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Inflation: How to adapt your branded content as costs rise


With Covid restrictions ending in Q1, there was a real feeling that our economy was about to enjoy a post-pandemic surge. There was even talk of a period akin to the Golden Twenties in the US, in which a surging economy created an era of mass consumerism.

Alas, here we are, heading into Q2 with the cost of living continuing to clime and inflation expected to top 9% by autumn. Energy costs are rising at an alarming rate and the tragic war in Ukraine is likely to hamper the UK’s economic prospects further.

Recognising the times we’re living in

As a brand, your marketing should reflect what’s going on in your customer’s world. But it can be tricky getting the tone right. As we saw during the pandemic, there’s a fine line between showing awareness of an issue and virtue signalling.

Writing in Social Media today, customer experience expert, Augie Ray, highlights the danger of a brand which expresses its values without actually taking actions to live by those values:

“The problem with marketing messages that merely signal your brand's virtue without doing anything further is that they waste customers' time, and do little to impact your relationship.”

So, what have we learned from the pandemic that can be applied to marketing during the cost-of-living crisis?


Develop your brand purpose

A crisis is a good opportunity – for want of a better phrase – for all businesses to develop and come through on their brand purpose.

Brand purpose is the reason for the business to exist beyond making money. But let’s face it, most brands are too busy thinking about the latter most of the time, leaving their purpose to sit relatively undeveloped on their website.

One brand which was recently in danger of being at complete odds with its supposed purpose was Asda. Positioning themselves as ‘The People’s Champion’, Asda was criticised by poverty campaigner Jack Monroe for more than doubling the price of its Smart Price range.

However, Asda listened and reverted its prices. Praising the supermarket, Munore said:

"The turnaround for this has been almost immediate - the speed at which they responded, not just with words, but with exactly what they said they would do - has been absolutely remarkable.”

Find ways of adding value

Not all brands will be in a position to help their customers in the same way as Asda has done.

However, are there elements of your offering that are at an advantage and worth talking about right now? For example, you might have products that help your customers to save money. Or perhaps a loyalty offering which can be extended?

It’s a perfect time to run a campaign leading with these money-saving products. If there’s nothing in your offering that fits the bill, how about adding value with branded content instead?

If you’re a supermarket, for example, you could run some branded content on budget recipe ideas. Or, if you’re a mobile network, you could write an article on how to buy a second-hand or refurbished mobile phone.

You get the gist. It pays to be creative in times of a crisis. Value-adding branded content will not only offer your audience something useful they can apply to their lives, but it also shows your empathy to the situation they find themselves in and provides some reassurance that there are solutions to their problems.

Don’t make brand marketing cutbacks

While you’re helping your audience to make cutbacks, that’s not to say that you should do the same with your marketing.

Research shows that brands who push forward and increase their share of voice during an economic crisis will reap the rewards in sales, profits and long-term benefits.

In the 1990-91 recession, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell took advantage of McDonald’s decision to drop its advertising and promotion budget, taking sales and market share from the Golden Arches.

Not all brands are bold enough to double-down on their advertising during an economic slowdown. It can feel like a risk – one wrong move and you’ll pay for it. But there’s a real opportunity to be found, with the “level of noise” in your industry much quieter when your competitors are cutting back on their ad spend.

Consumers need solutions, not silence right now. Give reasons to be optimistic. When we come out the other side, your brand could well be in a better position than when we went into these uncertain times.