What future are we planning for?

May 19, 2021
Thought Leadership Trends

Perspectives from CMA Councils

As the light continues to brighten at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it’s important to decipher how consumer values and behaviours have shifted through this period, and what new business paradigms lie ahead.

These topics were discussed recently at Thought Leaders Connected – a discussion forum for members of the CMA’s thought leadership Councils. Here are their predictions:

Action and advocacy

Tragic events in 2020 highlighted an urgent need to combat racism and discrimination. Consumers have a heightened desire to support brands that make authentic commitments to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and put action and advocacy behind their words.

Employees, particularly millennials, are similarly compelling their employers to behave ethically, and to realign their organizational purpose and culture to reflect these values. Having a diverse workforce is table stakes now: employees want to see meaningful change that leads to inclusion. This also affects recruitment, as there is a growing trend to choose employers with these principles in mind.

Our thought leaders believe that these expectations for DEI, along with environmental and sustainability targets and behaviours, will only grow over time. NFPs can play a key role in driving the goals and the impact behind these important conversations.

Growth and innovation

Digitization has accelerated at a pace that was unimaginable before the pandemic, and these advancements are here to stay. Once the pandemic ends, it’s unlikely that the economy could withstand the same accelerated pace of change.

However, businesses that don’t adapt to current consumer expectations will be vulnerable to missing out on important opportunities. The federal government is making significant investments in helping small and medium-sized businesses improve their digital capacity.

Capital has never been cheaper. Larger, more traditional organizations are recognizing that the time to replace legacy systems is now.

With steady immigration and major investments in areas like biotech, Canada can be a global leader in innovation. The marketing community should be poised to support scale-ups in order to drive growth.

Budget pressures, consolidation and production uncertainty

Marketing spend is under closer scrutiny, which could result in a shift to quarterly budgets and increased focus on ROI. While patterns will vary by industry, what’s certain to remain is the expectation of efficiency, agility and speed to market in order to achieve marketing-driven business objectives.

Consolidation and simplification will continue. Manufacturers might sell directly to retailers or even consumers, rather than through intermediaries. Small business owners might band together to create local marketplaces to capitalize on the ‘buy local’ sentiment that evolved during the pandemic. Companies will look for new ways to simplify their product offerings and packaging.

Supply chain disruption, including plant closures, will likely lead to smaller product lines and higher prices. To offset these challenges, companies may pursue advanced manufacturing, reshoring or a reset of supply chains. Price inflation, combined with a sluggish recovery in many sectors, could have a negative impact on NFPs as cash-crunched businesses and some individual donors will have less money for charitable gifts.

The return to the workplace – or not

The work-from-home paradigm is a genie that will prove challenging to put back in the bottle. Companies will adopt a variety of hybrid models when it is physically safe to return to the workplace, and each scenario will present employee engagement and morale challenges.

The ‘work-from-anywhere’ perspective has allowed employees based in urban centres to migrate outside of large urban centres. It has also enabled companies to access a wider, more diverse talent pool.

Reduced, or non-existent, commuting times have pressed some employees into overdrive, while enabling others to step back and focus on mental and physical well-being. Brands can continue to build on the trend towards self-care, which includes developing new hobbies and skills.

Evolving consumer behaviours

While many consumers were uncomfortable being forced to rely on technology at the outset of the pandemic, they have adapted to having most of their interactions take place on computers and smartphones. Consumers are enjoying the convenience of e-commerce, online events and virtual services. The rapid growth in social media engagement and online media consumption may stabilize but is unlikely to drop to pre-pandemic levels.

However, not all regions are created equal when it comes to online access and engagement. While many organizations have retooled to serve customers virtually, they need to find ways to ensure that people who rely on in-person connections and experiences are not left behind.

Among those who enjoy the benefits and flexibility that virtual access provides, many are feeling ‘Zoom fatigue,’ which could lead to an initial rush towards in-person engagement once the pandemic subsides.

However, consumer expectations for those physical experiences have shifted. For example, the shopping mall concept might need to evolve, offering broader engagement opportunities, such as gyms and unique restaurant experiences, to draw consumers to shop in person. Going to the movies, sporting events or festivals may need to be reimagined, balancing live and digital components. Without clarity on when or how the pandemic will resolve, businesses need to be agile to respond to ongoing unpredictability as consumers’ post-pandemic preferences develop.

Recognizing our thought leaders

We salute the thought leaders on our Councils for their insights and passion as we emerge from the pandemic. Marketers play a key role in propelling their organizations forward to innovate, serve consumers and strengthen Canada’s economy.

Want to get involved? We are currently accepting applications for our 2021-22 Council term. Visit our Councils page to learn more.

Emily Abrahams | Senior Manager, Thought-Leader Engagement | CMA
Sara Clodman | Vice-President, Public Affairs and Thought Leadership | CMA





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