With the holiday shopping season upon us (already!?), a lot of attention is being paid to trending consumer behaviors and spending habits. After all, these next few months present great opportunities to capture new audiences, acquire new customers, and strengthen relationships with existing ones.
One of the biggest influences shaping consumer behaviors today is economic uncertainty. From rising inflation to personal finance concerns, people are rethinking the way they spend – or don’t spend – their discretionary income. In fact, a 2022 NeilsenIQ survey found that 82% of global respondents are cost-conscious consumers who are altering their buying and consumption patterns. This certainly has big implications for holiday spending, but it’s also expected to reach into 2023 and beyond.
As businesses, we’re faced with our own set of challenges. Not only finding ways to adapt as consumer behaviors shift, but also managing supply chain issues, staffing, and other variables related to economic uncertainty. Just as these matters have short and long-term implications on the customer side, they’ll have short and long-term implications on brand strategies and development.
So, one big question most (if not all) of us are asking – what can we be doing today to position ourselves for success throughout the holiday season and heading into 2023?
The more I think about this question, the more I find myself taking a different approach. In addition to considering what we can do over the next few months… it’s just as important to consider what we can be. I believe our presence and identity, how we interact with customers, and the way we approach internal operations can be just as impactful to successful positioning as any actions or tactics. To further explain what I mean, here are a few things we can be today and into the future.
We can be empathetic.
As business leaders, we’re responsible for generating revenue and finding growth opportunities amidst economic uncertainty. There’s no way around that. And while it would be great to lower prices or offer stellar discounts to help alleviate our customers’ financial concerns, that’s not a viable long-term option. It can feel like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
However, in addition to our roles as business leaders, we’re also consumers ourselves. We’re facing the same concerns, challenges, and decisions as the people we’re serving. So, we’re keenly aware of what most of our audience must be thinking and feeling. With that, we know that a little validation and understanding can go a long way.
If it isn’t already, consider including empathy as a key part of your brand development strategies. Are your marketing messages pushing for a purchase or communicating benefits? Is there a focus on cutting costs or finding value-add opportunities? Are bottom-line objectives dominating internal discussions or is there a human-centric tone with people-first considerations? Sometimes, a simple adjustment in the we think and speak about our objectives can be more impactful than any tactic or action.
We can be understanding.
To be understanding, we must seek to understand. There are plenty of market trend and consumer analysis reports that shed light on what’s happening from an aggregate view. But nothing can replace hearing directly from your people about their unique needs, preferences, and expectations. Nothing is as accurate as direct feedback from your audience about what they’re thinking and feeling right now.
For example, the NeilsenIQ report I mentioned earlier spotlights and incredibly important point about consumers altering their buying and consumption patterns. But which of those patterns are most relevant to your brand? What are the determining factors for your target audience? Where are your customers most likely to make – and not make – sacrifices when choosing one brand over another?
The more we reach out and maintain two-way dialogue, the more we’ll know about what our customers are going through. And the more we know, the more understanding we can be. With that understanding, we’re better positioned to make a positive impact on our customers’ day-to-day lives.
We can be authentic.
Part of being authentic is being honest and transparent. We all know that person who is super upbeat and optimistic no matter what’s happening. While it’s definitely a great quality and this world can always use more positivity, that person can sometimes seem disingenuous or downright oblivious. It’s like that meme with the dog sitting at a table in a burning house saying, “This is fine.” If things are not fine, and everybody knows it, then sometimes it’s best to acknowledge the fire and make an effort to do something about it.
Just as it’s a tough time for consumers right now, they know it’s tough for brands and businesses as well. So, referencing back to the part about being understanding, it’s more than ok to be forthright and upfront with why you’re asking for feedback. We’ve actually seen a boost in survey response rates when brands are willing to say, “Hey, times are tough for both of us. The more we learn about the choices you’re having to make and what’s driving your decisions, the better we can adapt to your needs in these crazy times.”
At the end of the day, it’s actually a lot easier to be authentic, honest, and transparent than it is to force an image or identity that we think people want. It takes a lot of the pressure off allowing more room for creativity and evolution. I we lose customers for being our authentic selves, then they’re likely customers who would have been lost anyway. At least we’ll know those who stick around are as committed to us as we are to them.
One of my favorite quotes comes from one of my favorite thought leaders, Brene Brown:
“You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”
I believe that being empathetic, understanding, and authentic are keys to owning our own stories. In doing so, we encourage our friends, colleagues, and customers to do the same.