it in 2021

This year I successfully predicted the winner of bake-off.

I predicted my winner based on his behaviour in the first episode. Sawkins worked hard, took it extremely seriously, and was relatively unflappable.

After a year of erratic behaviour, predicting how consumers will act in 2021 is less easy.

But, if you understand why people are acting in a strange way, you’ve got a much better chance of working out what they’ll do next, and how you can respond.

With that in mind, we’ve unpacked the drivers behind three seemingly odd consumer behaviours of 2020 and how you can build them into your 2021 marketing plans.

1) People don’t suddenly love baking; they want to achieve something.

Early on in the pandemic, people who typically used their kitchens as a convenient place to enjoy a takeaway, discovered it was also possible to cook in them/ They began to bake in earnest. Instagram feeds were inundated with sourdough spam (not literally, thankfully).

Crucially, it wasn’t just novices who shifted their habits. Bakers who knew their flaking from their crimping also changed their behaviour. They started making more complex recipes.

This was not about baking; this was about discovering easily accessible means to achieve something when the areas of life that offer us a platform for achievement (e.g. work/sport) were off limits.

Marketer’s tip no.1: People have a frustrated desire to make, craft, achieve and share – could your products and services enable a sense of achievement in 2021. How can you offer an element of education and learning in your field?

People aren’t less money savvy; they want immediate financial control.

Midway through the year a new easy to access savings account that offered 1.05% rate, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, was pulled from the market. So many people had made deposits in March and April, it was close to its £25bn limit.

Families unaffected by furlough found themselves with a huge excess in their household budgets. Rather than use this money in higher interest but harder to access schemes, people tended to stick them in current accounts and other easy to access accounts that didn’t deliver much bang for their buck. In an unpredictable world, families sought a greater degree of immediate control over their money. The desire for control is a classic response when broad safety needs are triggered.

Marketer’s tip no.2: People want to retain extra control over their money, how can you create more flexibility for high spend products? Could you introduce shorter contracts, guarantees, or extended trials?

People don’t love Christmas more; they are under stimulated.

Across the UK, one of the most boring annual conversations is happening again. The one where one pundit/radio DJ says “It’s an outrage! People are starting Christmas too early,” and another responds “But I love it”. Ad nauseam. For once, this inane debate might be warranted. For consumers, Christmas is most definitely starting earlier, with a 24% increase on trees being bought by the last week of November, year on year.

This isn’t because people have shifted their views on Christmas, they are under stimulated. In New York, crowds flocked to see the Christmas lights at Sacks turn on, usually one of a stream of Christmas activities people take or leave.

In short, when there’s nothing else to do but buy a tree, people go and buy a tree.

Marketer’s tip no.3: Consumers are craving stimulation. Rather than just communicate this year what element of competition, digital or physical experiential could you build in?

People’s behaviour may seem all over the place from time to time. When you unpack the emotional drivers, it becomes more predictable. If you can build your 2021 plan on people’s underlying emotional drivers, you’re less likely to miss the mark, and more likely to connect.

Matthew Waksman is CSO of Love or Fear, the agency that combines clinical psychology and creativity.