March 27, 2023
The complexities of our times are putting brands to the test. As people increasingly expect concrete solutions to complicated problems, they want brands to step up and make it happen.
The complexities of our times are putting brands to the test. As people increasingly expect concrete solutions to complicated problems, they want brands to step up and make it happen. On top of that, we know that in times of economic downturn, brands are often faced with tough decisions on where to allocate their resources. Branding and communications budgets are usually among the first to be cut, when companies look for ways to trim expenses and keep their head over water.
But branding is one area that you should never overlook. Especially in a recession. In fact, investing in branding during a recession can be crucial to your company's survival and long-term success. Let’s take a look at why branding is important to keep focusing on, even when you feel like just turning up that ad engine and solely keeping your focus on tactical marketing activities.
We always say that a brand is defined by people’s perception of it, and the role of branding is to influence those perceptions by making bold and informed decisions that set the company apart from its competitors. In order to resonate with their audiences, brands need to build an emotional connection with people. It’s not enough to talk about the fact that a product is good or a service is fast. People don’t buy into that. They buy into the idea of transforming themselves through the use of a product. That’s why we need branding and storytelling - to inspire people to do something in order to become someone.
Branding simply helps forge connections and build customer loyalty. And when times are tough, customers especially want to know that they can count on a brand to deliver consistent value to their lives. A strong brand can help you establish that trust and credibility, which can lead to both repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals. And that is what we want. Because, we know that in a recession consumers are more discerning than ever about where they spend their money.
Throughout history, we have also seen other brands really focus on branding during a recession. Take Apple for example. In the early 2000s, the company was struggling to compete with Microsoft and other PC manufacturers. But instead of cutting back on marketing and branding efforts, Apple invested heavily in its brand image. The company launched a series of iconic ad campaigns, such as the "Think Different" campaign, which helped to establish Apple as a premium brand associated with innovation and creativity. The “Think Different” campaign places the creative as the main character of the brand story. They were speaking directly into the hearts of the creatives who had been dragged down trying to fulfil their creativity by using a regular, slow computer. Now, Apple is the brand who comes to help them rise above this obstacle allowing them to be innovative, creative and different. They put the customer directly into the story of what it means and feels like to be the proud owner of a Macbook. The result was a resurgence in the company's earnings, as consumers flocked to Apple's products despite their higher prices.
In COPUS we’ve also experienced some really positive results in our work with SOUNDBOKS in the downturn related to the pandemic. Like when we had 200 young people attend a festival put together by their customer, Frida. Frida’s dream was to create an amazing music festival and build a community which she was not able to during COVID. SOUNDBOKS made that happen, enabling her to live out her dream and let her voice be heard. Why? Because, they are not just a speaker company. No, they are the brand who is amplifying the voices of the next generation. A generation that was longing for connection during that time.
So, now you are probably thinking: what can my company do to invest in branding during this recession?
Here are a few strategies to consider:
- A people-centred approach
At a time when tackling complex societal and environmental problems is crucial for all companies, it’s easy for your brand’s message to get lost out there. In our work, we often see that consumers want brands to take a people-centred approach that makes a real difference in the lives of their stakeholders — from employees and customers to the people in the communities where the company is present. People want brands to strengthen their long-term promises with clear evidence that shows how they are helping people today. For example, by helping people cope with the demands of our fast-moving world - something that can be pretty hard to deal with for most of us, right?.
Consumers need to trust that brands can help them deal with the emotional responses that come along with an economic downturn. A lot of people experience anxiety during these times, which is characterised by a sense of lacking control, not knowing what’s coming and feeling like you are basically left to circumstance. To the extent that brands feel their consumers are experiencing anxiety, their messaging should try to empower them and help them think of ways to be in control in a world where they might feel a bit out of control.
- Focus on your core values
A recession is a time to reaffirm your brand's values and mission. Make sure that your messaging is consistent with what your brand stands for, and use this as an opportunity to connect with consumers on a deeper level. You don't have to solve or speak out on every issue, but speak out on issues that you feel strong about. And then be consistent about it.
Because, the gap between the quantity of different messages your company wants to communicate, and the clear simplicity that it takes to stand out to the consumer in your communication is the one that most brands find hardest to bridge.
Almost every brand representative we meet at COPUS has so much they feel needs to be communicated on the brand’s behalf. An array of different, seemingly equally important messages that are hard to connect - even for them.
And we get it: you think your brand is amazing! And if you just had the opportunity to sit down with each customer for half an hour in a closed off room and tell them all the reasons your brand is superior, then maybe you could turn them into loyal buyers. Right?
But there is no way around it: strong, authentic brands are simple and single-minded in their communication - even if it means sacrificing what seems to be (super) important secondary messages.
Get to the core of your brand and repeat that message again and again through different concepts and formats. Then you’ll truly be able to stand out.
- Prepare for a possible long-term shift in consumers’ values and actions:
The companies that make it through a recession by focusing their attention on consumer needs and core brand values will be more strongly positioned for better days ahead. But, companies need to also understand how people’s behaviour might change following a recession. They might need to be able to offer products and communicate messages aligned with the needs of new consumer segments.
We have a couple of suggestions for you to think about in this regard. First, your ways of working with brand strategy and research during a recession, and the ability to respond quickly to changes in demand, will continue to serve you when the economy gets back on track. Appreciate those learnings, even if it feels super hard right now.
And second, you should prepare for a possible long-term shift in consumers’ values and attitudes. The shock of the downturn and the potential anger about what drove our society in this direction are likely to accelerate trends toward reduced materialism, a commitment to sustainability, higher expectations of corporate social responsibility, and resentment of cynical marketing that treats people as purely as someone who can bring in money for you.
As mentioned in the first few points, consumers will demand that companies act in their and society’s best interests and will factor company practices and values into their brand choices. During and after the recession, it would be foolish for marketers to ignore those changing expectations. Because, while your company is putting consumers under a microscope, your consumers are, in turn, examining your brand closer than ever.
To sum up, branding is simply a critical component of any company's success, especially in a recession. By investing in your brand image and reputation, you can truly earn consumer loyalty and stand out in a crowded marketplace. So, our advice: don't neglect your branding efforts during tough economic times. Instead, make them a priority and reap the benefits in the long run.
Because, recessions come and go. But hopefully your brand is here for life. So be careful about how you react in times of economic downturn. Cutting too deeply into branding and communications activities in a down period, can cost you a lot when you have to regain your share of voice in the market again. Keeping a balance in times like this is key. So don’t go completely off the grid, when consumers need you. If you act right, they will need you as much as you need them.