Global strategic insight consultancy collective The Akin has launched its COVID-19 Changemaker Report. COVID-19 has created an unprecedented need for research and futures planning, and the report explores the thoughts and feelings of the world’s most influential consumers or Changemakers – those creating change and living in the zeitgeist – whose current attitudes and behaviours signal what our near futures might look like.

The report does not predict the future but is designed to enhance businesses’ abilities to build resilience by broadening views and challenging beliefs and assumptions. It focuses on understanding some of the mid- and long-term ripple effects of COVID-19 over the next 18 months, or until there is a globally-available vaccine and/or herd immunity.

The report follows The Akin’s Changemaker Report 2020, which was researched before lockdown took place. It quantitatively surveys 600 Changemakers in the UK, US and China, to track the trends and explore the impact of the pandemic on their values and perception of brands and businesses.

The report shows that, on the one hand, trends adoption (gradual shifts), that were happening over long soft curves, have accelerated and, on the other hand, the desperation of short-term moves that come from survival mode. These two conflicting reactions risk creating dangerous divisions in society, one turning vitriolically nationalistic and the other seeking collective empathy.

While three in five Changemakers want to radically change their lives, they are also looking for less dramatic but significant life changes, such as a better work/life balance (69%) and generally leading a simpler life (79%).

With a new influx of time, this group has been exploring their lifestyles, purposes and future goals. They are learning what it means to be vulnerable, slow, local and bored. Interestingly, despite the overarching feeling of uncertainty, Changemakers felt grateful (65%) and cared for (70%), while 60% said they felt connected.

This is a difficult time for any business, and it is a tough moment to navigate how a brand should be behaving. Though it is clear that there is no one- size-fits-all solution, many are following others in a blind panic. It is vital that brands ensure that governing principles are in place for responsible and consistent messaging. Due to the huge emotional reaction to the crises, brands must understand the new mindsets of Changemakers. This new report shows that the four concurrent trends set out in the 2020 Changemaker report have been fast-tracked by Changemakers:

  • The Regenerative trend is now a global political issue: resilience is a new WHO focus and post-sustainable mindsets are emerging quicker, as we realise wasteful materialism and ostentatious lifestyles lack meaning during a time of crisis
  • The Conjunction trend has forced us to think about how we exchange our data for our privacy: should we be tracked or do we want our smart home devices to listen to all our work calls? Changemakers are now more concerned about their privacy and the value of their personal data than they were previously
  • The Subversive trend has seen corporations and brands applying subversive pivoting into new space and opportunity territories – and while Changemakers in the East have become more conservative, those in the US have become more willing to switch brands due to their lack of innovation
  • The Common (good) trend has been accelerated as the pandemic has forced corporations, institutions, brands and citizens tapping into their common good, with brands’ positive impacts fast tracked, as they draw on their expertise, supply chains and services to help mitigate and alleviate demand.

While the above trends have accelerated, they still stand. In the new COVID-19 report, The Akin also poses nine key springboards; areas for opportunity that brands and businesses should keep an eye on over the next 6-12 months:

  • De-globalisation: Due to our immediate localisation, we have all been ‘home’, exploring our neighbourhoods. Could we see a new type of nationalism rise, one which loses the violent patriotism and celebrates community?
  • Digital citizens: Could we see a new type of pushback, where instead of being offended by someone’s use of a phone in a social moment, we question why we aren’t having this social moment on the phone in the comfort of our own hygienic space?
  • New identity markers: As Changemakers further reject capitalistic thinking, they don’t want to be defined by their output. Could we see a new world where we identify ourselves on our ability to balance?
  • Luxury paradigms: The luxury industry centres around service, with humans and their expanded efforts at the core of that. Could we see a new version of luxury service without humans?
  • Expertise influence: Changemakers are looking for actionable advice from sources which have evidence and expertise. Could we see a return of the expert and a rise in respect for academics?
  • Heightened hygiene: As Changemakers prioritise health and wellbeing, prevention becomes their new mindset. Could we see preparedness becoming a critical value which they will respect and for which they will advocate?
  • Virtue signalling: Changemakers are the first to spot insincerity and purpose-washing. Could we see Changemakers more actively boycott brands that they feel have taken advantage of this moment?
  • Creative optimism: New thinking is needed. Flexibility is a modern-day skill we all need. Can we finally see a real renaissance of innovation?
  • Neutralising normal: Changemakers are becoming apathetic to the news. They are sanctuary-building to cope, carving out their own simple normal, ninterrupted by the outside. Can we see a new embracing and celebration of mundanity?

“With an infinity of memes and hourly PSA announcements, the world is living through its first global crisis in the Internet age. As people working in the world of futures and consumer insight, we are fascinated with how COVID-19 has formed a new localised online low touch world, shaped by top-down new regulations, and bottom-up adoption of new mindsets and habits,” commented Sarah Johnson, co-founder of The Akin.

“The Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift”, to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important. That’s what crises do. They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most and they provide us with unseen opportunities or danger. It is clear that it will get worse before it improves, and businesses need to begin addressing the new needs of consumers now because the past is never where you left it,” Johnson adds.

“One of the most important things we have learnt while working on this report is that we lived in a world where none of us valued small moments. And now we appreciate the awe of them: something beautiful to value,” Johnson concludes.

To get a copy of the full report email [email protected].