2020 was a year like no other, 2021 will be just as different again.

Dianne Gardiner is CEO and social researcher at Insights and Customer Experience (CX) consultancy Bastion Insights.

On March 30, we launched wave 1 of the Adapting to the New Normal Research Study, tracking the rapidly changing fears, frustrations and desires of Australians through the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now up to wave 20. We know that the global pandemic will have long lasting effects, many of which will only become apparent in the months and years to come.

But right now, there’s some key insights from 20 waves of research over 9 months to takeaway as we gear up for Christmas, Summer holidays and the beginning of a new year.

Insight 1: It’s been a tough year, but we’re happy again

Life satisfaction has improved since March when the pandemic first hit, with a 7 point increase in Australians life satisfaction score.  But there is no doubt Victorians have felt the rollercoaster the most this year.  Towards the end of the second lockdown Victorians’ life satisfaction was significantly lower than other Australians (a 13 point difference). Since coming out of lockdown, we see Victorians have bounced back, with an 11 point increase in the life satisfaction index.

While the global pandemic has not gone away, and ‘tired’ remains the number one emotion that most people are feeling, for the first time in a long time, we see Australians are feeling happy.

As mental wellbeing improves, after a very tough year for some, consumers want to spend their time and money on the things that really matter. The impact of the pandemic has caused us to evaluate our life situations, with one quarter (24%) of Australians saying they have had a rethink of their priorities, and for others COVID had forced work or career changes upon them (25%).

Brands must take care to acknowledge that it’s been a very different year, but we don’t want to leave the positives behind. Appealing to the simple and important aspects of our lives will resonate best. We’ll need to continue to practise physical distancing, but we want to stay socially connected both online and offline. We’re considering how to change things up and how we can live life to its fullest without it becoming all consuming.

Insight 2: We are moving out of the city, for country air and sunshine       

Melbourne was set to become Australia’s largest city by 2026. Since the start of the pandemic, when a large part of Australia’s workforce was forced to work from home, there has been much speculation whether this will impact people moving out of cities to live outside commuting distance. Our survey research and ABS provisional migration data indicate that our population is on the move.

Nationally, 16% said they would be likely/very likely to move to regional Australia in the next 1-3 years, with Victorians topping the list at almost 1 in 4 (23%). And it’s Australians aged between 30 and 39 years (21%) wanting to move to the country.

A similar number of Australians cited they would be likely to move interstate in the next 1-3 years (17%) – with Victorians again topping the list of wanting to move interstate at almost one in four (24%), compared to 14% for NSW and 10% QLD. And where do Victorians most want to live; it’s an even split between QLD and NSW. We’re chasing sunshine, given ‘twas a very long Winter.

ABS provisional migration data also speaks to a move away from capital cities. Melbourne had a net loss of 8,000 in the June quarter alone – its largest quarterly net loss on record.

If Australians, particularly families, move from city to country this will have huge impacts on their purchasing behaviour, along with identity and cultural preferences. It will affect many household purchases such as vehicles and transportation, housing, insurance, shopping for food versus dining at restaurants, medical and hospital, schooling, and the list goes on.

Brands that don’t understand the key decision-making triggers in their customer journey risk just being noise. Those that can drive greater personalisation of the individual customer journey, as well as understand what their pain points or gain points are, and then tailor and deliver the right message, at the right time, in the right place, and drive repeat purchase will win.

Insight 3: Dreaming of longer holidays over short trips

Given what we’ve been through, state borders being locked down, it’s no surprise that we are in desperate need of a holiday. And we want a longer one, not just a weekend getaway!

51% of Australians intend to take an interstate holiday for 2 nights or more in the next 12 months. Compared to 41% intending to take a short holiday of 1 or 2 nights only. At a national level, Queensland is the most often considered destination but with NSW having closed the gap in this latest research wave.

68% or two thirds of Australians have already made travel bookings or are starting to think about future travel. And just over one third (37%) have dreamed about a holiday but not done anything about it yet!

We’re forever changed. Bring on 2021 

As we holiday at home this Summer, Australians will be spending more in regional areas than ever before, and finally businesses in regional areas may be given a boost after drought, bushfires, floods and COVID-19 has tested their resilience to the limit.  While a vaccine will hopefully bring an end to COVID-19 in 2021, what is for certain is the experiences of 2020 changed us, and there will be flow on effects for years to come.

To learn more about our national study, Adapting to the New Normal, tracking the hearts of minds of Australians during COVID-19, click here.

Bastion Insights COVID-19 Research Study