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As we dive deeper into the new decade of the 2020s, there is simply no notion of normality to be had any more. Instead, headlines and lifestyles alike are dominated by a perpetual spin cycle of the unexpected – from international health crises and rising tensions in mainland Europe, through to the cost-of-living crisis that we are collectively staring down today.

In a world in which simply living is becoming increasingly difficult – let alone working and doing business – what can be done to cement any level of certainty or accountability in people’s minds?

And more than this, what can brands do to not only navigate the cost-of-living crisis with their businesses intact – even when still recovering from pandemics, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages and worse – but also become the chosen allies of a tired and trepidation population, in sore need of reprieve?


The cost-of-living crisis is a cocktail of sordid symptoms

Economies worldwide were battered by the global health crisis and finding a route through that preserved the very fabric of society without needlessly endangering lives was a delicate balancing act that some countries approached differently to others.

In the UK, a series of lockdowns and liberations alike created a culture of confusion, doubled down on by deceptive governmental practices that left public faith in those being trusted to lead them through that crisis – let alone the cost-of-living crisis of today – irreparably harmed.

Yet make no mistake, the spotlight shone brightly on brands alike during the pandemic – from forcing workers to plough through lockdowns to ignoring social distancing measures and worse besides. This level of scrutiny in people towards brands remains in place today and has left even the most experienced of marketers scratching their heads at how best to frame the latest round of wearisome, worrisome headlines as something to persevere through.

While the many symptoms of the cost-of-living crisis can become something of an enticing blame game to get locked into – it was this budget announcement, that tax cut, this Great Resignation, that economic policy, and so on – these circular arguments can become a distraction from the key takeaway in all of this.

There is a key ingredient missing in public consciousness today, from politics and economics, but also for brands – and the restoration of that element will prove the secret to emerging triumphant in these interesting times.

That key ingredient? Trust.


Cultivating trust in a cost-of-living crisis

As the cost of living bites deep into wallets and bank balances the world over, a key takeaway from expert analysis such as that of the IPA is that marketing, advertising and brand positioning ought no longer be about fun and enriching experiences. Yes, those are very nice – but when people are worried about the basics, in what frame of mind are they in to consider contributing their overstretched incomes towards life’s little luxuries?

If anything, you serve only to alienate your audiences by making the joys your products provide seem that much more unattainable. That sting will bury itself deep in consumers’ psyches – who wants to admit to anyone, let alone themselves, that they can no longer enjoy that cheeky take-away or favourite bottle of luxurious shampoo because the prices have gone up in the immediate term, long-term brand optics be damned?

Weighing up the immediate versus longer term benefits and caveats of any pricing or marketing incentive is nothing new to marketing teams or the brands that they represent, of course. Yet the reality that we are in truly unprecedented times is something that cannot be sidestepped or ignored.

Plumbing the hidden depths of the cost of living crisis seems to yield the best results. Support towards true hardship and a promise to remain steadfast and dependable when the chips are down are core messages a brand can deliver to become not just dependable businesses to buy from with what little money there is to go around – but outright champions against adversity.

Truly, these are the heroes to whom people will feel the greatest loyalty and commitment as this strange interval of history continues. With that in mind, on which side of history will your brand stand?