Communication tips to help marketers thrive during the economic crisis of 2009

22 Jan 2009|Added Value

The economic crisis has not only changed how people are feeling these days, it has changed how they are processing information too.  That is, the lens through which people are viewing brand communications has shifted.   As we have discovered, the way people are responding to advertising has changed – which has profound implications for marketers interested in creating a lasting emotional connection with consumers.

Added Value, which has been helping brands optimize their communications for over 30 years, recently set out to find how this economic climate is impacting consumers, looking in particular at how they are processing information and viewing advertising today versus prior to the economic crisis.  We found that indeed, some significant shifts have taken place since mid-September 2008, specifically:

  • There has been an overall softening in people’s positive outlooks (Chart 1)
  • People are more skeptical toward advertising (Charts 2 and 3)
  • There has been a change in the way brand communications are processed, with an increase in the SENSING style, which responds to strong argument and logical fact-based conclusions, and a decrease in the INTUITIVE style, which is both more instinctual, influenced by environment/presentation, and interpretive, placing more value on imagination (Chart 4)

The significance of these findings for marketers is that in a sharply contracting economy in which many iconic brands have collapsed (reminding us that appearances can be deceptive), more consumers will be deploying the Sensing style to process advertisers’ communications.  They will engage in more careful scrutiny of advertising, and respond favorably to messages that may not have worked as well in the past.  They will seek predictability over possibility, transparency over intrigue, reassurance over adventure, and accountability over exaggerated claims.

Marketers looking to communicate and connect effectively with consumers suffering a crash of confidence must:

  1. Keep it REAL.  Consumers are increasingly skeptical of exaggerated claims and intolerant of the non-authentic. Marketers must therefore be particularly careful not to over-promise.  They must rely more on a solid story rather than shiny sizzle and not sell skittish consumers short in the communication of a brand’s emotional payoff.
  2. Stay emotionally RELEVANT.  Rest assured consumers will continue to make purchase choices based on a brand’s anticipated emotional payoff – the neuroscientific mechanism of choice.  However, today’s economic climate and its cultural impact will influence the specific emotional benefits consumers seek, so marketers must keep closely in tune with the likely emotional response of their target consumers.  For example,  those previously looking for indulgence and pleasure may now be more interested in reassurance and feeling they are making smart choices.
  3. Reinforce VALUE, don’t just talk price.  A brand’s value equation, (strengths – weaknesses) ÷ price, is still a driving force even in an economic downturn  So advertisers should focus on how to increase value by improving the top half of the equation, not just reducing price.  Think brand promotions—not price promotions.  Communicate a consistent emotional benefit as well as a clear, simple value message.  Equity built in bad times can be seen as money in the bank, while focusing on price alone and forgoing emotional differentiation is a sure path to undermining a brand’s equity.

Well thought-out communication can feed the consumer’s imagination and present aspirational or idealized products and services.  When the future looks bright, most people make decisions based on their Intuition.  However, when the economy sours and people feel the pinch of scarcity in their lives, Sensing kicks in and people make decisions that will counter fear, surprise and anger.  Marketers need to acknowledge and embrace this cognitive shift, and reinforce emotional rewards that provide reassurance and builds anticipation.

Key Tables:
Chart 1: An overall softening in positive outlooks

Chart 2: Greater Skepticism Toward Advertising


Most Ads Make Promises They Don’t Keep (“agree completely/agree a little”)

Note: Pre Economic Crisis consists of national data collected by Added Value prior to September, 2008.  n= 10,203  Today represents national data collected in January and February, 2009.  n = 1,016

Chart 3:  There are more ads around these days that irritate me (“agree completely”)

Note: Pre Economic Crisis consists of national data collected by Added Value prior to September, 2008.  n= 10,203  Today represents national data collected in January and February, 2009.  n = 1,016

Chart 4:  Shift in the way communications are processed – increasingly SENSING.

Note: Pre Economic Crisis consists of national data collected by Added Value prior to September, 2008.  n= 10,203  Today represents national data collected in January and February, 2009.  n = 1,016

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