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How Advertisers Can Succeed During Uncertain Times

“Change is the only constant.”

It’s a phrase we’re all familiar with, first said by Greek philosopher Heraclitus over 2,000 years ago. Over the past few years, his point keeps hitting home. After the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the fallout continued through 2021, many expected 2022 to be a year of recovery. Despite our expectations, 2022 has saddled us with even more challenges.

While the average consumer may no longer be tethered to their homes like most were a couple of years ago, new economic complexities are impacting their daily lives and again shifting their behaviors. From interest rate hikes, to an impending recession, to supply chain shortages, there are numerous factors at play. And when consumer behaviors change because of what’s happening in the world, so too must marketers.

Advertisers who quickly lean into an altered marketplace set themselves apart from those who see themselves as victims of unmanageable change. To that end, let’s take some time to evaluate the ever-changing economic landscape, its implications for marketers, and tactics that can be used to adapt to its complexity.

Current Trends Impacting Marketers

There are many factors shaping the marketing landscape today. Here are some of the biggest:

Economic

Here are a few stats to know on the current economic situation in the US:

Geopolitical

The global supply chain was first rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disruption has since been exacerbated by fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Here’s what marketers should know:

  • According to a recent report, at least 615,000 businesses worldwide rely on suppliers in Ukraine and Russia, and 25 countries have a high dependency on Russia and Ukraine for a variety of goods and commodities.
  • Consumers have gotten used to the immediate availability of products, which makes supply chain disruptions particularly jarring.
  • In 2021, business logistics costs rose 22%, driving up prices of goods.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the prices of durable goods have been especially hard-hit, with an increase of 14% in the past year.

With uncertainty surrounding the conflict in Ukraine, supply chain challenges will likely remain a reality for brands and marketers to grapple with for the foreseeable future.

Additional Consumer and Market Factors

Beyond these economic and geopolitical circumstances, there are other significant issues impacting consumers and marketers in the US: 

  • The demand for labor continues to surpass the number of available workers, meaning that competition for talent remains high. A recent survey shows that the share of workers planning to leave their jobs remains unchanged from 2021, at 40%.
  • With midterm election season upon us and highly politicized races ahead, unprecedented ad spending is set to have broad impacts across the entire advertising ecosystem.
  • Social media advertising opportunities are evolving as platforms face new regulations related to data privacy. And with 63% of iPhone users opting out of iOS app tracking, marketers are facing decreased visibility across measurement and reporting.

Taken together, these varied factors result in substantial instability for consumers—which puts the pressure on brands to adapt.

Reframing Challenges as Opportunities

Marketers may want to wait until these proverbial storms clear, but there’s no knowing when additional challenges will follow. Instead of surviving the crises of the present, marketers can engage in cognitive reframing to adapt and think flexibly.

For those new to the concept, cognitive reframing is the process of identifying your current perspective, naming the challenges or shortcomings of that viewpoint, and then shifting to a new way of thinking. At its core, reframing “encourage[s] us to look at situations from different perspectives in search of unique and improved solutions.”

A few examples: A difficult conversation with a colleague could be reframed as a chance to problem-solve collaboratively; a quarter in which earnings are missed could be reframed as an opportunity to test new sales strategies; a team losing yet another member due to the Great Resignation reframed as a moment to take an honest look at company culture.

Through reframing, brands can approach today’s moments of adversity as opportunities for reflection and change. Leaders looking to make reframing an organizational habit can benefit from asking the following questions:

  • Does my team often see market challenges as insurmountable given our current resources, or do we look at difficulties as opportunities for growth?
  • Are we making decisions from a place of reactivity or responsivity?
  • Do we have systems in place that allow for adaptability and flexibility, in both good times and bad?

Amidst Uncertainty, What Strategies Can Marketers Embrace?

So far, we’ve explored the complexity of today’s landscape and how reframing can serve as a beneficial tool. Now, let’s dive into the marketing strategies teams can use to adapt. While there’s no silver bullet for advertising during times like these, there are methods brands and agencies can use to remain flexible and agile:

1. Keep Advertising

During economic downturns, it’s tempting for brands to pause or cut back on advertising budgets. There are signs of some taking that approach today, as July 2022 was the worst month for ad spending in two years, with a contraction of 12.7% YoY.

However, there are many reasons to maintain advertising levels through tough times—and preserving brand recognition is perhaps the most significant one. If you want your brand to remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds, it needs to be visible. This is especially crucial for smaller brands or those with less name recognition—just a few months out of the spotlight could result in significant damages and losses.

Another reason to keep marketing levels consistent is to build brand loyalty. For younger generations in particular, consumers want brands to share their values and take part in important cultural conversations. Especially in today’s competitive landscape, brands have a lot to lose by slashing marketing budgets.

2. Adapt Your Creative to Your Consumer

Another approach brands and agencies should embrace is to prioritize the changing needs of customers. Though every economic downturn is different, the Harvard Business Review’s analysis of how brands survived the 2008 recession still rings true today. They claimed that one of the most critical steps advertisers took was “to track how customers reassess priorities, reallocate funds, switch brands, and redefine value.” Put simply, when consumers change, advertisers should too.

When unexpected market factors arise, it is especially important to understand how these factors influence consumers and their behavior. In today’s economic landscape, this might look like embracing messaging that approaches inflation and high prices with empathy. It could also mean considering the impact of both cost and value for today’s consumer, and adapting messaging to better connect with target audiences.

By focusing on consumers and how they change in response to different situations, brands and agencies can embrace messaging that “feels right” to consumers in the moment. Rather than being reactive when a challenge arises, advertisers can pause, reflect, and think: what does this mean for our target consumers? Then, they can craft responsive messaging that is grounded in common sense.

3. Lean Into Digital Trends

A final tactic brands and agencies can use to maintain agility and flexibility amidst uncertainty is to analyze digital consumption trends and adapt advertising strategies based on their findings. Once brands have identified their ideal consumers, they should lean into available data to determine where those consumers are spending their time. This could mean ramping up CTV advertising to adapt to elevated viewership levels, or exploring a new social platform based on user trends. By analyzing and exploring the data, marketers can make strategic adjustments to meet consumers where they are.

Embracing Solutions for Good Times and Bad

For advertisers who find success in times of uncertainty, agility enables their resilience. They assess the ever-changing marketing landscape and reframe their thinking when challenges hit. They respond to consumer needs in a way that meets the moment, use data to make informed and strategic decisions, and utilize available tools and technologies that empower them to do their most impactful work.

As the marketing landscape continues to change, I’m committed to rolling with change and finding opportunities in the chaos.

My team and I dove into this—and more—in our webinar: Advertising Through Uncertainty: How Marketers Can Navigate Economic Downturn. Check it out to better understand the complexities of today’s advertising landscape, key shifts in consumer behavior due to economic instability, and best practices for marketers and advertisers in an unpredictable marketplace.

Watch the Webinar