Navigating the Storm: Values and ambitions in a post-pandemic world

There’s no doubting the Coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on us all. After uncovering the impact of the pandemic on our values and ambitions last year we wanted to find out how consumers are continuing to navigate the post-pandemic storm – which changes are proving to be fundamental and long-lasting shifts in our mindset, and how have these shifts been compounded by the current economic and political outlook?

Our proprietary research in October 2021 revealed that 8 in 10 of us experienced a complete shakeup of our values and ambitions over the first 18 months of the pandemic. Intrinsic goals such as spending more time with family and friends, improving our mental and physical health, and generally spending more time doing what makes us happy rose in importance to take the place of more extrinsic goals like material wealth, professional status and perfection.

The good news is that our second wave of research, conducted in October 2022, has found that while the proportion who have experienced a change in their values and ambitions remains the same, there’s been a shift to happier, more optimistic segments. A shift that has been largely driven by the younger generation who are more likely than the older generation to feel the pandemic is now behind us. The proportion of Strivers (a fired up, ambitious and empowered segment) and Thrivers (a satisfied, secure segment brimming with positivity) has grown, while there are now significantly fewer Survivors (an overwhelmed, pessimistic segment who are protective of their mental and physical health) and Amblers (a younger, laid-back segment whose values shifted slightly towards learning vs material possessions).

Our latest wave of research also revealed the importance we place in values such as honesty, kindness and love continues to strengthen, suggesting a longer-term shift in the foundations that guide our decisions rather than simply a knee-jerk reaction to the challenges and isolation of lockdown. In fact, almost all of the values we asked about have strengthened (with perfection the only value to have become less important), indicating that the period of reflection prompted by the pandemic is still providing a sense of clarity and conviction.

As a result, ambitions related to these intrinsic values have become even more of a priority – the satisfaction we’ve gained from the changes we’ve made to our lifestyles over the last two and a half years has strengthened our resolve to embrace these new ways of living. Although without the time and energy to channel into personal development, some lower priority, softer ambitions related to learning, developing and spending time on hobbies have fallen away.

In worse news, this post-pandemic positivity and clarity is being marred by pessimism relating to the current economic situation. The proportion of people feeling pessimistic about the country’s economy has risen from 45% in wave 1 to 73% in wave 2, while the proportion feeling pessimistic about their own household’s finances has risen from 28% to 44%. But this pessimism is not directly linked to income – it’s a mindset felt by around 3 in 4, regardless of their household’s income.

Just as the discourse around physical and mental health dominated our screens and speakers throughout most of 2020 and 2021, so does the discourse around the cost-of-living crisis today. Even before we feel it’s full effects, the crisis has gripped the consciousness of so many of us. Our survey included a range of statements on financial worries, and we were shocked to find that 1 in 2 of us agree with all of them – a group we’re calling the Concerned and Constrained.

The focus on financial diligence is translating to widespread deal hunting, switching to make savings, and postponement of big-ticket purchases, and as we examine our spending, we’re also looking to brands to offer support and act with consumers’ best interests at heart: 7 in 10 agree brands have a responsibility to make the world a better place and 6 in 10 would prefer to buy from a brand with a social conscience. 2 in 5 would even pay more if it meant buying from a brand with a social conscience – consistent even among those feeling Concerned and Constrained.

If you’d like to know more about how the cost-of-living crisis is colliding with post-pandemic optimism, keep an eye out for our next blog post where we’ll be exploring the current consumer spending mindset in more detail and how it’s guiding our decisions and reshaping our expectations of brands.

Findings are based on two waves of proprietary research by Old Salt. Wave 1  included expert interviews with consumer and business psychologist Dimitrios Tsivrikos, wellbeing and life coach Leanne Evans, and cultural and consumer trends expert Ruth Marshall-Johnson, and both waves included an online survey with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 UK adults aged 16+, segmented on their ambitions and values.