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Pandemic and Inflation Has Changed Consumer Expectations of Brands

Pandemic and rising inflation have increased consumer expectations of brands, with a clear prioritization of convenience, ‘value’ and ‘values’. 

New research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) reveals that the majority of marketers (59%) are finding it harder to predict the fast-changing consumer priorities following the pandemic, and this is causing concern over the future of the brands they represent.

Key Highlights in Consumer Expectations Report

  • Majority of marketers (59%) find it harder to predict consumer priorities, with nine in ten (91%) claiming their brand and business model will need to evolve to keep pace

  • Over a quarter (28%) believe their brand is out of touch with changing consumer needs

  • Convenience tops table of fastest-growing consumer priorities, followed by overall value for money and environmental impact tied at second place

The survey, which explores the views of 500 UK in-house and agency marketing professionals, shows marketers are concerned about the fitness of their business models. Nine in ten (91%) believe their brand must evolve to keep operating, and over a quarter (28%) feel there is even a need to radically overhaul their business model within the next decade in order to survive.

Rising Consumer Priorities

The research shows that the pandemic and rising inflation have increased consumer expectations of brands, with a clear prioritization of convenience, ‘value’ and ‘values’.

According to marketers, convenience tops the table of the fastest-growing consumer needs (83%), closely followed by value for money and environmental impact tied at second place (78%). Companies’ performance on diversity and inclusion is in third place (74%), followed by shopping locally (73%). Interestingly, having a physical store to visit is one of the least important consumer needs (38%), highlighting a notable shift towards online shopping, which was further accelerated by the pandemic.

Recently, a number of high-profile brands have redrawn their marketing strategy to target this consumer focus on ‘value’ and ‘values’. John Lewis Partnership’s transition from its popular ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ to a focus on ‘Quality and Value’ demonstrates a direct response to consumer needs given rising inflation. Meanwhile, in light of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and mounting pressure to respond, brands such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Heineken have withdrawn their operations from Russia. However, for marketers and marketing to really demonstrate the value it can add, it has to go beyond campaigns, it is the broader actions that sit behind the campaigns that will make the difference.

Chris Daly, CEO at CIM says: “We are living through extremely turbulent times; from the pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis – to rising inflation, and most recently the Ukraine crisis. It’s clear from today’s results that consumers now expect brands to do more than just deliver value, but also actively engage with societal and political issues. If our industry is to really bounce back, marketers must invest time in getting to know their customers, and carefully consider what matters to them most.”

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Top 10 most significant swings in consumer buying habits

Percentage of marketers who believe they are more important for consumers than pre-pandemic

Being able to have products or services delivered at home

83%

Overall value for money

78%

The environmental footprint of products or services

78%

Companies’ performance on societal issues, such as diversity and inclusion, sustainability and combating racism or sexism

74%

Shopping local or using an alternative to the online retail giants e.g. Amazon

73%

Having the option to buy-now-pay-later

71%

Feeling that the companies they buy from are aligned to values

71%

Access to new online ways to buy or interact with brands e.g. Metaverse, AR

67%

Brand loyalty

64%

Being able to speak to a human being rather than interacting online

62%

 

The Ways Marketers Can Adapt 

Four-fifths (78%) of marketers believe it is their role within their business to represent the voice of the customer, however it is clear many are struggling to understand changing consumer habits. One of the ways professionals are trying to keep pace is through using new technologies – such as customer experience management tools that garner key shopping insights – with three in five (60%) investing, or intending to invest, in such tools.

Balancing the evolving needs of customers, meeting business objectives and, taking actions that address the enormous societal and environmental issues we currently face is incredibly challenging, but one that needs to happen.

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With a few taps of a button, consumers want to be able to buy anything and have it delivered straight to them. However, this convenience often comes at a human and environmental cost that often isn’t considered. Marketers have a responsibility to balance the shift towards convenience and ensure they are shaping the right societal behaviors.

For brands to be able to adapt to such a complex operating environment, requires marketing professionals to be aware and educate themselves, ensuring they have the relevant skills. Despite the majority (79%) believing the skill set required for the job has completely changed over the past decade, only half (51%) attended external training in the last year. Additionally, one in five (19%) feel they only have some of the required skills to successfully carry out their role.

Daly continues: “This latest research should act as a wake-up call for marketers to invest in their training and development. The range of skills expected from marketing professionals continues to expand, which gives us new opportunities to drive change and demonstrate our industry’s value. But to do this, it is vital marketers stay on the forefront of the skills required for the job – or they risk getting left behind.”

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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