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Over the past few years, Americans put their lives on hold as they weathered the pandemic and the economic uncertainty that followed. They postponed everything from celebratory gatherings to major investments, while the shift to digital permanently transformed the ways they considered, trialed, and switched brands. And though economic uncertainty is still with us, many people are eager to resume celebrating — and spending — on life’s big moments.

What is a “big life moment”?

A pair of wedding rings accompany a list of big life moments: Started or changed education, exited the workforce, renovated a home, bought a new home, got married, started or grew a family, bought a new car, took a large trip.

We asked 5,400 consumers how they expected to resume planning, celebrating, shopping for, and spending on “big life moments,” milestones ranging from marriage ceremonies to car purchases. With 56% of Americans likely to participate in a big life moment in the next two years,1 competitive brands will be those that can influence decision-making well before and after a key milestone.

Here are four pathways to meeting customer needs as they make and remake plans.

Be agile

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor of important milestones, impacting 47% of life moments.2 Notably, 52% of those emerging from a life moment say their plans were changed while planning.3 Although consumers are ready to get back to celebrating life’s big moments, only 1 in 5 planning a life moment in the next two years are “very certain” their moment will happen as planned.4

To help people navigate this uncertainty, advertisers should focus on agile business strategies, which include offerings that help consumers get ready for rapid change and allow them the flexibility to adapt on the fly. We’ve seen searches for “travel rules” grow globally by over 600% year over year5 as people seek information on regulations that could potentially derail their travel plans. Several airlines and hospitality brands have responded to this concern by offering stress-free change and cancellation policies.

Drive digital

Throughout the worst of the pandemic, people relied on online shopping to get what they needed. That spending included purchases for big life moments. While shoppers often had an idea of what they were looking for, they did not necessarily have a specific product or brand in mind. Searches for “cars to buy” grew globally by over 400% year over year6 as people looked for recommendations before making a major purchase decision.

Those who emerged from a life moment in the past year report that 54% of all their research and planning occurred online.

Those who emerged from a life moment in the past year report that 54% of all their research and planning occurred online.7 On average, 59% of those who emerged from a life moment in the past year say they expect businesses to offer digital options for “most or everything.”8 Providing a dynamic digital experience that allows people to evaluate options is a critical strategy for brands and retailers. Within the automotive industry, for example, website components that allow car buyers to compare models and features are now an important part of the shopping journey.

Offer services

The transition from in-store to online also forced brands to pivot their service strategies. Many retailers shifted focus from in-store staff to web-based services that help people research and explore products. Ease of use is key to these services, as preparing for a big life moment takes time: 39% are planned over six months in advance.9 Thirty-four percent of those emerging from or planning for a big moment feel overwhelmed when they first start researching.10 And, as survey responses showed, budget is most often the first and most difficult decision made for an important life moment,11 signifying an opportunity for brands to provide guidance.

Budget is most often the first and most difficult decision made for an important life moment.

It’s important for businesses to be visible throughout the planning and execution of a big moment with useful products, services, and information. Many financial institutions have adapted to consumer needs in this space by providing real-time financial insights and calculators that help educate and protect their customers from financial risk. Consumers continue to seek out these types of services. Searches for “calculator for home loan” have grown globally by over 200% year over year.12

Act ethically

Many retailers took on new challenges during the pandemic, such as pivoting their marketing strategies to include health and safety protocols. These policies are likely to remain fundamental for consumers. As people continue to adjust to varying levels of comfort with reopenings, they will shop in ways that best align with their personal values. Brands must proactively bolster initiatives that give cautious customers the support they need and which make them feel valued.

Brands must bolster initiatives that give cautious customers the support they need.

This approach can help ensure that advertisers are not only present throughout key life moments but that they remain top of mind for future milestones. On average, 30% of those who emerged from a big life moment plan to take a large trip in the next two years.13 At least 25% of those who got married or started or grew their family have plans to renovate, buy a home, or buy a car in the next two years.14 That indicates huge potential for cross-category influence, as those who emerged from a life moment in the past year purchased across an average of six different shopping categories when buying for their event.15

Despite the economic uncertainty that comes with inflation and rising interest rates, many consumers want to make up for time lost during the pandemic. On average, 31% of consumers in surveyed countries around the world say that this year has been difficult, and they are rewarding themselves by buying things they want.16 Brands ready to show up for consumers’ needs during these pivotal, yet personal moments — not just during high sales seasons — have a big role to play beyond meeting demand. By showing up when consumers need them, they are poised to make these important moments feel possible again.