Seasoned marketers understand the importance of looking back as we move forward. As we’ve observed during the roller coaster of events that happened between 2020-2022, new customer segments emerge when the market contracts or faces a dramatic disruption. Being mindful as a marketer is critical during these pivotal moments as these are times where consumer sensitivity grows and changes. This creates opportunity.
A poignant historical example of the impact of this consumer sensitivity lies in the wake of the Great Depression.
Both sets of my Grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Once, early in my marriage, I was just beginning to learn how to cook so I asked my Grandma for recipes. She was so excited to share recipe ideas with me, but what I ended up receiving from her were recipes for soup. Literally, every recipe was for a different soup that was designed to stretch nutrition across a family of 7. They were all low salt too… for heart health.
Oye! Not what I was looking for but it certainly opened my eyes. Where did the fantasy grandma in the apron with the perfectly spiced baked goods go?
According to the Harvard Business Review, “The deeper and more prolonged a recession is, the greater the possibility that there will be profound transformations in consumers’ attitudes and values.” (emphasis my own)
So, the soups outlived the Great Depression.
If you lived through the Great Depression, your behavior changed. Nothing was wasted. Value was found in things that we would now consider trash.
My husband loves to tell the story of his Grandma D, who also lived through the Great Depression as an adult. Grandma D would take plastic bread bags and weave them together to make door mats. If you walked into her home, there’s a good chance that Wonder Bread greeted you upon entry. She even gave these door mats as gifts.
Looking back, these door mats would be every upcycling hipster’s dream. They were incredibly well made and lasted forever, and actually looked really cool. A bread bag, which we throw away today without a second thought, had tremendous value to someone that experienced the kind of hardship that you’d face during an event like the Great Depression.
Needless to say, the bread bag floor mats outlived the Great Depression too. Grandma D continued to make these doormats for the rest of her life. Never was a simple bread bag considered trash in her home. When she bought bread, she also bought a bread bag and the materials for a future hand-crafted gift.
The Great Depression was so impactful that it changed the behavior of an entire generation. Permanently.
The Covid-19 Pandemic changed things forever as well – in many ways. When it comes to consuming media, consumers have plainly demonstrated an increased sensitivity regarding how they are marketed to – including messaging, values, creative, alignment, association, promotion and more.
Reflecting on the time that passed between 2020-2022, where we experienced everything from social unrest to a divisive election, a pandemic, a war and more – there were so many ways that a brand could misstep. Brands had ample opportunity to completely blow it or to endear themselves to consumers.
Thus, brands’ responses to the pandemic influenced consumers’ buying decisions. Studies conducted during this time demonstrated that roughly 40 percent of consumers worldwide found the usage of humor in ads during the pandemic inappropriate. And, nearly seven out of 10 global consumers reported that a brand’s behavior during the pandemic would have a huge impact on the likelihood of buying their products in the future.
That is a powerful response.
No significant moments such as these are exactly alike, but Statista studies that looked at patterns in both consumer and company behavior throughout past recessions (for example) underscore the philosophy that understanding consumers’ changing psychology and habits will provide brands with the insight to fine tune their strategies so they can not only survive the downturn but prosper during the recovery.
Looking at the past can provide marketers with the support they need to feel confident in their marketing strategy when the market is unpredictable or just plain bad. For a foundation of confidence, Marketers should be prepared for this possible long-term shift in consumers’ values and attitudes. And as things shift, diving into a marketing approach that is targeted more on psychographics than demographics will be essential when it comes to meeting the needs and addressing the concerns of the changing customer and their evolving mindset.
Part of the consumer’s changing psychology is a heightened sense of economic vulnerability. Something can happen half a world away that can dramatically affect their day-to-day life. A keen example of this is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the resulting hike in gas prices felt almost immediately world-wide. This can be unnerving, and may affect purchasing decisions and overall attitudes toward brands, value and more. Marketers that recognize this shift will be more successful in effectively connecting with their target consumer in a meaningful way.
In times of uncertainty, brands must adapt their messaging and tune-in to the changing and sometimes volatile sentiment of their core consumers. To maintain brand relevance and accomplish this task with heightened sensitivity and flexibility, organizations must also avoid opting-out of advertising.
In our global economy, there will always be something disruptive afoot. So, facing that as a reality and building a marketing strategy that is sensitive and nimble will provide you with the confidence to protect your budget, serve the changing needs of the customer and safeguard your brand. With this approach, you will be able to move forward with a plan that will set you up well for a resilient recovery and endear you to your customers.
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