How to foster brand love during economic uncertainty

How to foster brand love during economic uncertainty
By Kris Tremaine
Nov 4, 2022
We have heard the word “unprecedented” too many times in recent years, but it’s hard to think of any other word to describe what our society is going through. Coming off a global pandemic and moving into historically high inflation and a possible global recession, with market highs in between, consumers are feeling the pressure. And with prices rising across the supply chain, brands too are feeling the pinch as wallets tighten while consumer expectations rise simultaneously.

With “recession” searches up 335% this year, uncertainty is top-of-mind with consumers, which means that focusing on purpose-driven participation with all your stakeholders is critical. When looking at companies who have succeeded through economic hard times in the past, a shared key thread is a deep understanding of their consumers. During unsure times, there is fear and increased scrutiny around spending, so knowing how to show up for your consumers and meet them where they are is table stakes. The brands that are intentional in their efforts and keep their customers at the core of all they do have a real opportunity to truly connect on a human level. So how can brands accomplish this? Here are a few best practices to consider as we all weather this storm together:

Stay the course

True, these are challenging times for consumers and brands alike, but you have probably spent countless hours and invested a lot of research into thinking through how to reach your customers and break through the clutter—so don't throw it all away at the first sign of trouble. Of course, agility and adaptability are critical to success, but so is keeping a cool head and evaluating the merits of your current plan before trying to create new solutions. Oftentimes, a more gentle, nuanced approach is better than a dramatic reset. For example, when looking for cost-savings, try finding any spots where you can pivot with minimal to no impact on the customer or employee experience.

Driving deep connections rooted in participation is more important now than ever. Customers will remember how you acted and treated them during economic hard times, so continue to invest in those relationships in intentional and authentic ways. Beyond consumers, it’s also imperative that you don’t lose sight of your internal teams and their employee experience. Today’s consumers care more than ever about how companies treat their employees, so the impact of your culture extends far beyond your internal structure.

Lead with empathy

Showing empathy and leading with a human approach during difficult times can authentically grow your connection with your consumers and put you a step ahead of the competition when things level out. Everyone is feeling the pain—this does not simply boil down to cutting prices during times of inflation.

Leading with empathy starts with garnering insights from your data to determine what your customers are going through and finding where you can help and provide a meaningful experience. Understand that at every step of their journey, consumers may have less to spend, and when they choose to spend it with you, it’s the responsibility of your brand to reciprocate with an experience worthy of that investment.

What is meaningful will vary for different groups of people, whether it’s receiving a promotional deal slightly early, giving back to their community through their purchase, or just supporting them with helpful communications. To help your customers feel seen and heard by your brand, keep efforts relevant and personalized to your audience and their needs, tapping into your shared values at every chance.

Don’t go dark

Investments in marketing and R&D efforts can be the first to go when companies need to reduce budgets amid economic uncertainty. However, this can be a fatal flaw, as disrupting those teams can significantly impact your connection to your consumers. You have invested in connecting with your consumers—think it through before cutting the link to them. An in-depth HBR study examining companies after the last major recession found that the most successful companies not only cut fewer employees relative to their peers, but also increased their investments in R&D and marketing efforts.

You cannot continue to build authentic relationships if your company goes dark. Going even further, consumers expect full transparency from brands, especially young consumers like Gen Z and younger Millennials. They expect you to not only have something to say, but to provide something meaningful for them that adds value or makes life easier. Brands that rise above and remain prosperous not only keep the lines of communication open but will lead with empathy and tap into shared values when crafting their communications plans.

Understanding where we are

It has been a trying few years for brands and consumers alike. Evolving mindsets coming out of the pandemic and economic uncertainty have shifted the market considerably. Understanding your consumers and what they need from you as a brand is critical to your success. Lean into shared beliefs and maintain transparent, authentic connections to come out on the other side of this with your customer relationships not just intact but even stronger.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Kris Tremaine, Senior Managing Partner, ICF Next

    Kris is an expert in strategic communications with more than 25 years of experience. View bio

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