Despite huge disruption, fears of recession and job losses caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, new research finds consumers in the Asia-Pacific region remain hopeful about the future.

A new report from media agency Wavemaker, Braving the New Normal, examined attitudes across mainland China, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Researchers found a widespread sense of optimism that has remained throughout the crisis, with 78% of respondents in China – and 63% in Wuhan – saying they felt optimistic even at the height of the pandemic in February. Six weeks on from the peak, 57% of consumers across the region (excluding China) still felt positive to very positive about the future, a trend most marked among the 18-to-29 year-old age group.

But Gordon Domlija, CEO Wavemaker China, and President Asia Pacific at Wavemaker Global, concludes that “Understanding context is critical to unlocking future growth opportunities. Learning from China, we believe that the bravest brands, in particular those who can meaningfully innovate, will win.”

Researchers also note that consumer attitudes are highly fluid and that too many generalisations are unhelpful.

“It’s clear from the many studies being undertaken that these numbers are changing every day,” the reports says. “Whilst the average remains positive (in the few days we have taken to write this report) it’s more useful to examine them in context. Our findings are that the level of optimism is highly situational.”

No previous events have been on the same scale as the COVID-19 pandemic, but researchers identify what they say is a clear pattern from previous crises.

“Right now we are in the Outbreak phase, however we will soon move into Recovery (where China is now). It is likely that it will be a lengthy period, with some setbacks, however eventually we will enter stabilisation or the ‘New Normal’ where COVID-19 is under control around the world. Whilst some things will be different, we see this once-in-a-century event will primarily act as an accelerator of existing trends.”

As examples, Wavemaker identifies the trend of ordering fresh food online, which had been steadily rising anyway; the crisis merely accelerated existing demand to a new level of sustained growth. Other trends like fitness apps used at home, it says, are more likely to receive a short-term bounce that may not be sustained through the recovery period.

The report warns brands that, while innovation is key and a great opportunity to capitalise on new ‘accelerated trends’, they should resist copycat innovation, and ensure what they do is always relevant to core objectives. It recommends, “whilst considering innovation, review the balance of ‘noise’ around a new trend and set/monitor clear KPIs.”

Sourced from Wavemaker