Australia has had its fair share of socio-economic challenges that have structurally impacted our culture and the past two years have reminded many organisations they have been operating without foresight.

The transformational drivers of our time are in a state of flux and look to continue that way for some time. Cultural decoding – understanding the future impact these drivers will have on the collective zeitgeist – enables business to get ahead of consumers’ response to these challenges, revealing hidden growth futures. Yet within these futures there are seemingly conflicting contradictions, and these tensions or trends represent opportunity.

Covid concerns have now clearly been overtaken by economic fears. According to Fiftyfive5’s national Australia Pulse survey, two in three are deeply concerned about the economy. One in four are looking for additional income streams and one in four have experienced some degree of financial hardship, for example, going without meals or being unable to pay bills. We may yearn for our pre-pandemic lives but it’s increasingly apparent many of us may never live as we used to again.

Instead, collective anxiety and fear of the unknown sees many making temporary pandemic lifestyle changes more permanent. We’ve come to expect a sense of chaos with new challenges arriving seemingly daily, be they environmental, social or political; we live in an increasingly polarised society with untold economic stress.

Fear of normal (FONO) takes hold, as “normal” becomes something to be wary of, rather than something we can seek comfort in. Amidst this concern there is also a powerful socio-cultural reorganisation taking place. We have evolved new definitions of performance and wellbeing, our values have shifted. Rampant burnout fuels global discussions towards a four-day work week.

Closer to home, the Australia Pulse survey also revealed one in 10 have considered or decided to change jobs or careers, while two in five are spending more time unwinding and slowing down.

We are stepping back from the frenetic pace of life and prioritising the self; the mental, physical and emotional self. The idea of performance is being redefined, with a sense of agency being prized over the need to win at all costs. At the extreme of this trend we are entering a pleasure renaissance. There is a collective realisation life is short and for living, and we’re here for a good time, not a long time. Revenge travel is an example of this paradox at play.

According to the survey data, one in two Australians are planning international holidays, and two in five are spending more on travel and holidays. We are cutting loose, expressing our inherent need to protest against a time that has felt unjust, and we are demanding fun and escape in all its forms.

For younger generations, climate anxiety has turned to climate optimism. Many are consciously consuming, seeking to understand the social and environmental impact of their spend. This “wallet activism” is part of an optimism that is being expressed as they look to support brands and businesses that openly declare their stance and intended action to address the climate crisis.

How is this collective need for escapism and optimism possible as we look down the barrel of economic strain? Consumers are carefully evaluating their purchase decisions as to what is deemed essentials. Trade-offs are being made between our new and redefined values and the limits of our spending power.

Brands and businesses that are cognisant of this new value paradigm and the paradoxes within will endure. The definition of consumer “value” in 2023 is, in part, the ability to experience life to the full. This is the age of the unreasonable consumer – we want it all without compromise.

In addressing these paradoxes all businesses have a right to play, consider every touch point in the consumer experience and the impact on wellbeing.

On a practical level, insight to action can scale the gamete from delivering immediate economic relief via price fixing of basic items and giving loyalty programs a boost with added value and rewards.

At the other extreme, businesses should aim to satisfy consumers’ increasing need for connection, which can be facilitated through care collectives and initiatives that bring like-minded customers together online or in real life. They must continue to deliver beyond transaction in social commerce platforms, but use the transaction opportunity as a way for consumers to participate with the brand and its community.

Enable consumers to practise their newfound climate optimism. Step up in the environment stakes, share the good work you do. Demonstrate the part you play currently and intend to play into the future, encouraging anti-excess consumption messaging such as repair, reuse and recycle.

Consumers see value in participation, in community and ultimately leaving their legacy. So, we look for brands and businesses to co-create a new future with us.

To do this, businesses must lead by example and respond and adapt to the big challenges that lay ahead.