New Year’s resolutions have inspired a string of funny, and at times cynical, memes. Last year, a Twitter post describing them as a “to do” list for the first week of January was retweeted almost 600 times. 

But running jokes aside, this long-standing tradition is a source of motivation for many – and never short of willing participants.

Despite COVID-19 curbing many 2020 aspirations, our December Zeitgeist research shows consumers across the U.S. and UK enlisting once more into the resolution camp.

New Year’s resolutions often give a clue into upcoming trends.

And, after a year like no other, they’re one of the best glimpses into where consumers’ heads are at.

Our data does show a drop in the number of people taking part, with the pandemic altering many consumers’ priorities; but New Year’s resolution intenders are approaching the task with as much energy and ambition as they demonstrated pre-pandemic.

A glimpse into how our 2020 resolutions ended.

Last January, resolution makers outlined a list of commitments – completely unaware that the year’s events would complicate a few, or even render some impossible.

We can see the effects of lockdowns mirrored in the biggest goal achievements and departures of 2020.

Pandemic and resolutions

With flight cancellations and gym closures occurring across the globe, it’s unsurprising that only a small minority of those who planned to travel more or lose weight managed to achieve most of their goals.

Likewise, TV and alcohol became coping mechanisms during times of social isolation. Few managed to cut down on them, or practice more self-care – something the pandemic has drawn attention to and will be tackled in 2021.

On the other hand, consumers had more time to spend with loved ones, read more, and cut down on social media. 

As well as putting more hours aside for family and friends, lockdowns initially sparked sentiments of community and charity. This spirit may have dwindled over time; yet, earlier enthusiasm has helped over a quarter of those who resolved to be kinder to others achieve a good amount of their goals.

These outcomes have certainly influenced the resolutions 2021 participants are setting out to make. But the changes don’t suggest intenders have been put off or humbled by the difficulties of 2020 – quite the opposite.

We’re seeing the same resolutions, but longer lists.

There’s an expectation that many will ditch “traditional” resolutions like losing weight or going to the gym this year, in favor of more meaningful and enriching goals. However, we’re seeing the same categories claim the top spots among 2021 intenders.

We asked U.S. and UK consumers about the resolutions they made last year, and plan on making this time around. In January 2020, U.S. consumers were most focused on saving money and eating healthily, while UK consumers prioritized weight loss; and this year’s no different.

Since last year, the desire to shift post-Christmas weight has climbed in the UK, and remained consistent in the U.S.

With 52% of gym-goers in these countries having canceled their membership, virtual exercise services have an opportunity to fill the gap left by COVID-19, and satisfy January’s fitness cravings digitally.

Most popular resolutions

The biggest change is in the number of resolutions participants are making. Of 16 listed goals, 15 show higher engagement figures than last year. Many good intentions were stifled by closures, which appears to have sparked more determination among 2021 intenders. 

Resolutions might be less popular overall, but many have still circled January 1st as the chance for a fresh start, and will be looking for products and brands to help them reach their goals.

What’s more, the younger a person is, the more prone they are to making resolutions. Gen Z takes the lead for 9 of our listed intentions. They stand out most for being resolved to find love, start a new career, and advance their skillset.

Compared to their elders, they’re the most likely to define themselves as ambitious and career-focused. Companies specializing in personal or professional development therefore have an enhanced window of opportunity to win over an already enthusiastic customer base.

January’s self-reflective atmosphere is a field day for online learning services, but also industries able to offer practical life advice like banking and dating. For example, relationship app Bumble has created Dating 101, a guide to help boost daters’ confidence in the New Year. 

This kind of guidance is particularly important as, despite making the most resolutions, Gen Zs rank top for having achieved very few or none of them in 2020. 

We see evidence of this pattern elsewhere: the most money-driven generation, Gen Z are the least likely to say they’re good at managing their money. They make ambitious goals, but struggle to reach them without support. 

With saving more being their top resolution, banking is one industry that can provide personalized recommendations to ensure their hopes and dreams have realistic action plans. Likewise, notifications when they go over budget and rewards for reaching targets can provide extra incentive on trying days.

Many are welcoming in the New Year with self-care.

An initial glance at our 2021 resolutions may look similar to previous years, but there are important nuances that highlight growing trends in the market – with goals centered around wellness and self-care gaining the most ground since last January.

Social isolation and financial uncertainty have magnified stress levels and appreciation for wellbeing. In the U.S. and UK, the portion of internet users who say they feel overworked has increased by 8% since Q2.

The push for more relaxation has also drawn in a new audience. Among those who don’t usually make a resolution, but are making an exception this year, mental health is their second highest priority.

Of all the resolutions listed, drinking less alcohol is the only one that shows a drop in engagement – with losing weight, eating healthily, and reducing meat intake seeing the smallest increases. They still place high on the charts, but this year has shifted the balance slightly in favor of mental wellbeing and quality time.

Kindness chart

Compared to a resolution like losing weight, practicing self-care is less concrete and harder to measure, which at least makes it something any brand could potentially pitch in to help with. Various companies have therefore attempted to refine these ideas by offering solutions.

In light of the New Year, Google is tackling the mental health of its employees by creating short, weekly instructional videos from athletes, coaches and psychologists. This is a quick, consistent, and simple step staff can take toward achieving an otherwise abstract goal.

While half of consumers think supporting employees’ wellbeing should be an important priority for businesses, only 8% of full-time workers feel able to turn to an employer for help with their mental health – which means wellness expectations generally aren’t being met.

The New Year is a chance for brands to contribute to the happiness of their employees and customers, by lightening the load where resolutions are concerned. An online support group will be particularly important among 2021 participants who don’t typically make resolutions, as they’re more likely to want brands to run customer communities or forums.

For those not making resolutions, around a quarter say they either don’t have the time or feel they add too much pressure; and this is likely a concern even among intenders.

Companies need to work on reframing these goals in a more positive light – as an opportunity, rather than a chore. To stand out, they can offer straightforward goal strategies and spaces to share experiences for those wanting to start the New Year off right.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t cancelled

Despite the chaos of 2020, New Year’s resolutions are still on the cards this year, and instruct us about which markets are set to grow. Fewer people are intent on taking part (around half in the U.S., and a third in the UK); but with many still undecided, it’s still likely to be a sizable chunk of each population.

While some are waiting for life to return to normal before setting new goals, others are claiming autonomy over an otherwise unstable environment.

January 2021 is bound to look different, and there are certainly things beyond participants’ control. Fitness seekers will not be racing to gyms in their usual New Year’s numbers – either because they aren’t allowed to or are wary about safety.

Brands will need to ensure innovative digital solutions and regular motivational updates are at the heart of their New Year’s campaigns, while simultaneously addressing the growing emphasis on wellness.

With more support, this could be the year that many overcome the inevitable setbacks, and find real satisfaction in achieving their goals.

Click to access our connecting the dots 2021 report

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