Atlantic Brand Partners Releases “Forces of Influence”

Consumer study reveals vast gulf between what consumers expect from brands and their perceived realities.

Atlantic Brand Partners Forces of Influence

Today Atlantic Brand Partners, The Atlantic’s business services group, is releasing Forces of Influence 2.0, a study into how ongoing cultural unpredictability is affecting consumer perspectives. Most surprising for business leaders: despite industry-wide emphasis to address individual consumer needs, there is still a vast gulf between what consumers expect from brands and their perceived realities. In fact, only 13 percent of respondents feel more empowered by brands today versus two years ago. The balance of the Forces of Influences study explores why.

“While there are plenty of sources for consumer insights tied to the individual cultural shifts of the past few years, we noticed that not many were connecting the dots between them,” says Gina Bulla, executive director, Atlantic Insights. “For example, universal childcare or the great resignation both independently signal very intense perspectives; yet even more powerful is an understanding of what the collective force of those topics signal (in this case, the desire for security and power). We believe that type of synthesis can be exponentially more powerful for brand behavior in the real world.”

The topline findings are below, based on a survey of 3,000+ people in the U.S. and U.K and conducted online by Lucid, a programmatic research technology platform.

There are five Forces shaping behaviors today. They are, at a glance:

  • Security Systems: As a prolonged period of uncertainty continues, people are living more cautiously, and personal security has become a priority. 58 percent are more cautious now than before the pandemic.
  • Multiplicity of Belief: We’re all still seeking meaning and purpose, but values are shifting. 67 percent have redefined their priorities in the past two years.
  • Social Anchoring: Individuals are reevaluating the people they want in their lives and the communities they want to be part of. 48 percent say their social circle is smaller now than it was two years ago.
  • Power Leveling: Individuals are demanding more power over many areas of the lives including their time (52 percent), health (47 percent), and finances (46 percent).
  • Liquid Selves: Identities have never been more fluid. Who we were yesterday isn’t the same as who we’ll be tomorrow. 68 percent say the past two years have impacted their identity.

There’s a huge gulf between consumer expectations and brand realities.

  • 71 percent expect brands to understand them, but only 43 percent feel understood by brands.
  • 72 percent expect brands to keep me, my family, and the world safe, but only 14 percent say brands are doing more than individuals and the government to do so.
  • 62 percent expect brands to empower them, but only 13 percent say they feel more empowered by brands today versus two years ago.

There’s been a dramatic shift in how individuals are empowering themselves, forcing brands to consider how they can give consumers more control over their experiences.

  • Individuals are demanding more control over their experiences—74 percent say it’s never been more important that their voice be heard by authorities and institutions.
  • While 43 percent of respondents said they had less control over their lives since the beginning of the pandemic, only 21 percent say they feel less empowered at work. 22 percent say they feel more empowered at work and 57 percent say they have the same level of empowerment at work.
  • Expect the demand for work flexibility to continue: the number one thing people said they want more control over is their time.
  • On work culture, 30 percent say from an emotional perspective they feel more distant from their colleagues than they did before the pandemic. This was even more true for adults age 26-40, at 36 percent.

The impact of the past two years was universal, but uneven—especially for young adults, women, and people of color.

  • Young adults (age 18-25) were an average of 18 percentage points more likely than total respondents to say that wealth, indulgence, self-interest, and ambition were more important to them now than they were two years ago.
  • Women were more likely than men to say their finances (women 44 percent, versus men 30 percent), careers (women 31 percent, versus men 24 percent), and mental health (women 35 percent, versus men 24 percent) were less secure now versus two years ago.
  • Respondents who are people of color were nearly twice as likely as white respondents to say having power over their lives was more important now versus two years ago (people of color respondents at 25 percent, versus white respondents at 14 percent).

The report is the second annual from Atlantic Brand Partners identifying the five underlying Forces of Influence that are motivating our behavior and continuously shaping our world, our industry, and the relationship between brands and their customers. The Forces are rooted in a universal human truth (i.e. identity, meaning, belonging) and the culmination of multiple trends brought together across the economy, politics, society and culture––and offer brand leaders a playbook for how to navigate 2022.

This year’s report also marks the launch of Atlantic Insights as a marketing research practice within Atlantic Brand Partners.