A year of anxiety, lined with hope

Harish Bhat | Updated on December 14, 2020

Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons

Defined by worry, 2020 also threw up newer consumer needs and, in turn, marketing opportunities

This year has been the most unusual period of our lifetimes. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a new life paradigm, in which many emotions have played out, leading to new consumer needs.

What has been the defining emotion of this strange year? Surely not happiness, satisfaction or delight? We have had some positive moments, for sure, but far fewer than usual. On the other hand, was it fear, anger, apprehension or hopelessness that drove us? Again, we have had these moments, too. But with hope and resilience, we normally have the strength to counter such negative emotions.

However, the one overriding emotion that has defined our feelings and actions this year has been anxiety. Because the pandemic has transported us from the world and routines we knew well into a new normal that has kept evolving, we have been constantly anxious about so many things.

Such anxiety has given birth to many new consumer needs, and has elevated some existing needs — creating new opportunities for marketers. Here is a round-up of some specific anxiety-driven needs.

Safety anxiety

This was our first big anxiety of the pandemic — how do we stay safe from this vicious virus? A first-order response was the rapid creation of new products such as sanitisers , simple masks, and then designer ones, and PPE kits, both unisex and for women.

Retailers, airlines and hotels ensured rigorous safety standards were in place. E-commerce companies and neighbourhood kirana stores benefited by providing consumers with convenient and safe home delivery services. Corporates moved employees to work from the safety of their homes, which led to second-order needs such as enhanced demand for laptop computers, ergonomic chairs, robust wi-fi, digital communication platforms, and secure digital networks. Many millennials who had earlier staked their faith in ride-sharing apps, decided to buy their first car, for safe mobility.

Income anxiety

The next big anxiety which impacted much of the working population was about income and job security. There was also the sword of Damocles of more such cuts, yet to come.

This anxiety led to people postponing consumption of discretionary products, and moving towards more affordable offerings in essential products. Therefore, for marketers, ensuring the supply of affordable products was the key to success. A second-order effect arose from lakhs of migrant workers moving from cities back to their home towns and villages. Marketers who were agile enough to create quick access in these areas benefited.

Health anxiety

We also realised within a few weeks of the pandemic breaking out that one of the best ways to protect ourselves was by staying healthy and building our natural immunity. This led to a spurt in demand for products that help build immunity. I began consuming a protein drink every day, something I had never done earlier. From ayurvedic immunity builders such as haldi (turmeric) and Chyawanprash to multi-vitamins and pure honey, many consumer brands emphasised health. A second-order effect has been the increase in demand for online yoga and workout sessions, health check-ups and health insurance.

Isolation anxiety

The pandemic immediately disrupted social life, and it has kept us at home. Visiting restaurants and malls has fallen off significantly. We also travel far less to meet relatives and friends. We invite far fewer people home.

This has led to isolation and loneliness, and a fresh set of needs. Many more people have actively engaged in creative pursuits such as home gardening, sprucing up the home and experimental cooking. Many brands of home furnishings and accessories, as well as food ingredients, tapped into this opportunity.

Minor anxieties, and hope

Other minor anxieties have popped up too — for instance, Zoom anxiety amongst work-from-home employees. This has created the need to look good on Zoom calls — including facial grooming, nice-looking bookshelves and wall hangings in the background.

But as we move forward into 2021, I also see a gradual transition from anxiety to hope. Multiple vaccines are on the verge of approval. Many sectors of the economy have been picking up, leading to optimism about new jobs.

While uncertainty still remains, we have mentally adapted to living in a “pandemic-normal”, until we can return to complete normalcy. This equilibrium permits us to turn our minds to things we truly enjoy. On that positive note, here’s wishing you a Happy New Year!

The writer is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons.  These are his personal views.

Published on December 13, 2020

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