Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer explores our changing buying habits and how 2020’s events influenced this season's holiday shopping…

In more ‘normal’ times, holiday shopping and gift giving can feel a little monotonous – a set of pots and pans as requested on a wishlist, the regifting of a yet another scented candle. But in 2020, as with most other aspects of life, things looked a little different.

We saw gifting trends this season reflect a yearning for simple joys with reciprocal benefits for both gifters and receivers. Using the three trends below as a springboard, we’ve deployed our Culture At Scale unstructured data method to explore social conversation around gifting, and provide direction on what to expect from 2021 shopping behaviors.


While sex tech remains stigmatized, brands are starting to position it as self-care. And with major celebrities involved, it’s sure to turn heads in 2021.
While sex tech remains stigmatized, brands are starting to position it as self-care. And with major celebrities involved, it’s sure to turn heads in 2021.

Intimacy meets technology

In 2020, we spent months without in-person gatherings and meetings. For many, this meant an end to dating and casual hookups. And with more time spent in isolation and shopping online, consumers warmed to new forms of intimacy. FaceTime dating aside, sex tech sales skyrocketed. This includes toys that link to apps (think Fitbit for sex) and VR sexual experimentation. Discussion about gifting last year had an emphasis on treating oneself, making sex tech a popular purchase.

In 2021, as economies begin to revive themselves and the hardship of last year fades away, treating oneself doesn’t feel as frivolous. And wellbeing doesn’t just mean meditation and mindfulness – expect consumers to be investing in themselves and others via the sex tech space, too. We’re also noticing intimacy sites sparking conversation around this unique junction between technology and self-care.


As consumers lean into DIY gifts, TikTok serves as an incredible source of inspiration and learning
As consumers lean into DIY gifts, TikTok serves as an incredible source of inspiration and learning

Mutually beneficial DIY gifts

Consumers have acquired new hobbies after a year of having to find different forms of entertainment. Through activities like baking and crafting, we feel mental health benefits like a sense of pride, an antidote for depression, an outlet for anxiety. With gifting, sharing homemade items delivers a sense of empowerment to givers. Recipients feel a stronger emotional connection to these gifts, too, because they place sentiment over the need for generic material items.

Moving into 2021, social conversations continue to highlight the sustained value creative expression brings to mental health. And in a shift toward more conscious buying, making things for others or yourself feels more enriching.


At the start of lockdown, conversations around gift cards and supporting local surged. This interest was reinvigorated around the holidays
At the start of lockdown, conversations around gift cards and supporting local surged. This interest was reinvigorated around the holidays

The revamped gift card

Businesses continue to suffer as Covid prohibits many stores and restaurants from operating as usual. But we’re still finding ways to support local businesses. Gift cards – once associated with dull, last-minute presents courtesy of generic stores – have become popular and thoughtful gifts. They allow us to support the businesses we have a relationship with from afar, or invest in future IRL shopping or dining. Gift cards make shoppers feel good and also help local businesses stay afloat in the interim.

As we enter 2021, we can expect consumers to continue going out of their way to support local businesses in this fashion. With the 2020 wave of the Black Lives Matter movement fresh, many will shop conscious of supporting BIPOC owned outlets. And having experienced financial struggles themselves, consumers post about how they empathize with the plight of small stores. We will see more interest in mutually beneficial shopping that helps communities and makes consumers feel good – and gift cards allow anyone to show support, even at a distance.


2020 took a lot away, but it also gave consumers a deeper appreciation for the simpler things in life. A collective understanding that we all face hardships left us with a desire to give to others, and also invest in our own happiness. Amid financial strife and isolation, with both our mental and physical health in flux, we became more creative in the ways we care for ourselves and those around us. Moving into 2021, consumers feel more gratitude for life’s simple pleasures and are willing to spend the time and money to bring a little joy after a rough year.


Sources:

Gift card economy: ((giftcard* OR “gift card*” OR “gift certificate*” OR giftcertificate OR giftvoucher OR “gift voucher”) AND (localbusiness* OR “local business*” OR smallbusiness OR “small business*” OR supportlocal OR “support local” OR “shop local” OR shoplocal)), Nov 1, 2019-December 31, 2020

Intimacy meets technology: Brandwatch: ‘sex tech’ OR sextech, Nov 1, 2020-Jan 4, 2021

Mutually beneficial DIY gifts: TikTok: #giftideas, #diy

We’re anticipating less sofa-bound times ahead in our latest edition of City Limits, all about the future of offline retail...

City Limits Volume Six – download it here.

So far in our City Limits series – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – we’ve looked at city living, youth culture, mobility, city-centric solutions and the night economy. We’re now back with our sixth edition, exploring the future of offline shopping. In what has been a savage time for the retail industry, we hope to provide some much needed respite, inspiration and kudos to a sector so integral to urban culture.

Shopping has always played a huge part in the fabric of our cities. And while much does look bleak for the high street, we firmly believe all is not lost. Our Retail Therapy edition of City Limits goes in search of innovations and experiences that celebrate IRL shopping in all shapes and sizes. There are tough times ahead, but we steadfastly believe there will always be a place for browsing in real stores; for seeing, touching, feeling products, and gaining a deeper sense of connection with the brands and we love.

The full magazine includes:

– A semiotic analysis of shopping in the context of the experience economy

– Interviews with local retailers in APAC, with learnings for global brands

– Four emerging trends to keep an eye on in the new era of retail

– Spotlights on the lasting appeal of pop-ups and the resilience of shopping malls

– A round up of concept stores that will get us heading back into cities in no time.

City Limits Volume Six – download it here.

Crowd DNA New York reflect on their Culture At Scale election predictions and what we can learn about trends in American culture...

This post is the final part of our Click State series covering the US election, analyzing digital activations and online conversation (using our Culture At Scale method) and turning emergent trends into valuable learnings.


Post election day (week), Americans across the country have felt a whole slew of emotions; loss, relief, joy, confusion – to name just a few. Looking back over the emergent trends we spotted during our analysis of online conversations, we can see how our hypotheses have since performed in the wake of Biden’s win.

Connecting with young Latinx voters in Arizona flipped the historically red state blue.
Connecting with young Latinx voters in Arizona flipped the historically red state blue.

Localizing The American Identity

In our first post, we explored the idea that the collective American identity doesn’t feel relevant to the localized needs of specific states across the US.

We saw both Wisconsin and Arizona flip blue after leaning red. There was a huge turnout of Black voters in Wisconsin, a state where this community has long fought voter suppression. With messaging from the Democratic party around Black Lives Matter and programs urging Black citizens to vote early, it’s clear that directly speaking to a population with their specific needs in mind can drive change. Similarly in Arizona, Biden’s campaigning to young Latinx voters drove them to the polls for him.

However, in Florida, where Democratic candidates focused on hyper-local issues, they missed a huge voter bloc: Cuban and Venezuelan-Americans. Because of their countries of origin, this population was immediately deterred by notions of the party’s ties to socialism (despite other unfavored ideals of Trump). In juxtaposition with Wisconsin and Arizona, we see that while candidates catered to Floridians’ needs, the party’s overarching story failed to address the concerns of important voting blocs. This proves the importance of focusing on local identities while ensuring they’re cohesive with the larger story.

Democrat or Republican, Americans on TikTok find unity in the faults of our political system.
Democrat or Republican, Americans on TikTok find unity in the faults of our political system.

Mobilizing On TikTok

In our analysis of TikTok and the election, we investigated how the platform makes the world feel smaller, builds camaraderie and empowers its users.

Immediately following the result, conversation about the election gave way to a sense of coming together as Americans. TikTok users on both political sides hashtagged states like Texas and Florida to discuss the nail-biting races in those locales. Jokes were made about Wisconsin and Pennsylvania flipping at the last minute, and Texas defaulting red despite speculation. This shows that no matter how divided America may feel politically, we can still find common ground in a shared ability to laugh at elements unique to American politics. It’s through this ability to poke fun at ourselves that Americans find unity on platforms like TikTok.

From serious to humorous, brands expressed opinions on the election's outcome in a range of ways.
From serious to humorous, brands expressed opinions on the election's outcome in a range of ways.

Brand Allies

In our third installment, we discussed how brands are presenting themselves as institutions we can look to for guidance – and, in turn, how Americans are expecting more from the companies they choose to spend with.

We explored how brands are being expected to pick a side. We saw Patagonia, for example, clearly standing against Trump. But what does this look like post-election? So far we can see brands either blatantly or more subtly celebrating Biden’s win. Brands like Oreo have promoted the result (and themselves) with messages like “It’s a Double Stuf Oreo type of day.”

But the brands we should keep a closer eye on are the ones who stay true to their claims now that the election is over. For example, MTV put its resources into urging young voters to get out to the polls. Now, they’ve taken a clear stand with the president-elect, reminding young Americans that the fight isn’t wrapped up. This both shows solidarity with their audience and a long-term commitment to social justice and political influence.

Through this exploration of conversations during the election, it’s clear we can no longer lump Americans together as one nation. Brands need to consider the individual, and very specific, identities that define our citizens and make up our states. Similarly, taking a stand and picking a side shouldn’t be shied away from. But, even with these points in mind, brands can still play an important role in unifying the country via humor, creativity and helping us laugh at ourselves.

In our second installment of Click State, Crowd DNA New York turns to TikTok to uncover learnings from a platform full of politics, creativity and a lot of personality...

This post is part of our Click State series, analyzing conversation online (using our Culture At Scale method) in the lead up to the US election and turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. You can read our first post here.  


To uncover the full force behind TikTok, we have to debunk misconceptions – it’s not all lighthearted, silly content, and it’s not just a playspace for Gen Z. Instead, TikTok’s short form layout lends well to disseminating punchy information. If Twitter and Instagram forged the way for concise content, TikTok enables creators to add drama and flair to that same message. The platform’s democratic nature also provides everyone with the ability to post to the homepage. And it’s that accessibility that makes TikTok a level playing field when it comes to mobilizing around the election.

When browsing other social platforms, we see similar memes, clips, headlines and infographics. Yet the content on TikTok is always something new. By conducting social media analysis we can examine those differences further and start to uncover emerging, TikTok based themes around the upcoming election.

Democratizing Knowledge On #TikTokTaughtMe

From iPhone usability hacks to science explained, #TikTokTaughtMe enables users to share and expand their knowledge. This hashtag, paired with others like #Election2020, has given TikTokers a way to quickly educate themselves and others. From how to debate someone with opposing views to what certain laws mean, the hashtag creates a safe space for learning and sharing knowledge. This type of openhearted content highlights TikTok’s ‘come as you are’ ethos. It sets the platform up to welcome a diversity of opinion, while always striving to be better and learn more.

TikTokers utilize #TikTokTaughtMe to share and build knowledge
TikTokers utilize #TikTokTaughtMe to share and build knowledge

Making The World Smaller

Actor and rapper, Daveed Diggs, released a song denouncing Trump supporters as white supremacists. Users then merged it with the national anthem, which liberal TikTokers from conservative families are now using to confront relatives and catch their reactions on film. This is TikTok making the world feel smaller. Rather than being isolated in a town of people with opposing views, TikTokers are able to take to the platform to feel camaraderie. Such content empowers users to start difficult conversations, knowing they have the support of an online community behind them.

Challenges can provide TikTokers with a common space to relate to one another
Challenges can provide TikTokers with a common space to relate to one another

Being Your Authentic Self

TikTok Trump supporters are using #MAGAchallenge to show their love. The videos are varied, but all express proud support regardless of the opinions of others. Many use the song ‘I Like Trump,’ which voices similar sentiment and unifies the posts. In every election, some Americans shy away from voicing support for ‘unpopular’ candidates. But, with TikTok’s vast niches, there’s a place for everyone to express their true selves and feel heard. And when TikTokers feel supported, they feel empowered and free to speak their mind.

TikTok makes space for its users to be themselves and find others like them - near and far
TikTok makes space for its users to be themselves and find others like them - near and far

By analyzing these themes coming from conversations on TikTok, we can see the ability that social media has to create safe learning environments, build support systems and empower its users. But it is also clear that content can no longer be recycled across all social media outlets.

For brands to cater to their audience in authentic and impactful ways, it’s important to realize each platform’s use cases. Authenticity, empathy and camaraderie are built into all of TikTok’s features. So in a year where there’s a new breaking headline everyday, learning how to wield these features (as well as TikTok’s creativity) will help brand communications cut through.

Bursting The Beauty Bubble

We've gathered excerpts from Crowd DNA NYC’s recent webinar and KIN panel discussion exploring the cultural hotspots of the beauty category...

It’s been a busy couple of months for Crowd DNA webinars. We’ve covered topics ranging from hope and scenario planning, to TikTok and, in the case of our most recent event: beauty. 

The beauty category is already a hotspot for cultural change. But with the rise of challenger brands, the demand for greater diversity and an ambition to redefine what beauty even looks like, things are moving fast. To dive deeper into these themes, we combined trends and culture at scale analysis with a panel discussion made up of contributors from our KIN network (shout outs and thanks to: Louisa Kinoshi, Niki Igbaroola and Cassandra Harner). 

Download the report below for highlights from our conversations covering four key topics:

1. The Current Culture Of Beauty

2. Cultural Appropriation

3. Cancel Culture

4. Cultural Representation

Bursting The Beauty Bubble: Excerpts from our recent webinar

Thanks to all that joined us. Please get in touch with any questions, or if you would like to hear more about our thinking surrounding the beauty category. And watch this space for more Crowd DNA webinars coming soon.

Bursting The Beauty Bubble: Excerpts from our recent webinar

In the run up to the US Election, Crowd DNA New York will track the conversation online, turning emergent trends into valuable learnings. First up in the Click State series, a fresh look at localization...

Elections have been playing out digitally for years, but 2020’s presidential race – with its virtual conventions, TikTok meddling, basement broadcasts, corporate activism and Twitter declarations – is like no other. As we hit the final stretch, Crowd DNA New York’s Click State series will track the conversation online, using our Culture At Scale social media data method to identify emergent trends.

Our first post is below. By analyzing conversations coming out of swing states, we can see how a polarizing election is fast accelerating the shift from a collective American identity to a more local one.


Challenging the idea of a blanket ‘American identity’

In a year where governor mandates took precedence over presidential guidance on the pandemic, we’ve seen an accelerated shift from nationalism to a locally focused mindset. The events of 2020 have fuelled a drive away from a collective American character. Now, pride and trust in states and counties, even individual cities, resonates more strongly with American’s sense of self than the country as a whole. This, crossed with the nation’s individualistic nature, has been challenging the idea of a blanket ‘American identity.’

Then came the election. With polls neck and neck, especially in swing states, causes that hold local significance have come to the fore. We’re witnessing demand for attention to local issues and representatives who support each state’s unique needs. Candidates always pander to swing states, but this year, with a reinvigorated sense of local self, these states are armed with demands for their locales. By analyzing online conversations in three swing states, we can see how disparate voices are replacing one American narrative. Listening (socially) to these divided voices helps us learn how to speak to a fragmented, local leaning country.

Wisconsin:

With Covid-19 already making voting in the US precarious, Wisconsin reduced polling stations from 182 to five, disproportionately impacting low-income Black and brown communities. After months of Black Lives Matter protests and strong demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsinites feel empowered, rallying behind these communities. Rather than sitting out the election, they’re activating and driving change online, teaching us the value demonstrations can have on a location’s spirit.

Florida:

Climate change is a very real threat in states like Florida, which have been ripped apart by coastal flooding. Cross this with Gen Z, a generation of first time voters who have continually ranked climate change as a top issue. As climate change continues to harm Florida, the state’s voters seek candidates who prioritize the cause. Using social, Florida politicians rally the state by speaking to local climate initiatives. By referencing impacted locations and drawing from local experiences, politicians can relate to voters as fellow Floridians.

Arizona:

If Arizona’s votes go to Biden, as polling suggests, it would be the first time the state favored a Democrat in 24 years. This shift is thanks to the state’s growing Latinx population. And as more US-born Latinx Arizonans turn voting age, they will add up to a significant voting bloc. Social outcries appeal directly to these voters through the use of language and cultural references. In speaking to Latinx Americans, authentically addressing the cultural nuances in their culture is crucial.

Looking at these states, and understanding their fragmented identities, presents implications for speaking to American consumers. Messaging will feel more relatable if brands consider local identities first.

The sentiment ‘we’re all in this together’ is tone deaf to America’s transitioning sense of self. Americans don’t feel a sense of camaraderie with states whose needs differ from their own. They want brands to speak to an identity that exists beyond the singular American character.


Source: Brandwatch, tracking data from Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020

Wisconsin: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Wisconsin, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (votersuppression OR “voter suppression”) AND (wisconsin))

Florida: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Florida, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (“climate change” OR climatechange) AND (florida))

Arizona: Jul 1, 2020-Sept 28, 2020, Arizona, United States: ((election OR election2020 OR “election 2020” OR presidentialelection OR “presidential election” OR 2020election OR “2020 election”) AND (latin*) AND (arizona))

In-Home Futures

We used the future of the home as a case study in our recent scenario planning webinar. It's a fascinating topic - here's a deeper dive on the scenarios we developed...

Our recent webinar on culturally charged scenario planning saw us explaining and exploring how we use this technique to reach powerful outcomes for our clients – around objectives such as product and experience development, brand positioning, comms activation, new market entries, investments and partnerships strategy.

We used the future of the home as a case study. Why? For good reason as, post-pandemic, we can expect a long term shift in the in-home experience. Either because we’re still scared. Or we’ve decided to move to the suburbs. Or, as a society, we’ve realised the social inequality of renting. Or we’ve just decided to carry on making the most of in-home entertainment and exercise rituals that we formed in lockdown.

These potential transformations will have implications for all categories that are consumed, and occasions that take place, at home: finance, food, drink, sleep, beauty, entertainment, retail, fitness and more. But how to make sense of these numerous and diverse shifts? 

Critical uncertainties

As part of our culturally charged scenario planning workstream, after sifting through hundreds of future signs, we narrowed down to two critical uncertainties pertinent to the in-home environment in the next three-to-five years (with some initial manifestations of change likely to surface earlier still):

When it comes to the future role of the home, will people prioritise:

1. freedom, creativity and release – or look for reassurance, stability and protection?

2. championing the personal and individual – or embracing collectivism and belonging?

Above is how the critical uncertainties look in a typical scenario planning chart, with each of the four scenarios we consequently shaped up named per quadrant. 

Next, we fleshed out these four scenarios. The results are both inspiring and slightly terrifying. Here goes…


COMMUNITY REBELLION

Radical reinvention of public & private

In this scenario, we move from home ownership to community membership – subscribing to an area or suburb rather than a physical building. We no longer think of homes as assets or investments, and instead ownership becomes a right. After the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, community support services are given more funding over the police force. City streets are pedestrianised and car parks are redesigned as community and resource distribution spaces. Smart homes use technology to ensure environmental efficiency – rather than productivity. 


CLOSED COMMUNITIES

Protecting my tribe and local area only

In this scenario, neighbourhoods have become city states in their own right. To prevent further pandemics, national-level visa systems and processes are replaced by hyper local policies and requirements if you wish to move between individual communities. We have adopted bartering systems in place of shopping for big and global brands. Homes are a space for us to work on our craft and grow or create items to trade. Community isolation calls drive value and uptake of heightened home privacy and security systems. Architecture will also follow more community-minded values, creating safe spaces for neighbours to meet in, while keeping the rest of the city at a distance.


HOME BUNKER

Distance as a design paradigm

In this scenario, hyper hygienic tech solutions are as common in the house as ovens and microwaves. We’re minimising the use of the tactile – touch screens become obsolete in favour of voice and face controls. Delineated entry points for the home, as per Japanese genkans, to maximise cleanliness, become standard features. Antibacterial surface materials, such as cork and copper, are utilised throughout the home, and sanitising vapours are misted into the air at regular intervals via a smart timer to improve the cleanliness of indoor air.


NEW (IN-HOME) HEDONISM 

Maximalist aesthetics and in-home indulgences

In this scenario, we have abandoned minimalist design aesthetics and returned to ‘more is more’ maximalism. Importance is placed on sensory delight, where we choose furniture, devices and decorations that provide us with major stimulation. AI facilitates cognitive engagement, enabling us to play, explore, discover, experiment and learn through new experiences like holograms and VR gaming. Tech and furniture collide to amp up this sense of high stimulation. The hospitality industry continues to build in-home products and services to meet with the heightened appetite for indoor creativity, play and hedonistic fun.


Scenarios such as these can be used as creative springboards for new product and brand innovation, as a starting point for your next campaign, or to simply decide what you’re going to stop doing to avoid becoming obsolete. It’s unlikely that all four potential futures apply to you and your brand, but using this technique is about prioritising – which scenarios provide the most opportunities or threats, and what are you going to do about it?

We work scenarios into project stimulus and to identify workshop opportunity areas. We use them to write new brand narratives, to run ideation sessions and help our clients develop fresh concepts.

If you want to know more about the future of the home or how to work with scenario planning for your category or brand, do get in touch.

(Illustrations by Chloe Swayne from Crowd DNA’s Socialise team)

July 1 webinar: our Crowd Signs team explore what hope looks like in pandemic times - and how brands can point to more hopeful futures...


  • Session 1: July 1, 08.30 (BST)/17.30 (AEST)

Hosted by Crowd DNA London & Sydney | Presenters: Rachel Rapp (associate director, London), Dr Bridget Dalton (senior consultant, London), Erryn Balzan (associate director, Sydney)

Sign up here

  • Session 2: July 1, 16.00 (BST)/11.00 (EDT)

Hosted by Crowd DNA London & New York | Presenters: Rachel Rapp (associate director, London), Dr Bridget Dalton (senior consultant, London), Eden Lauffer (senior consultant, New York)

Sign up here

(Access via Zoom; 45 mins including Q&A)


Life BC (Before Covid) seems a million years ago, and people are adjusting, adapting and holding on tight. Through it all, despite the tragedy, hope springs eternal – but, beyond the rainbows in windows and garden laps for the NHS, what form does that hope take?

Join us as, focusing on five key shifts, we track the trajectory of hope using trends analysis and semiotics – some of the methods in our Crowd Signs toolkit. We’ll discuss the historical divisions of hope, how the pandemic-induced spirit of community is challenging polarisation, and whether hope has morphed from a universal quality to cultural value.

To help brands turn hope into action, we will consider: 

– What hopeful behaviours and terms are signalling new consumer trends?

– What are the semiotic cultural cues translating hope linguistically, visually, and more?

– How can brands speak to and activate against these swiftly changing codes?

– What can we learn from the brands who are speaking hope well already?


Session 1: July 1, 08.30 (BST)/17.30 (AEST) – Sign up here

Session 2: July 1, 16.00 (BST)/11.00 (EDT) – Sign up here

You can learn more about Crowd Signs (combining trends, semiotics, culture at scale and our KIN network) via this vid: