- Through unpredictable events and a sense that control has been lost, consumers have begun to switch brands at a higher rate than ever before
- People have become tired of false sustainability claims and outrage media and are seeking simple, calm and truthful experiences that make a difference or matter
- New technologies are offering exciting new ways to connect, with an emphasis on investing in brand and retention
- Ultimately, consumers want less innovation, and more reassurance: marketers that embrace a strategy of reassurance are best placed to succeed
As we continue to face volatile times, it’s a fact that people are switching brands more and more: 13% more based on data from the past two years. It’s a big jump, meaning 46% of all people have recently tried something new or changed up. So whether in the aisles shopping or endlessly scrolling through “Things I bought because of TikTok”, we’re twitchier about what to buy. And that’s because we live in a twitchy world where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.
Some brands believe that consumers simply aren’t loyal anyway and constantly battle for more reach, stand out, and new customers. But the idea that there is no loyalty is a limiting one. Apple reigns as the most valuable brand of our time, achieving a valuation into the trillions by selling more to its existing user base.
In a world full of fragmented choices, it’s reassurance we seek most. So those clear and consistent brands become a comforting shorthand over time.
Bad news pings incessantly on our phones: the job of the media cycle is to put people in a ‘fight or flight’ mode to gain their attention. Despite the negative economic commentary, there are signs that consumers will continue to spend positively this year, keeping a recession at bay. So how can brands support consumers as they attempt to stay level in a world constantly telling them otherwise?
Focus on significant, simple market shifts
The amount of “risk capital being invested is dramatically down, following record highs, grounding all strategies for growth. During the pandemic, brands allied themselves to trends that slowed the cost of living. Casualties include the shift to meat-free, streaming services, meal deliveries, and subscription-based memberships. We realized there were only so many Peletons we could cram into our spare rooms. Newer brands must avoid the temptation to present themselves as the answer to a revolution.
‘Big and easy’ is how venture firms think about innovation: a new, great-tasting, healthy crisp, or non-hipster way to buy second-hand fashion. Otherwise, reminding people of your core value is essential. Switching doesn’t always mean switching to the new; it can mean changing back. Brands have opportunities to remind us why they are there, distribute that value in a new way, or enhance their offer with simple value-adds.
Jump into the rapids of media change
TikTok is shape-shifting the advertising landscape as the most ascendant media company of our time. 85% of brands plan to increase their spending on TikTok in 2023, and 39% plan to decrease their spending on Meta. Perfectly manicured models and photography are being out-maneuvered by scrappy, genuine, and spontaneous peaks into a brand’s point of view. People need reassurance – so they need the brand to feel close, not aloof. As TikTok gets bigger and bigger, advertising capabilities and content will mature: “TikToks, not ads” will become “ads, not TikToks”.
Meanwhile, Netflix’s arrival into advertising promises a renaissance of the traditional, well-produced, contextually relevant TV ad. So far, Netflix’s ad service has been slow to get going. But digital capability hitting the big screen means connected TV media is growing faster than linear TV for the first time.
Google won’t be spared, either. The introduction of ‘Bard’ sent its share price tumbling in the face of Microsoft’s deal with Open AI and Chat GPT (which reached a million users in its first five days back in November and now stands at over 100 million users today). The cross-over between advertising, content, social commerce, and search has become one big melting pot. Some think searching on TikTok has overtaken Google for Gen-Z. Brands must take a holistic approach to content creation that covers search needs and have specific answers that algorithms like ChatGPT can find. Brands should be sunsetting isolated paid search programs in favor of video content creation and credible article writing. Brands have the opportunity to find their editorial point of view beyond product information and support a range of communities with specialist knowledge.
Enough with the greenwashing, outrage is out
From Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of COP 27 to H&M’s plastic posters that recycle into tote bags, the elision between brands being proud of sustainable change and greenwashing is thinning. Reality check: we can’t consume our way out of climate change. Destroying the planet the least isn’t a cause for consumer celebration. Instead, exposing greenwashers will be a theme of 2023. Brands need to concentrate on business model changes rather than confirming their lack of change with comms.
Equally, people seem tired of having their cortisol levels stirred up so that brands can joyride social media eyeballs. Taking stances, outraging to engage, and cynical use of politics are outdated tactics, as advertisers hit the pause button on Twitter. The opportunity is this: stop thinking about consumers, start thinking about citizens, and invite people in to participate. For example, the high-end expedition clothing brand, Shackleton, has launched a range of expedition experiences that allow their customers to develop their skills in some of the world’s most spectacular and extreme environments. In doing so, people connect with the natural world and feel more compelled to protect it. As a result, Shackleton has created a medal – The Shackleton Medal for the Protection of the Polar Regions – now awarded annually, for which all proceeds go directly to preservation action.
Invest in brands and community
After a decade-long run where marketing dollars shifted into performance media, acquisition marketing is stalling. First came Apple’s side-winder into Meta’s ad tracking. Next, Google’s cookie-less future, delayed in 2020, begins in the New Year.
Doubling down on retention is then a must. When times are hard, loyalty schemes and added-value memberships become even more attractive. Brands that shift spending to the extremes of broader awareness and core retention will likely fare better than those that continue to scrap in the growth marketing middle ground.
How to set priorities using a strategy of reassurance
- Put your arms around your best customers: focus their knowledge and insights to improve products and marketing. Invest more in data and analytics to be able to take your retention campaigns to the next level
- Be where your customers are going: embrace and invest more in new technologies, specifically new channels such as TikTok, and respond to new developments in AI and search.
- Focus on sustainability in action and communicate those actions no matter how small: let people participate in activities where you can. Don’t pretend to be saving the world when you’re not.
- How creatively can your brand experience evoke calm, positivity, openness and energy – an antidote to the low-attention economy full of rage
- Look at partnerships: fusing what you have with others can increase the impact. Partnerships are a fast way to reach new audiences, markets and resources – a trusted way for customers to be introduced to new ideas.
- Stay agile and flexible: run lots of experiments and look for green shoots that can positively take the brand forward – avoid high-minded, high-risk market pivots.
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