The back-to-school retail season is going to be absolutely bonkers this year. It already started, in fact.

Also, the fall is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for musical theater and other performing arts to tackle their Innovator’s Dilemma. Young people will have the desire and means to buy tickets – while older folks, who typically prop up cultural non-profits with their subscription dollars, will likely stay home for another year. If ever there was a time to program cutting-edge shows that won’t alienate the base audience, it’s now.

Families will be rethinking their big home improvement projects for the summer, because the cost of materials is outrageous, and because that money can be shifted to vacations again. This will have a jostling effect on supply and demand in both industries.

I’ve got a million of these. 

This is the time of year when I do my murderer’s row of client presentations – taking all these appetizers you taste every Saturday and turning them into a custom meal for the people who pay our bills. I’ll do a few dozen of them by June. The largest will be a 9,000-person all-hands. The smallest will be one person – who likes to ask me stuff they wouldn’t ask in front of anyone else. 

I enjoy doing them because I love hearing myself talk. Mostly, it’s because I get tremendous insight from the questions people ask. It’s like running dozens of focus groups with some of the most prominent business leaders in the country.

This year, I can set my watch to someone asking about vaccine requirements – for travel, events, etc. – and whether the rewards outweigh the risks of pissing people off (no, they don’t). Even more predictably, I’m asked about social and political activism and whether the rewards outweigh the risks of pissing people off (yes, they do). 

Another truism is that the higher up the organizational hierarchy the audience, the more interested they are in what’s happening outside of their industry. Everything affects everything, which is a fact I seldom have to explain to the top brass. They likely wouldn’t be at the top if they didn’t already get that.

Anyway, this is the time of year when I learn the most – even though I’m supposed to be the one doing the teaching. I’ll be sure to share the coolest stuff when my virtual roadshow is over.

For now, here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence continued its downward slide. This seems counterintuitive for so many reasons – good job numbers, robust retail spending in March, a booming housing market, rapid vaccine deployment. And indeed, our job market metrics are superb. But, COVID overshadows all. And with cases continuing to rise and the J&J vaccine setback this week, people are wavering. Outlook for the U.S. economy is way down – easily traced to overall uncertainty about the pandemic and how long it will last. People are gun shy. That’s all there is to it.   

Ironically – or not – consumers are showing increased comfort levels about being in public, shopping, traveling, and dining out. This might also seem counterintuitive. Why are people more comfortable consumer-ing if they’re also more concerned about the pandemic in general? Well, maybe people are more concerned about the pandemic because more people are comfortable consumer-ing. Take a look at the chart below to see what I mean. The obvious trend is the growth in the number of people who say they’re comfortable traveling right now – then realize that’s still only 44% of Americans. Meaning 56% of people aren’t comfortable and might be particularly pissed at the 44% for being less cautious.      

Texting while driving is way down. Don’t get excited. It’s basically just because driving is way down – particularly commuting, which is when most TWD happens. In related news, 38% of people think it’s OK to check your phone at a stoplight. I call BS. It seems to me like everyone does it. My dad used to say “Red means stop. Green means put down your phone.” The alarming number is the Gen Z cohort, 40% of whom say they text while driving “often.” Ugh.

I’ll say it for the 100th time – we need to talk more about the disproportionate, negative impact of the pandemic on women and particularly working moms. Doing my part, I talked about it with two of the most successful working moms in America on my podcast this week. Meredith Verdone, the CMO of Bank of America, and Andrea Brimmer, the CMO of Ally Financial, will blow you away with their wisdom, empathy, commitment to social justice, and the examples they set for women everywhere. Listen up.  

Health food is having a stellar year. One of the significant, if totally explainable, byproducts of growing household balance sheets is the uptake of healthy food consumption. Organic food had mixed results. The number of people buying organic stayed flat. But the most loyal organic buyers, who also happen to be those in the higher income brackets, increased their spending appreciably. 

Despite the ups and downs of COVID, interest in cooking has remained remarkably steady. We took a detailed look at cooking trends during the pandemic and the big takeaway for me is that, although a lot more people were cooking at home during the quarantine, we didn’t see an increase in people falling in love with it (or getting sick of it). For the record, the more people love to cook, the more likely they are to be comfortable with the COVID vaccine. 

Meanwhile, as people start dining out more, delivery app usage has slowed and local independent restaurants have benefited. We did a comprehensive study on delivery app usage (DoorDash dominates) and dining out trends as COVID hopefully fades away. As the weather warms and people venture out, neighborhood joints are getting the love.  

A few more studies this week:

  • The hand sanitizer craze is no match for good old-fashioned hand soap;
  • The telemedicine trend seems to have plateaued for now, but a lot of people will stick with it even when social distancing is over;
  • I guess Nike announced a refurbished shoe program (see: used shoes) and let’s just say it’s a niche category. 

These were our most popular questions this week:

Answer Key: Burn My Effing Face Off Buffalo; Crossword and how is this even a question?; Dark AF; Throw them the f**k out; Bacon but that’s not a choice.

Hoping you’re well.



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