Forces of Influence

The World Changed, Forces of Influence Endured

Gina Bulla Senior director of Brand Marketing & Insights, Atlantic Brand Partners

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020 was shaping up to be a remarkable year.

The country was bracing for an unprecedented election; corporations were feeling more pressure than ever to help solve societal problems; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) was at the forefront of many conversations; new behaviors like wellness rituals were emerging … The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

Part of our mission at Atlantic Brand Partners is to help our partners understand the cultural shifts that affect the relationship between brands and customers. In recent years, we studied Generation Z just as they were coming of age and explored podcasts as their popularity was exploding.

This year, we wanted to uncover insight into the many topics that we knew would be critical for brand leaders to understand and act on. But we asked ourselves: How can we do that with so much going on?

Then, we had a bit of a revelation thanks to some inspiration from our own editorial. An article in The Atlantic is rarely about one idea. We help audiences understand the world by spotting connections between themes across many areas. We decided to apply this thinking to our research approach. 

And Forces of Influence was born. By focusing not on a single topic but on discoveries that span the economy, politics, society, and culture, we could help brand leaders understand the enduring Forces that shape our industry and our world.

“By focusing not on a single topic but on discoveries that span the economy, politics, society, and culture, we could help brand leaders understand the enduring Forces that shape our industry and our world.”

Just as we started developing the research, the world changed, and some projects were put on hold or reimagined. But recent events pushed us to work harder and faster on Forces of Influence. The Forces we uncovered were accelerating in light of the coronavirus pandemic and our national reckoning over race, and we knew understanding them would be more important than ever for brand leaders.

While our Forces of Influence report offers a comprehensive look at each Force, we wanted to share some additional detail into what they mean at this moment. Below is a look at how three of the Forces are particularly resonating right now.


Liquid Selves reveals that static identities are an outdated concept. We now recognize individuals as mosaics— our identities are always evolving and often defined by the moment. In the span of less than three months, we were faced with two defining moments: the COVID-19 outbreak and the murder of George Floyd.

COVID-19 has, most notably, affected our career identities. Faced with mass layoffs and furloughs, our work selves are being challenged or erased. And with work-from-home culture here to stay, more of our home identities are being revealed to our co-workers. 

Police brutality and the resulting anti-racism movement have moved many people to expand their identities to think of themselves as an ally. People across the country are redefining their attitudes and values to join the fight against injustice.     

Fact: 68% of respondents to our Forces of Influence survey agreed that some aspects of their identity have changed due to recent events.


Social Anchoring is a Force rooted in belonging. Traditional social structures have been dismantled. People are now looking to build and join more tailored communities.

Social distancing, while disrupting many of the ways we connect, has made us realize how important it is to keep existing bonds strong and form new ones. The pandemic is bringing new communities together and connecting existing ones in new ways. Hyperlocal communities are emerging—neighbors who might never have spoken before are finding and helping each other via platforms like Nextdoor. There’s more of an emphasis on virtual community building, especially for older individuals, who might never have embraced social media but are now learning to use Zoom and FaceTime to stay connected with friends and family. And we’re becoming more aware and accepting of new social structures

Fact: 1 in 4 survey respondents have joined a new community since March.


Power Leveling reveals the dramatic shifts in how individuals are empowering themselves. 

Individuals fed up with the response to both the pandemic and police brutality have taken matters into their own hands. This summer saw a rise in protests, boycotts, strikes, and social media shaming. Now more than ever, institutions are recognizing that they need to listen to these voices. The power leveling over the past few months has led to reform, arrests, resignations, and legislation.

The Facts: 76% of survey respondents agreed that it’s never been more important that authorities and institutions hear their voice.

2020 isn’t done with us yet, as the year progresses — keep checking back here for more on the Forces shaping our world and our industry.

More Perspectives—