In the Midst of a Storm, Don’t Lose Your Northstar (Hint—It is all about understanding People)

Jun 16, 2022

I feel dizzy reading the headlines. Do you? 

This was going to be the summer when we emerged from this horrible pandemic to live our full lives and be our best selves. Instead, every place I turn I am hit with a barrage of concerning news about the economy, cost of living issues, supply chain problems, gun violence, Ukraine, climate disasters, mental wellness issues, and political divides. 

The word unprecedented is often overused, but it is the best way to describe what we are experiencing. The reality is that nobody has seen this series of events, in this context, ever before. Sure, many of us have lived through housing bubbles, stock market declines and recessions. We have seen political and social divisions. But we haven’t seen inflation like this in over forty years. In fact, Millennials and Gen Zers, have never experienced serious inflation, and Gen Xers will barely remember it. All of this, while we have record low unemployment, with more job openings than people to fill them. And let’s not forget that the last pandemic of this scale was over one hundred years ago, so there aren’t many people who can explain what comes next.  

There are conflicting signals and a lot of guessing about how this turbulence will impact people. At GutCheck, we sought to deepen our understanding of people’s attitudes and likely behaviors as they continue to experience this confluence of events. The resulting ‘GutCheckonomics applies the lens of Agile Human Experience Intelligence to the trends and changes we are seeing, so that we better understand the role people’s emotions, needs, and personalities play in shaping their behaviors and plans.  

Let me move away from company and industry jargon and try to be clearer 

It is important to pay attention to the headlines and economic data, but it is even more important to understand real people. High inflation and economic turbulence mean that Alex, a single working Dad, is trying to figure out how to pay for daycare and groceries in the same week. It means that Sally, a young wife and mother is going to delay doctor’s visits unless there is an emergency. It means that Yvonne, a Gen Zer is going to drive an Uber, after she gets off work this afternoon, so that she can pay her exorbitant rent and still be able to go to her cousin’s wedding. I can’t find enough employees is why Perry is only opening his seasonal beach town café on weekends. 

And now, more than ever, it is so important to understand that each of us experiences the world through a different set of circumstances. One person’s minor recession could be another person’s depression. Inflation may be an annoyance to some and life altering to others. Other forms of turbulence can be a short-term challenge or force a dramatic change in one’s life. 

So, what might be on the mind of marketers and innovators? 

In the middle of this storm, how do we plan backhalf brand messaging? Should our advertising demonstrate empathy or should it be entertaining and serve as a distraction? Do we take a price increase to offset inflationary pressures, or optimize elements to ensure we are seen as great value as people cut back, anticipating a recession? How do we prepare and build a 2023 marketing strategy? Should we turn the innovation spigot off? 

While today’s circumstances are unprecedented there are approaches that seem to be reliable when we look at the companies and brands that don’t just survive, but actually thrive in difficult times. We have found several critical attributes in our interviews with leaders of some of the Gutsiest Brands”: 

1. Lead with empathy! Walk in other people’s shoes via an adaptive, current, and genuine understanding of people, in their many dimensions, as the foundation for brand building and innovation.

2. Pioneer new paths! Never turn off the innovation engine, but be sure initiatives are rooted in a good understanding of people’s circumstances, struggles, and enthusiasm.

3. Stand behind bold ideas! Build confidence among the team in the initiatives that will protect the business and drive real growth.

4. Seize opportunities while others make trade-offs! While some companies cut back and even retreat, the growers will march on, creatively building brands and new products.

Brands that grow make an emotional connection with real people. Bringing the voices of people to life in terms of how they are feeling, and what they are likely to desire, is a critical role played by the Insights team. Timely insights are essential to helping brand and product leaders navigate these truly uncharted waters 

I recently hosted a great discussion with Kevin Taylor, from Google, and Kyle Papanikolas, from McDonald’s, who made it a point to encourage companies who want to grow through this uncertainty to charge up the insights engine and keep driving forward. 

2022 strategies may not have fully anticipated today’s happenings, and last year’s foundational research may be old news. Agile research, done properly, puts the story of people and their personalities, frustrations, needs, and desires in the hands of decision makers. People choose products and services from brands that demonstrate “They Get Me.” Being agile requires a research game plan that is timely and flexible to get to the heart of what matters most, when, and how it matters. 

For people to say that you “You Get Me” it is so important for you to truly “get them. This has rarely been truer than it is in the middle of this storm. 

To see how GutCheck can help your brand stay close to your target audience’s rapidly evolving needs, drop us a note. We’d love to work with you to help you stay connected and engaged. 

Written By

Rob Wengel

Rob Wengel

Chief Executive Officer

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