Entering quarantine was the mother of all milestones. It marked the end of the old and the start of something entirely new. What trends will define the new normal, asks Marcos Angelides.

In a perverse way, lockdown was like the world’s worst new year’s party, complete with crap parties and unfulfilled resolutions. Our social feeds were awash with claims of learning a new skill, starting a new routine, or launching a ground-breaking side hustle. And just like new year’s, most of these promises were short lived. Since the highs of early April, searches for learning a new language have dropped by half.

There are plenty of predictions out there proclaiming that we’ll either return to normal or change completely, but most of them are based on claimed data. The problem with that is, asking people what they think they’ll do doesn’t always reflect what they’ll actually do.

So that leaves us in no man’s land, trying to predict the unpredictable. Which is where Google Search comes in. Rather than looking at claimed data to predict the future, perhaps we can use people’s current behaviours as a better indicator. Based on that simple premise, and some odd search suggestions, here are some indications that may help us predict what next.

1. Returning to normal: personal grooming and social gathering

Lockdown was like a wet Sunday where you sit on the couch in your pyjamas all day, except it lasted for three months. Now, it seems, we need a change: searches for clothing have bounced back since the lows of March and are now higher than pre-COVID-19, giving a much-needed boost to fashion brands, and to video meetings everywhere.

Follicle fashion is just as pertinent with ‘hair tutorials’ and ‘self-haircuts’ thankfully falling by half, suggesting barbers still have a future. While makeup and hair gel were consistent throughout lockdown, interest in fragrances fell off a cliff, because no one cares how you smell on zoom.

In the past few weeks though, searches for aftershave and perfume have tripled, while interest in toothpaste is higher than pre-lockdown levels (thank god).

These are indications that people are starting to head out and get close to each other. We are a tactile species and despite the recent events, or fears over a second wave, we crave physical proximity to those we love.

TIP: For brands associated with these categories, from high-end fashion to humble mouthwash, your products are relevant to the national mood and people’s natural instinct to interact. Don’t be afraid to call this out in communications.

2. Returning to normal: love, romance and restitution

While interest in clothing has bounced back, formalwear and black-tie haven’t. This will be, in part, due to a national shortage of marketing award shows, but it’s also a reminder that weddings are still a long way off.

Interest in wedding venues, cakes and dresses are still significantly lower than the pre-Covid average. Searches for ‘engagements’ though are quickly returning to normal, reminding us that love conquers all, and that we should expect an imminent surge of diamond sales and Instagram stories.

This may (or may not) be connected to interest in pregnancy tests, which after a huge drop the week before lockdown are now back to their usual levels. Saying that, extended periods of time together are always going to have an impact and demand for ‘divorce lawyers’ are three times greater than they should be...

TIP: For brands, the theme of love and togetherness is more pertinent than ever, and your products will have added context alongside them. Whether you help early romances to blossom or fading ones to find closure, there is a clear role for you to play over the coming months.

3. New normal: greater health and exercise

As the saying goes, you’ll either come out of this lockdown a chunk, drunk, hunk, or monk.

While searches for cooking tips and recipes have dropped from their April high, they are still significantly greater than pre-Covid. ‘Healthy recipes’ are especially strong, recording levels of interest only usually seen the week after Christmas.

Alongside eating, we’re also seeing other associations to healthy living. Searches for exercise are still 30% higher than average and interest in bikes are double that of last year.

Perhaps the quarantine, through a combination of added time and concern over health, has led to a more active and rejuvenated mindset, one that will last long after lockdown. This will certainly have an impact on product choices, from food to activities, as well as brand campaigns that reflect people’s growing interest in looking after themselves.

4. New normal: delivery as default

‘Delivery near me’ is three times greater than this time last year, and searches for Amazon are still up 33% versus pre-Covid.

‘Supermarket delivery’ has returned to normal, likely due to the huge surge in sign-ups at the start of the pandemic, but many other industries should be taking advantage.

Little luxuries like a good coffee are hard to come by now we’re not heading to work, hence a two fold increase in searches for coffee delivery. Takeaways overall are up 70%, while clothes delivery have doubled.

Brands thinking that the worst of the pandemic is over and the surge in online sales will quickly return to normal should think again. These trends suggest a sustained and continued move towards online commerce and the value of home delivery.

TIP: Any business, from a small independent to a high street clothing giant should seriously consider how to extend their delivery footprint. Time. Is. Ticking.

5. New normal: living, travel and local mindedness

Despite us entering peak summer, searches for holidays are still only half of what would we’d usually expect. But within the gloom there’s hope. ‘Staycations’ have seen the highest ever demand in the past three weeks.

Brits are obviously still desperate for a holiday but are adapting to the circumstances of the pandemic, and the holiday industry will need to adapt too. From prioritising local services to utilising relevant copy (does your travel website call out ‘staycations’?), the focus should be on pivoting to these new trends and demonstrating how you can support them.

Staycations also lead to a wider trend around local mindedness. People are focusing more on their homes as they get used to the idea that remote working may be a longer-term behaviour.

Searches for working from home are still five times higher than last year, suggesting people are expecting this to trend to continue and are designing their spaces accordingly. But as people focus more attention on their homes, where those homes are may soon change.

Searches for ‘buy house’ are 33% higher than average and within that, questions around ‘where to live’ are up 40%. This suggests people are seriously considering their options, especially as we move towards a more remote working world. Perhaps we don’t all need to reside in the city anymore…

These trends are obviously pertinent for travel, interior and housing industries but it’s also relevant for most brands. A new wave of local mindedness and community appears to be growing, and brands should consider highlighting their own local connections or provenance within them.

Keep searching

Looking back at these trends it seems that both predictions were right, and wrong. A number of behaviours are changing for the long term, perhaps more than we thought, and yet many of the universal behaviours of society (love, life, partying) will continue.

Most importantly, it’s a reminder that claimed data can be a useful tool to stimulate our thinking but often the best way to anticipate changes is to look at what people are doing, not saying. This will provide brands with the best chance to be of service to people’s needs.