The changes in consumer behavior and expectations brought about by the pandemic are pushing marketers to rethink how they connect with audiences going forward. Gartner, in its report on 2022 U.S. consumer and cultural trends, describes the pandemic as an “inadvertent social experiment” that marketers are having to learn from.

“Marketers responsible for strategic planning, targeting, positioning, messaging and corporate responsibility initiatives can use these trends to better align their initiatives to key cultural issues and changes in consumer behaviors and attitudes,” says Kate Muhl, vice president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice.

The pandemic has created space for consumers to ask questions about the way they live and test alternatives ways to do so. For many, it has decoupled their identities from their work or career. Gartner found that 64 percent of consumers try and keep their work-self and personal-self separate. It notes that this trend is evident in the U.S. Labor Department’s report that a record 4.5 million workers, or three percent of the workforce, quit jobs in November 2021, matching the record set in September. Furthermore, the Gartner survey also revealed that 51 percent of workers admit to performing personal tasks during work hours more frequently than before the pandemic.

“Marketers must recognize that consumers are in the midst of an exhausting practical and spiritual overhaul. That presents an opportunity for their brands to be facilitators of change,” says Muhl. “Consumers are valuing themselves more. Because of this, brands must emphasize their values that speak to topics that include authenticity, identity and self-esteem.”

The pandemic has also disrupted consumers’ experience of time, with 77 percent of survey respondents reporting experiencing some distortion in their perception of the pace of time. This trend is led by Gen Z (91 percent) and Millennials (88 percent). Also, 66 percent of consumers report having difficulty making long-term plans or life changes at some point during the pandemic. For marketers, Gartner recommends leaning into brand values that answer consumers longing for control over their reality.

Gartner’s survey identified that 61 percent of consumers watch or listen to entertainment “to relax or be comforted,” followed by 41 percent identifying “to escape from, or stop thinking about, reality” and 33 percent “to experience funny moments.” These insights, Gartner notes, points to consumers being more interested in straightforward, uncomplicated storylines in their media consumption than they’re used to.

“The lesson here for marketing leaders is to do all they can to reduce mental load. This isn’t about increasing emotional engagement or intimacy. Right now, marketers must focus on simplifying the message and streamlining the consumer journey,” adds Muhl.

Necessity drove consumers onto new digital platforms during the pandemic, but convenience is keeping them there. In Gartner’s survey, 39 percent of consumers claimed to enjoy new conveniences of going online or doing things virtually in various areas of their life, a six-percent increase from 2020. Meanwhile, 57 percent of consumers identified their online or virtual experiences as inadequate replacements for offline or in-person experiences, a 17-percent increase from 2020. It’s a sign, Gartner advises, that marketers must continue to invest in customer touchpoints and offerings that allow for hybrid online and in-person modes of interaction and choice.

Consumers are also sticking with the home-centered nature of pandemic life, with 58 percent of survey respondents saying the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how they think about and manage their home (up 12 percent from 2020).

“Marketers must update their understanding of key drivers behind centering around the home,” says Muhl. “In the coming year, it will be less about consumers avoiding threats and more about consumers engaging in a cost-benefit analysis about experience.”