Welcome back to our series on outmanoeuvring uncertainty. In Part One, we looked at how the biting effects of uncertainty could be curtailed by re-evaluating the meaning of value.
But, before we begin with the second part of the series, let’s have a brief recap about the challenges at hand, and our key learnings from the previous piece.
The challenge at hand
At this moment in our history, many of us across the globe are weathering the effects of several simultaneous socio-economic, political and environmental crises. These have elevated the cost-of-living beyond anything we’ve seen in recent history, with sharp inflationary spikes stemming largely from a high price on energy and commodities. Unsurprisingly, this has led to an enormous decline in real terms spending power.
This perfect storm has left consumers wary of spending, with confidence falling below even its lowest point during the pandemic.
In our last piece in the series, we highlighted the importance of the empathetic understanding of a customer’s individual life and circumstances in response to this crisis. Here are just a few statistics from a recent ONS statement, indicating the conditions people are facing today.
The figures show that a staggering 93% reported an increase in their living costs compared to this time last year. Before the greatest energy price spikes have even landed, 42% of adults have found it ‘very or somewhat’ difficult to pay energy bills, with 3% falling behind on payments. Meanwhile, 18% of workers were taking on extra hours, with 4% even taking an additional job.
So, you might well be wondering how your brand can inspire the kind of loyalty strong enough to retain vital fans and champions through such extreme market uncertainty? The first step, as we previously discussed, is redefining value as a mutual, rich and multifaceted relationship between customer and business.
Once that understanding is established, though, the challenge becomes how best to instil those values both internally and externally. This brings us on to the re-working of an age-old marketing concept: immersion. Specifically, amid this perfect storm of uncertainty, we’re interested in how immersion can extend beyond traditional marketing meanings, to deliver a far more human-centric approach to engagement.
Harness the emotional intelligence of your employees
One of the key insights from the opening piece in this series was the degree to which understanding your consumer at a fundamental, emotional level is important, and how that translates to predicting more changeable buyer behaviour.
As we stated, “by understanding what spending looks like across demographics, as well as how confident your consumers are at any given moment, where they spend their time, and what their major concerns and challenges are, you can continue to generate demand as behaviour cycles evolve.”
But, once we’ve extracted this information from data, telling us not only where consumers are hanging out, what they’re comfortable spending, and, most importantly, how they’re feeling, we are faced with a new challenge: how do we implement the necessary actions to turn these learnings into immersion, followed by continued engagement?
To answer this outward-facing question, it’s essential that we first look inward at the individuals and teams who bring the visions we have for our brands to life. Which means equipping them with the skills and knowledge to deliver a more immersive customer experience, based on emotional intelligence as well as statistical intelligence.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review explores how such a strategy can be a hugely powerful means of providing dynamism and effective transformation in the face of uncertainty. “Train and coach your employees to understand the potential of technology and data” it states, if we want to set free the ‘true innovators’ within our own workforce.
Put more simply, by sharing key data and insights with your team, in a frequent, fluid manner, they will be empowered to create a more human customer experience from within.
We’d frame this as being the initial phase in the re-conceptualisation of immersion – as a quality that can apply not only to consumers, but to your employees, too. Your brand, and your people, can become both practically and ideologically immersed in the lives of your audience members, opening the door for deeper connection that can withstand a great deal of uncertainty.
And, interestingly, as the surge of pandemic-related technological development and investment slows, with giants like Meta and Twitter reporting clear financial downturns in their latest financial statements, resulting in major lay-offs, it is clear that front-of-pack businesses are redispersing their resources back into employee development.
The Harvard Business Review article goes on to explain how “leaders are beginning to realize that the bottleneck in innovation has shifted from investments in technology to investments in the workforce.” In other words, the factor holding many brands back is actually the limited number of their team members with this sort of capability.
By investing in your employees, so that they not only have access to the latest information regarding how your audience is thinking and feeling, but are able to actively interpret it, your business can adapt strategically, and in real-time, to any changes of circumstance and dispense rapid and vital innovation.
Inward immersive attunement – a model for outward connection
Another, perhaps more difficult, fact to bare, is that brands must now immerse themselves in the wider world in a far more ubiquitous way. It’s easy for all of us to divert our attention and focus on what we know, and what we enjoy, during times of uncertainty. But, whilst that fact may offer useful guidance in predicting buyer behaviour, vigilance is key for brands looking to stay ahead of volatility.
This is because one of the primary symptoms of the extreme uncertainty we’re seeing today is a widespread vulnerability to sudden market shocks that could disrupt the status quo and require immediate course correction.
In truth, whilst an understanding of your consumer is vital, without proper preparation and attention market uncertainty could easily invalidate the insights you might have collected from your audience within moments, leaving planned marketing efforts more likely to miss the mark.
As such, we need to start thinking of immersion, too, as a brand’s attunement to the wider world; its feeling for the subtle reverberations of fiscal, geopolitical and environmental events that may bring about new demand for rapid innovation.
Many brands, including Boots, the UK’s leading high street chemist, are realising this, and are responding with a human-first approach that sets a precedent for protecting its consumers going forward. Its high-profile launch of a new ‘affordable range’ centres the economic concerns of buyers, solidifying their position as a caring brand which is understanding of the market and immersed in the human needs of their customers.
Of course, no person or business, no matter how well informed, can be absolutely in the loop. We’re not fortune tellers, after all. But by casting a wide net, sharing insights, connecting with other brands, and enlisting the help of agencies and networks with a vast reach, we can work together to gain a greater sense of immersion in the world around us.
Sharing the insights you discover, and the challenges that might arise throughout your business, is key here, too.
At mci group, we regularly put this into practice, connecting our clients, as well as our own agencies, with a diverse roster of global agencies and talents whose collective insights can shed light on movements within geographies and markets that might have significant impact.
This enables us to position ourselves, and our clients, ahead of market volatility and uncertainty where possible, allowing for the most dynamic, targeted marketing approach possible in the face of uncertainty.
So, whether it’s through connecting with an agency network and likeminded businesses, or implementing targeted organic growth, brands should look to spread their roots across diverse geographies, disciplines and data streams in order to harness the widest possible set of insights and outmanoeuvre market uncertainty.
With so many destabilising factors currently affecting the world, it might be tempting just to focus on reaching audiences through traditional marketing channels, and hope for the best. However, the evidence shown here suggests that, by employing an inward-facing approach to navigating uncertainty, you are likely to see a powerful, ameliorating effect on any attempt to engage consumers outwardly.
By reconceptualising immersion as a brand’s responsibility to unite its own people and integrate them with the wider world, businesses can deliver a more empathetic, human-centric experience to consumers. In effect, you would be enabling your brand to act as a tonic for any feelings associated with uncertainty, like fear or isolation, that your audience might understandably be experiencing.
To find out how the mci group can help you to boost internal immersion and offer as more human-centric customer experience, call +41 22 33 99 500 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.