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Hold on – the ride isn’t over yet

The ongoing impact of Covid-19, as well as Brexit and other global events, mean the only thing we can be certain about is that the future will be uncertain, says Terry van Rhyn of Ashgrove Marketing.

What was that…was it a bird, was it a plane? No, it was 2021 whizzing past! I’m not sure if it’s just when you get older that the years pass by at an alarmingly fast pace, or if everyone is feeling the same?

Traditionally, this is the month when I would take stock of the year and review the upcoming Christmas campaigns, commenting on how their messages would encourage consumers to run to the high street to buy these amazing things they must have.

Like last year, the pandemic has and will continue to influence consumer behaviour. Marketers will have to navigate these unchartered waters with great care and caution, but with great urgency. We might wish for it but there will not be a “back to normal” anytime soon.

Those businesses nimble enough to move quickly and adjust to market shifts and consumer buying behaviour trends will be the ultimate winners. When world markets, supply chains and consumer behaviours are disrupted, those with the “big plan” will survive.

The disruption is widespread. My own US-based business, for example, is reliant on the print industry, which is currently suffering from paper shortages. Supply chain merchants are currently selling their precious stock to the highest bidder. This situation is further compounded by a lack of people to do the work in the plants as Covid-related restrictions take their toll in terms of delivery to the customer.

It’s a stormy time to be in business and some boats will be better at adjusting to the wind and rain than others.

I have read numerous articles by people much smarter than me about the longer term impact in the consumer market, and on buying patterns and behaviours and I must say no one really knows what to expect this season.

Sure, the high street stores can deploy omnichannel marketing to capture both digital and bricks and mortar audiences, but in my opinion, this will only truly be assessed after the fact. You will still have to take an educated guess at this stage.

The big question, in terms of consumer behaviour, will revolve around the savings vs spending mindset. What will be the percentage breakdown between those who would like to reward themselves for being stuck in the doldrums and those who may be concerned and prefer to save their money in case things go pear-shaped again next year?

There are many stats predicting these trends, but you do wonder how those surveyed are affected by the barrage and often contradictory 24/7 news cycles.

We are bombarded with so much conflicting information it is bound to affect how we make decisions. One news flash may influence you to cancel that well-deserved holiday in Greece, another might tempt you to take it. Should you push the boat out with some New Year home improvements or simply make do for the time being?

While there has always been a measure of uncertainty in anything we do, the erratic nature of things on a daily basis now makes many of us long for a quiet period of consistency and comfort.

Those businesses who have invested heavily in data might be able to steal a march on others with early indications of what their customers are thinking and feeling – and coming up with ways to adapt their offerings to changing behaviours.

Marketing in itself is not reliant on or affected by supply chain manufacturing woes but it is very much up to us to help tell the story for our clients who are impacted. Often this is a difficult story to tell as we don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but honesty is always the best policy.

Managing expectations in these situations is crucial and it’s important not to hide behind those things that are out of anyone’s control, but to demonstrate that affected businesses are leading the problem resolution process.

There may well be reduced profit margins for a time with this approach but, on the flip side, it is an opportunity to engage with clients more candidly and personally that should lead to enhanced relationships. Which, in the long run, is a much better place to be.

Where we are right now, the search for the silver bullet is futile. As marketers we need to be using our eyes and ears to collect data as well as our computers. Saying the right thing at the right time is now more important than ever and using all the tools in our toolbox will be critical.

2022 is not guaranteed to be any smoother!