By Clayton Southerly, Alter Agents
As we close out 2021, it feels like we’re turning the page into a new chapter. The COVID-19 pandemic is entering a new phase as vaccination rates rise and new therapeutics are released, unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since March 2020, and the holiday season returns to something more normal. But the world is a different place than it was two years ago, and consumers are keenly aware of this. Brands should really examine the tone of the marketing as they plan for the next year to be sure that it includes a heavy dose of empathy for the average shopper. Here’s why:
Shoppers are reevaluating priorities
We know from mounds of research and anecdotal evidence that people spent time during the pandemic reevaluating their lives, needs, and priorities. It was a reality check, and there are plenty of ways in which we see that playing out. The one grabbing the most headlines is the “Great Resignation,” where Americans are taking advantage of the worker’s labor market to switch jobs for higher pay, better benefits, more work-life balance, or just to try something new that they might enjoy more.
Workers are looking at the negative or challenging parts of their professional lives and asking, “Is this worth it anymore?” And by the millions, they’re letting go of those negative aspects in search of something better. That’s a sign for marketers that those workers, who are also customers, are looking for empowering, empathetic themes in their lives. It’s also a sign for retailers that difficult or unwieldy shopper experiences are going to be tolerated much less.
There’s a disconnect between economic sentiment & indicators
We also know that there’s a significant disconnect between how the macroeconomic indicators say the economy is doing and how the average consumer feels it’s doing. On one hand, the economy looks to be doing well. Unemployment is down, GDP and the stock market are up, as are wages and household wealth. And a big behavioral indicator for this time of year, retail spending, was up over 16 percent in October over the year prior.
At the same time, consumers don’t feel as though the economy is doing that well. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index rated overall sentiment at 66.8 in November, down over 13 percent from this point in 2020. Consumer evaluations of current economic conditions and future expectations are also down by double digits.
The biggest driver here is inflation – it spooks consumers, especially those who feel the pain most acutely at the gas pump or the grocery store. Eventually, we’ll see sentiment and behavior align, and the hope is that sentiment will rise to match spending levels, rather than the other way around. Brands have an opportunity to help with the sentiment part by putting out positive messaging that emphasizes consumer power.
It’s an election year
The US has its federal midterm elections coming up in November, with control of Congress and the fate of the president’s agenda on the line. That’s not going to make for a peaceful and restrained campaign season. We can expect plenty of negative and divisive advertising to come from the political industry, which will put consumers in a sour mood and in need of a release. There’s no need for marketers to join in on that pile-on. Be the lighthearted one during the fall, especially after one side is met with some bitter disappointment.
The Pandemic Playbook Isn’t Closed
The good work that brands did in focusing on empathetic, unifying messaging in 2020 and 2021 still has a place in 2022. Consider the following:
- Look back at the lessons learned from running that playbook. What felt authentic, and what was too contrived?
- What specific challenges are the people in your target audience facing? How can you communicate to them that you’ll help them overcome those challenges?
- How have things changed for your company and community over the past year? How can you positively incorporate those changing realities into your messaging?
Let’s look forward to 2022 with empathy, open minds, and hope. See you next year!
About the Author
Clayton Southerly is the Marketing Communications Manager at Alter Agents, a strategic market research consultancy based in Los Angeles. He works with a team of super-smart researchers to translate data into actionable recommendations, build products, and get executives excited about insights that help them reach their target audiences. When he’s not building comms strategy and creating content, Clayton enjoys sitting on the beach, cooking, and traveling