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How brands can win in a recession

16 September 2020Rosie Barrett

As the world enters an early onset COVID-induced recession, brands are left questioning their next steps. What lessons can they learn from past recessions and what new challenges may they face?

This episode of The Experience Makers features Wunderman Thompson UK’s Planning Director, Jo Weston, alongside Experience Lead, Tom Belt, who together share insights from Wunderman Thompson’s recent report, ‘How Brands Can Win in a Recession’.

We recommend you download the podcast to hear the report summary in full, but read on to find out a bit more about the discussion itself...

The Experience Makers episode 14 graphic

Having bounced back from a total of 16 recessions since 1923, you’d hope that we’ve gained some strong insights into where the economy may be heading. But this COVID induced recession is bound to be unique and uncertainty about the future continues.

The shape of the recession is yet to be identified - will it be v-shaped, u-shaped or even L-shaped? With the word ‘unprecedented’ continuing to be thrown around, many are expecting the worst.

How could this be different?

We’re already months into the pandemic, but there are still many unanswered questions. As with previous pandemic induced recessions, Tom hints that a quick bounce back may not be on the cards. There is a greater confidence towards a much slower recovery this time around, as the country focuses on actually dealing with the virus itself. This, in turn, has offset a huge change to, everyone’s daily lives...

They say it takes 21 days to create a habit, well we were in lockdown for 3 months, so there’s going to be different habits from a customer behaviour point of view that have been picked up and will probably be subconsciously retained.

Tom Belt

Tom raises a great point here – companies need to make sure that they’re addressing these societal changes and listening to their customers, whilst re-designing their experiences around these new behaviours.

We’ve still got a long way to go!

With such rapid economic decline since March (although our experts acknowledge that there has been gradual regrowth following the easing of lockdown rules), Tom highlights just how far we still have to go economically.

And peculiar to this particular economic downturn is the fact that some sectors have seen dramatic growth.

We love Jo’s mention that sales of non-wired bras have gone through the roof.

Parallels from past recessions

Within the Wunderman Thompson report, the team looked at customer behaviours from previous recessions to identify different purchasing habits. Staycations have typically trended in the past, boosting the homegrown tourist trade. And comfort food purchases typically take an upward shift. Something which I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of contributing to! Of course, recessions accelerate certain trends but they are mainly guilty of slowing others down. And while the government intervention may have softened the blow for now, that kind of supportive intervention will not last forever.

Spending in recessions is all about perceived value and, as Jo suggests, consumers want to “get the most bang for their buck”. Remember when M&S came out with their ‘Dine in for £10’ offer back in 2008? The company managed to stand by their core values whilst appealing to their newly cost-conscious customers. A great example of re-framing the value equation and as Jo suggests, a simple resolution to in an uncertain climate.

Accessibility is key

Tom warns that organisations are going to have to be even more focused on the accessibility of their products – and their customer experiences – as more and more consumers rely on digital in so many aspects of their lives. Customer’s digital expectations are rapidly increasing and people aren’t going to put up with inferior experiences for much longer. Where accessibility may have been a tick box in the past, it should now be a priority for customer experience decision-makers.

What should brands be doing now?

There is no one size fits all.

If you ‘go dark’, you’re removing yourself from where your customers are and losing the ability to gain insight around their new behaviours. Whilst utilising spend most effectively, brands need to consider how they stand out. What can they learn from new consumer behaviours? How can they shine in the current market?

Listen & Download to hear more...

Jo & Tom provide n easily digestible summary of the ‘How Brands Can Win in a Recession’ report and offer some great advice for both companies and the wider economy as we face the looming recession. We don’t want to give everything away, so download the full episode to hear more. If you want to read the full report, you can download it here: 'How Brands Can Win in a Recession'

Photo by Lode Lagrainge on Unsplash


Author: Rosie Barrett
Published: 16 September 2020

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