Recently I read The World Happiness Report 2022 that said that although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought pain and suffering, it has also caused an increase in social support and benevolence. As we battle the ills of disease, war and inflation, we can take comfort in the fact there is a universal human desire for happiness and a capacity for people to rally with each other for support in times of great need. In other words, we have a natural tendency to share a little love when it’s needed most.
There was a popular song in the 1960s by Jackie DeShannon called “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” The lyrics are fairly straightforward: What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. And when you consider all the disruption and challenges in our lives these days, I can’t help but think of this song. It reminds me that in addition to taking care of the people we love, as marketers we have an opportunity – or maybe an obligation – to become more human-centered, especially when times are tough. And with a recession potentially coming our way, things might be about to get tougher for most.
Inflation today is at a 40-year high, creating uncharted territory for many brands and their customers. The Consumer Price Index rose 7.9% in February, the largest monthly increase since 1982. Rising costs of raw materials and commodities, continuing supply chain issues, as well as soaring shipping costs, have led marketers to raise prices. Furthermore, the recent spike in oil prices caused in large part by the war in Ukraine does not bode well for a quick solution.
In a recent CNBC survey, it was reported that as much as 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. According to the EY Index, 52% of people say the increasing cost of goods and services is making it harder to afford things. 34% say they are buying fewer goods because they don’t need them. 30% say they will buy more secondhand products. 47% say they will just buy the essentials. So even with a strong job market, wage gains, and stimulus savings, price spikes in core spending categories including food, gas and shelter are leading more Americans to watch their pocketbooks closely.
The CNBC survey also shows that even higher-income people are showing signs of financial stress and have begun cutting back on dining out, travel, vacations, and cars. It is important to note that while the high-income demographic represents only one-third of people, this segment is responsible for up to three-quarters of spending and therefore is critical to the health of our economy. Apparently, we will all need to tighten our belts, so to speak.
As marketers, what can we do about all this? First, we need to think about marketing and messaging differently, to change the perspective from trying to get someone to buy something to figuring out how our brand, product, or service can add value to someone’s life. People will be making trade-offs like: should I buy a new pair of shoes or put food on the table? With that in mind, how can you make it easier or more convenient to buy from you, thus reducing stress and strain? Can you make it easier for someone to find exactly what they want or need at the best possible price, creating a value proposition that works for the person and for your brand? Can you make it easier for someone to pick up, receive or return the goods they buy, so they have one less thing to worry about?
In today’s chaotic world, shoppers are not just looking for products. They’re searching for something deeper and more meaningful. They’re looking for brand love that may come in the form of a desired experience or an expression of belonging to a community. They crave an experience that meets their needs at a particular moment in time – one that changes over time based on the situation or conditions they face.
People also seek convenience and reciprocity. In a world full of challenges, brands that deliver a contextually relevant and human-centered experience that is convenient, expected and fair will outperform those that don’t. What’s tricky, especially in a time of labor shortages, is that you simply cannot provide a great customer experience without delivering excellent customer service everywhere a person interacts with your brand. And often, this takes the form of store personnel. It’s been said that people remember the people they dealt with much more than the product, especially at their time of need.
So here is what I plan to do about this. In my role at Acxiom, I advise our retail clients on how to deal with changes in people’s behavior and the market at large. My plan is to help the teams we work with embrace a more human-centered approach to marketing by collecting, curating and leveraging person-level data to provide a more contextually relevant experience. Bring the voice of the consumer into our planning discussions – to focus on truly knowing people and serving them in their time of need in a personally relevant way. And while I do that, I will be hearing the lyrics to that song in my head. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. Not just for some, but for everyone.