Pivoting for growth: As uncertainty looms, brands find footing in personalization

Pivoting for growth: As uncertainty looms, brands find footing in personalization
My advice to all brand managers is simple—be ready to pivot in your consumer engagement and make it personal.

We are finding ourselves in uncertain times and things seem a bit scary. The struggle includes the last few years of a global pandemic, societal change, inflation, and a number of other issues. To find a footing in this multi-generational, multicultural, and multi-socioeconomic world, brands must be prepared to change course in driving engagement, participation, and, ultimately, sales.

In the past, a brand could execute on a great ad or program and instantly connect across different groups to incite action. But now, audiences are fractured, decision making takes longer, and most importantly—consumers are falling back to decisions that drive comfort. Increasingly consumers look for personalization in their brand interactions. This adds complexity and requires a more nuanced approach to keeping the course with your message and value proposition, while also remaining agile to drive brand participation.

Economic and societal uncertainty forces brands to plan smarter and activate wisely. A brand’s ability to shift quickly is increasingly mission critical and can make the difference between a mediocre or exceptional year. As uncertainty looms, brands are particularly challenged to plan without fully knowing what lies ahead.

Leveraging personalization to add value

It's easy to say that brands are having problems because of inflation—people aren't buying a product, going to an event, or watching a movie, because of increased costs—but that is an oversimplified conclusion. Most consumers will reduce spending but are less likely to alter the way they live in a major way—at least not yet.

It's the job of all brand marketing and communication activities to show consumers the true benefit of their investment and prove the value in a personal, compelling way through a singular message, regardless of inflation pressures. Brand stewards must realize how to message across marketing and communication channels to incite participation, leveraging integrated communication efforts to be the bridge for addressing changing consumer needs and driving consistency.

It sounds simple, but the differences in how and what brands communicate are incredibly nuanced. Communications must engage, enlighten, or entertain a Gen Zer as well as a Gen Xer. Your message must speak to a Boomer just as it does to a Millennial. While that's a difficult place to be in, personalization will provide comfort and familiarity amid the uncertainty.

Feeling seen and heard is a value brands can give to their customer base at no additional cost, and it can vastly increase the value customers attribute to a brand. Pay extra attention to the data to see what customers find valuable, and where brand offerings can meet them in a way that feels comforting to them.

According to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), if an ad is considered culturally relevant, consumers are:

  • 2.6 times more likely to find the brand relevant to them
  • 2.7 times more likely to purchase a brand for the first time
  • 50% more likely to repurchase a brand

Best practices to pivot correctly

Though challenges remain, the right brand strategy keeps an obsessive focus on the customer experience and brand value. Consider the following in uncertain times:

  1. Plan better. Now is a great time to expand the way you think about planning. Look at major themes and focus on a direction, not just the execution, for a multi-year road map rather than a single-year plan. From there, build out executions in smaller chunks—quarterly, for example—to change course and remain agile.
  2. Move. Move. Move. While staying authentic to the brand, it’s the only way to stay relevant and empathetic. Whether you’re a cereal brand or a health insurance provider, be sure to move and evolve communications and marketing as needed.
  3. Incite participation. Whether you are an insurance brand, a hospitality brand, or a CPG brand, invite consumers along the journey and ask them to actively engage—yes, with sales. At the end of the day, that's what every brand needs to remain in the market and beyond that, create more relevant experiences, help society, or bring attention to an important issue that is a shared value.
  4. Take (calculated) risks. Looking historically at the brands and companies that not only survived but thrived during times of uncertainty, they took the right risks. Rather than change branding or logos, consider taking the risk to engage differently or to have a point of view on a topic that the data shows your core base cares about. Make it personal.

Show up for your consumers

The customer buying journey has shifted dramatically in the last three years and will continue to shift in ways unimaginable. Who would have thought TikTok would be a major sales channel for brands three years ago? People find, engage with, and purchase from brands in different ways that are comfortable, unique, and personal to them. Therefore, your brand messaging and engagement should be equally personal and stay consistent thematically across all channels.

Showing up for consumers in meaningful ways, even when they may be transacting less, takes a new level of intentionality. Staying nimble can help a brand be what consumers look for in times of uncertainty and constant change. And that's where business partners come into play—to help keep your brand rooted in your overarching strategy, identify areas for potential pivoting, and navigate the complexities of those shifts—allowing you to better show up for your customers, consistently.


ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Jackie Hopkins, Managing Partner, Communications and Marketing

    Jackie is a senior leader in communications and marketing with over 25 years of experience developing and executing data-driven ideas that deliver cultural relevance, resonance, and a strong return on investment.
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