Searching for the way forward

I can’t think of a time when technology has been able to be more helpful to more people, families, communities, companies and countries than today. At the same time, the ways that people are using technology are more dynamic than ever. Technology has been a lifeline in lockdown, and it will be an important catalyst in a sustainable and accelerated recovery that works for everyone.

As we strive to emerge from the narrow canyon of restrictions on our lives into a more familiar world of wider horizons, we’re all keen to understand which changes in habits and behaviors will stay with us. What will stick and what will fade? For businesses, the impact of this crisis has varied enormously. Some have seen acceleration, more have had to fight for survival as physical channels to customers were impacted. Whatever the situation, we’re all searching through a fog of uncertainty for the way forward.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw how changes were driving businesses to innovate — with many, like Lynsey Pollard’s Little Box of Books, using digital tools to quickly identify and respond to rising consumer demand — in her case for home education resources, tripling website visits in the very first month of the pandemic.

Now, a year later, we can see three big trends emerging that businesses should address to accelerate recovery.

Three lasting consumer trends, as
companies get ready for what’s next

The pandemic has accelerated existing shifts in behavior.

Firstly, we’ve seen that the pandemic has accelerated behaviors which were already underway. Consumers went digital across all aspects of their lives — searches for "delivery," "discount codes" and even "how to" grew significantly compared to the previous years. However, it’s worth noting that some behavior changes remain unpredictable. For example, people’s preference for shopping online over shopping in-store has fluctuated fast and often since May of last year.   

People need more help than ever navigating choice complexity.

Secondly, we’ve seen the value of being fast and helpful for customers. Consumer decision-making is increasingly complex, with more options and considerations than ever. So consumers need more help than ever in making those decisions, giving businesses a huge opportunity to introduce themselves and be helpful at the right moment. 

People want an open and affordable digital world, and that requires relevant ads that respect their privacy.

The increasing importance of technology in our lives has heightened expectations for an open and affordable digital world, underpinned by safety and privacy online. People understand the value of advertising to support that experience and they want to see relevant, timely ads that respect their privacy. 

A Google/Euroconsumers study found that nearly 70% of respondents believe the amount of personal data collected online makes it difficult for them to protect their privacy. Search interest for "online privacy" has grown globally by more than 50% year over year. 

We all have to build trust every time there’s an interaction. People deserve to know how their data is being used so that they can choose to give informed permission.  

More insights and tools for companies to help recovery

So what can we do to help companies face the uncertainty and such dynamic consumer trends? At Google, we’re developing new tools to help businesses understand and respond better to shifting needs. 

Firstly, we’re launching the new Insights Page within Google Ads. It is a new destination in Google Ads where marketers can see contextual and automated insights to help them adapt their business faster in a more dynamic world.

For instance, Body&Fit, an Irish company offering sports nutrition, food supplements and dietary products, was affected by a decline in in-store sales and international shipment delays during local lockdowns. By using health and fitness insights across a number of countries, the brand was able to find new opportunities for growth and even expanded into new markets. As a result, by the end of last year, it saw a 90% year-over-year increase in revenue.

Secondly, we’ve been looking at ways for businesses to move faster — by quickly taking action based on recommendations from our real-time insights, powered by machine learning. To achieve this, we’re taking automation one step further, giving marketers an option to "opt-in" to automatically apply certain campaign and performance recommendations. This means that every time our algorithms detect an opportunity to improve a campaign, brands can implement these recommendations instantly, enabling them to be fast and helpful for their consumers and save time. 

The Netherlands-based agency Dept has been automatically applying recommendations across its client portfolio, and it’s worked — the agency has saved 20% of the time it previously spent on repetitive tasks, while increasing Google ads optimization scores by 18 points on average. Dept has also seen a positive impact on their clients’ performance — construction company BAM saw a 10% increase in conversion volume and a 20% increase in conversion rate.

Finally, as we have seen a decline in trust in online advertising, we’ve been working with the advertising ecosystem on new privacy-preserving proposals open to the industry within the Privacy Sandbox. We’ve also confirmed that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products. Now is the time for marketers to focus on building strong first-party relationships and the expertise they need to build trust sustainably.

The insights businesses want, the tools they need, the partnership they deserve

As we search for the way forward, businesses need to be even closer to their consumers and respond to their needs faster than ever before. 

Google is here to help turn this challenge into a new opportunity for future growth, by providing the insights businesses want, the tools they need, and the partnership they deserve to help them find the way.