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Marketing Brand Strategy Cost of Living

4 things brands can learn from the IPA’s brand action and cost of living poll

By Maddy Sim | Strategy partner

dentsu UK & Ireland


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November 7, 2022 | 8 min read

UK ad industry body the IPA and pollsters Opinium have released results from research into the cost of living crisis and its effect on brands and consumers. Maddy Sim and Chris Davies of Dentsu’s Carat UK digs into the findings.

A cardboard boxed filled with branded chocolate bars

What can brands learn from recent research about behaviors and attitudes during the cost of living crisis? / Denny Müller via Unsplash

Unlike many established institutions, and indeed most of the country, the IPA has had a good year. Alongside Opinium it has done a sterling job, regularly surveying the population so that those of us in marketing can understand changing attitudes and behaviors as we move through (and one day, hopefully, past) the cost of living crisis.

There’s nothing our Carat strategy outfit likes more than regularly-updated, robust and quantitative datasets on shifting behaviors, used to complement our own studies and trackers in our quest to understand people better.

But it’s what you do with this information that counts, so here are our top takeaways from the IPA’s latest study on attitudes toward the cost of living crisis and what people want from brands.

1. Use empathy to exceed expectations

Generally, people would like (and expect) brands to do more to help them, in terms of price and beyond. There’s no huge discrepancy in what females or males want from brands, and nor is ‘social grade’ a large factor.

The same cannot be said for age. The 35+ age categories have a much greater focus on price, while 18-34s have a more varied list of demands, showing more interest in the role that brands can play in supporting local community efforts, educating customers and entertaining the nation.

‘Fair prices’ is the number one desire of consumers, regardless of demographic. However, there’s nuance and appetite for other responses from brands. Significantly, there’s a gap between what people would like from brands and what they expect brands to actually do. A better understanding of how the cost of living crisis (and wider uncertainty) is making people feel can help brands demonstrate empathy that bridges the gap between what people want from them and what they expect they’ll get.

Brands should investigate what their customers want and expect from them. This IPA data gives us a good steer as to what large swathes of the population want, but there’s no substitute for talking to people who know and buy your brand.

We’ve got that particular ball rolling by using Dentsu’s proprietary Consumer Survey (CCS) to segment the UK population into five core groups to understand what different types of people might want and need.

2. The ‘messy middle’: where smart brands will clean up in 2023

Since the end of the summer, we’ve begun to observe drop-offs in purchase intent across categories, both discretionary and non-discretionary. In a context where some categories may shrink, but attitudes and patterns across most categories are shifting, the factors influencing choice among people in-market could become life and death for some brands.

The IPA data sheds some light on what those factors might be. Expectations are high; potential customers are weighing up brands’ responses based on multiple levers, such as price, promotions, value, quality, rewards, support, tools, service and education.

‘Journey-mapping,’ ‘path-to-purchase’: whatever you call it, this (forensically understanding the shifting behaviors and attitudes of distinct audiences) is going to be the single most important thing for marketers to understand in 2023.

If, as early signs tell us, people are holding off and spending less, this is where key incremental gains will be won from competitors.

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3. Use marketing budgets to prove you’re worth it

When asked to choose between ‘fair’ and ‘frozen’ prices, ‘fair’ comes out on top; 60% select it as one of their five top requests of brands, against 44% asking for price freezes. There is a recognition of the tough spot that many brands are in. People know that the very challenges they themselves face are wreaking havoc in supply chains and staffing costs.

Reposition your thinking about what people want. It’s not simply a matter of ‘cheap.’ It’s about ‘value’: proving that you’re worth the sticker price.

That might be about brand-building. People are more likely to trust that strong brands are ‘worth’ the cost; they rely on those heuristics more during economic hardships when every dollar or pound matters.

Or it might be about delivering additional value through marketing, using campaigns to show that your brand understands what customers want or need, whether that’s loyalty schemes, help for communities hit hardest by the crisis or even light relief.

4. Entertainment must be entertained

True, ‘entertainment’ ranks low in what people are looking to brands to provide. The survey asked what people want from brands during a cost of living crisis; it’s unsurprising that ‘having a laugh’ didn’t top the list. Sure, few people seek entertainment from brands; that’s not to say that entertainment won’t work. As Kantar has found, 75% of people wanted humorous advertising during the pandemic. In times of anxiety, many want levity, comfort, distraction or even a simple belly laugh.

That same Kantar analysis concluded that we were twice as likely to see a funny ad 20 years ago as we are today.

Empathetic entertainment and humor can still work, and it’s in short supply. Emphasis on the ‘empathetic’: strike the wrong tone and it’ll be evident that brands don’t understand people’s plights. Truly take the time to understand and consult with people.

Marketing Brand Strategy Cost of Living

Content by The Drum Network member:

dentsu UK & Ireland

Part of Dentsu Group, dentsu international is a network designed for what’s next, helping clients predict and plan for disruptive future opportunities and create new paths to growth in the sustainable economy. Dentsu delivers people-focused solutions and services to drive better business and societal outcomes. This is delivered through five global leadership brands - Carat, Dentsu Creative, dentsu X, iProspect and Merkle, each with deep specialisms.

Dentsu international’s radically collaborative team of diverse creators unifies people, clients and capabilities through horizontal creativity to help clients create culture, change society, and invent the future.

Powered by 100% renewable energy, Dentsu International operates in over 145 markets worldwide with more than 46,000 dedicated specialists, and partners with 95 of the top 100 global advertisers.

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