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Insights & Innovation: Understanding consumer mindsets around the return of gatherings

In our last study, we talked about how the post-pandemic recovery process will kick off with celebrations, dinners, and hugs with our friends and family. We couldn’t agree more and decided to look into the return of gatherings.

To do this, Vox Media worked with Bastion db5 to survey ~1,000 people to understand mindsets around socializing during the summer of 2021.

  • Gatherings will return in a big way, and most want to host.
  • Get-togethers are about meaningful connections.
  • Hosting will be a logistical challenge that requires a bit of instruction, stress relief, and levity.
  • Post-pandemic parties will have some practical constraints.
  • The cognitive dissonance of gatherings is a brand opportunity.

PARTIES AND GATHERINGS ARE BACK

Meeting up with family/friends in person came in as the #1 choice for “what I am looking forward to most,” even higher than travel, live events, and dining out.

In 2021:

These gatherings are likely going to take place in our homes, with 82% willing to host, and 61% open to an indoor hybrid party.

Whereas pre-COVID people may have been excited about the superficial elements of parties (Pinterest-inspired decorations and recipes), human interaction is the main motivator for gatherings in 2021 (48% listed it as the top motivator). When asked for the top three reasons hosting was important to them, respondents cited connecting with people they don’t see day to day (31%), celebrating an important occasion (30%), and creating new and lasting memories (29%). Conversely, 18% wanted to try new food/drinks while 17% said they love the details of party planning.

WHEN WE SAY EXCLUSIVE, WE MEAN IT

Hosts are eschewing “polite invites” with ~70% inviting friends and family, and fewer people open to inviting coworkers (21%) and neighbors (29%). And no crashers: about 2/3 of hosts say they are ready to turn away uninvited guests.

THIS PARTY IS GOING DIGITAL SOCIALLY… BUT NOT HOW YOU’D EXPECT

Interestingly enough, video apps like Zoom may even have a place in our hosting, with 46% saying they would offer a virtual component. But the inclination to share or brag on digital is being met with hesitancy, with 42% saying they definitely would not post publicly about the event.

Is the next evolution of the digital space about fostering an “inner circle” as opposed to widespread promotion?

A POST-PANDEMIC PARTY… A PARTY WITH CONSTRAINTS?

As many of us re-enter the social scene, it will come with the anticipated stress of party planning and going. 39% anticipate feeling stressed as a guest, while 55% anticipate feeling stressed as a host. Apps and brands may be able to facilitate a feeling of normalcy and comfort during upcoming events.

76% are likely to enforce rules for a covid-friendly party, and 81% are VERY likely to patrol during the party to enforce these rules. In fact, a full 49% of party goers are already anticipating having their temperature taken before being allowed in.

The most important elements of post-pandemic gatherings reinforce this:

After hosting an event, 86% would clean up more than normal, either by deep cleaning themselves or hiring a professional. The implications here present an opportunity for party planning apps, cleaning brands, and even food brands to meet consumer demand for different types of portioning & serving.

While there are some constraints, hosts are trying to be responsible, not fun suckers. Only 30% would ban hugs—a real stat! Just for good measure, 86% are more excited to plan/host events this year than in the past.

Vox Media visitors were less likely to feel stressed about hosting (52% vs. 55%) and more excited to host (92% vs 86%). However, Vox Media’s audience is more likely to enforce rules for keeping their party Covid-safe (85% vs. 76%) with rules like sanitizer/hand-washing stations (58% vs. 55%) requiring masks (49% vs. 42%), and enforcing social distancing (47% vs. 40%).

WITH ALL THE CONSTRAINTS, HOW CAN BRANDS HELP?

It’s clear that these gatherings will come with a need for some direction and perspective. Even amidst the increased caution around gatherings, party planners are still looking for party/event games (33%), budget friendly inspiration (30%), and decor ideas (29%). At the moment, Covid-friendly innovations (28%) and single-serve options (27%) are secondary to the more traditional entertaining inspiration consumers are seeking.

While the vast majority (95%) will do at least part of their shopping in person, only 5% are exclusively shopping online. Party goers are looking to shop at big box stores like Target and Walmart (36%), traditional grocery stores (27%) and warehouse club stores (23%) when it comes to physical stores. However, the pandemic has certainly changed our online shopping behaviors. More than 30% will be preparing for these parties leveraging online stores like Amazon.

In party prep, hosts plan to purchase the party essentials, with a distinct focus on disposable items:

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, A BRAND OPPORTUNITY

While all party guests and planners understand the need for greater safety, there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance happening. We want to be Covid-safe, but we still want some hands-on (read: germy) party elements, perhaps as a way to return to familiarity and convenience. The items with asterisks, in particular, may require brands to help balance consumers’ wants and needs with safely shareable products.

VOX MEDIA’S AUDIENCE CARES ABOUT THE DETAILS & ARE WILLING TO SPEND

Aside from being more prepared and more excited, the Vox Media audience are definitely looking to have more sophisticated gatherings, with a focus on style, bold flavors, and elevated style.

MOST IMPORTANT: THE MOMENTS OF RECONNECTION

For most of us, the emotional and mental toll of isolation has left us yearning for quieter moments of reconnection. Small gatherings, even small pleasures such as sharing a meal and playing board games, can feel intoxicating.

  • Looking forward to reconnecting with people (48%)
  • Rediscovering socialization (31%)
  • Combating loneliness (32%), mental toll (28%), or the sense of being overwhelmed (24%)

Perhaps the silver lining of the past year is the fact that we will cherish and appreciate having friends over.

Bastion db5 is a consumer insights and strategy consultancy specializing in qualitative and quantitative research, brand strategy, innovation and communications. Helping global businesses and disruptive startups empathize with their targets so they grow, Bastion db5 conducts consumer research in North and South America, APAC, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. They help discover new paths to transform and grow by providing the right data (big or otherwise) and insights that are the keys to transforming brands and businesses. www.bastiondb5.com.

Molly Drislane and Margo Arton contributed to this report.