‘Markets hate uncertainty’, so the adage goes, and at present a perfect storm of factors are creating highly uncertain times for businesses.
So says Jamie Clifford, MD at iCrossing UK, who has found that despite all this change, there is also healthy optimism among consumers and those who market to them, and there are huge benefits for brands that can adapt and put customer centricity at the centre of their strategies in these rapidly changing times…
The impact of Brexit, COVID and resultant changing shopping habits, as well as an increased focus on equity, equality, and sustainability, have made the past 24 months some of the most disruptive marketers have faced.
We’ve explored – through surveys with YouGov and Hearst – the impact this period of intensified change has had on both consumers and the senior marketers and found that both are in a surprisingly optimistic state of mind, looking forward to 2022 with renewed energy as well as a greater awareness of the changing social and economic landscape.
Our research also showed that adapting to uncertainty is increasingly part of creating and delivering marketing plans – change is the new normal.
Some 71% of consumers said they have a positive outlook on life, and the consensus was that COVID disruption should be used for change in both personal lives and society in general.
Moreover, 73% believe the experiences of the past 24 months have allowed people to look at things differently, and that the future will be better because of new ways of living adopted.
Doubling down on customer centricity
Many marketers we surveyed revealed they’re responding to this enlightened outlook by doubling down on customer-centricity; looking to ‘provide high-quality customer service’ by better utilising data to understand current customers and acquire new ones.
While there’s a greater focus on coping with disruptive external factors, businesses continue to grapple with digital and data.
Many feel they lack a clear strategy to navigate today’s multi-channel landscape, and that their organisations are missing key skills or knowledge in digital.
A quarter said that, despite it having been a key channel for many years, a greater focus on digital remains a high priority.
Another surprising finding was that 25% of those surveyed feel they don’t have enough time to dedicate to digital marketing.
With digital often wrapped up in a complex web of platforms, data, and jargon, it’s likely this lack of time will exacerbate challenges around creating and delivering marketing strategy through digital channels.
It’s a lot to tackle.
Yet despite the difficulties, it’s also a challenge that many marketers are relishing.
What worked last year is unlikely to work next, so fresh ideas and new ways of thinking are always on the agenda, and 42% of respondents in large organisations said they have a focus on speeding up innovation in 2022.
So, both marketers and consumers are positive about 2022, but as recent concern about a new COVID strain has shown, it won’t be without its challenges.
With this in mind, what can marketers take from our findings to keep up with the increased pace of change?
Back to normal after seismic change
Firstly, though the world is slowly returning to ‘normal’ (even if this normal is different to that of February 2020), it’s clear that the shifts of the past 24 months have been seismic.
To survive, brands must take stock of these changes and the impact they’ve had on consumer behaviour.
Being consumer-centric requires understanding changing consumer needs and opinions.
The Ernst & Young Future Consumer Index uses five different cohorts of consumers to help focus planning: health-first, society-first, sustainability-first, planet-first, and affordability-first.
We recommend re-engaging consumer research through panels and tools such as social listening to understand where your customers sit and, crucially, how they’re feeling.
That empathy is increasingly influential in consumer decisions and needs to translate to company values and positioning.
However, whilst things like diversity and sustainability are incredibly important not all brands need a ‘higher’ purpose.
Instead, brands need to transmit authentic values that reflect both the company and the consumers they want to attract, not just ‘marketing for good’ for the sake of it.
Marketing thought-leader Professor Mark Ritson says any purpose must pass the “three Cs test”.
That is: does the customer want it; can the company deliver it; can we do it better than the competition?
Service should embody brand values, with service being something both consumers and marketers said they’ll be focusing on next year.
The key question being: How can brands translate insights from data to deliver a unified omni-channel experience?
Part of the answer can be found in the way digital is re-framing competitors; it’s likely you’re competing not just in your immediate category but with the last best experience a customer had.
Know what best looks like both in and out of class.
Finally, with change unavoidable, having an agile, long-term strategy that keeps you headed in the right direction is vital.
Plan for it, not against it – because this is change as usual.