By Rose Allerston, Smoking Gun

Against a backdrop of tumultuous world events and the cost of living crisis, consumer attitudes have altered irrevocably. It’s the communication professional’s eternal challenge to shift our approach with this constantly changing tide.

Consumers are demanding more from brands than ever before. They are buying less, shopping around more and every purchase is considered. So how can we adapt our strategy to stay ahead?

At Smoking Gun, we’ve launched ‘The Rise of the Shrewd Shopper’ report – an essential playbook for marketing and comms pros into the new consumer landscape. Crucially, it examines the opportunities to build brand loyalty and salience at a time when cost is king.

Here, we delve into a key theme of the report – My World Vs Big World.

According to a survey by The Grocer, half of all people who switched retailers in 2023 didn’t give a thought to ethics.

During the cost of living crisis, only 32% of men and 25% of women have continued with all their sustainable shopping habits. But it’s not that they don’t care; people literally cannot afford to be concerned about ‘big world’ issues.

There is a subtle but significant shifting of responsibility happeningShoppers are more likely to be consumed with ‘my world’ issues but, as they’re compelled to do less, they expect brands to do more.

98% of people think brands should be involved in social issues and ⅔ choose employers who act on environmental issues. They’re increasingly looking to brands and retailers to take the burden of doing the right thing and support them in their ‘ideal world’ ethics.

The data tells us that brand ethics tend to be more important to younger generations, but beside age, income plays a part and it’s no surprise that those with more money can prioritise ethics in real terms. The squeezed and struggling don’t have the same luxury of choice.

Even the most ethically committed have to prioritise what and where they buy – and big world considerations rank relatively low in the hierarchy of needs. When push comes to shove, people just aren’t willing to pay that big a premium for things. Practical and pragmatic considerations will win for the majority.

So, how can savvy brands step up to facilitate consumers to make a contribution to issues they care about to inspire brand loyalty?

Examples of brands walking-the-walk in the retail sector over the past year include Aldi. It launched a meal donation scheme with Neighbourly, donating 700,000 meals to charities, food banks and community groups during the school summer holidays. It also donated 80,000 items from the Mamia baby range to help new parents on low incomes, and committed to staff pay increases in its stores and warehouses.

ASDA launched an ‘Essential Living Hub’ – an online money-saving advice site to help struggling families. And after customers said the cost of living crisis has impacted their social interaction, it invested £750k in community groups. It also lowered prices on 600+ products and extended its  ‘Kids Eat for £1’ café offer.

Meanwhile Boots partnered with The Hygiene Bank to launch a back to school campaign to donate basic hygiene products. It launched a new Everyday value range, as well as providing a boost for Advantage Card holders with more exclusive discounts.

Notably, these brands aren’t just working to support their customers’ immediate needs, they’re commanding a presence in their communities with various charitable and good work initiatives.

The opportunities for brands:

  1. Many consumers need support in terms of more money in their pocket right now, so it’s key to offer tangible benefits. But supporting them in their ‘ideal world’ ethics at a time when this is compromised is important to lasting brand loyalty. It’s crucial to find out what matters in different categories to know where to invest. Is ethical packaging or sourcing of materials important? On what issues do they need advice? What charities resonate with them?
  2. Develop a solid positioning and communications plan to communicate what you’re doing and why – and prepare for questions on any points of contention which may arise from customers on social media or the press. You’ll need a clear narrative to guide your customers in what to look for – you have to make it easy even for the most ethically or financially aware to shop with you.
  3. As consumers scrutinise every penny spent, brand reputation is everything. Things like customer or employee reviews are carrying even more weight, so seek ways to harness your positive stories and build your online reputation, both at a brand and C-suite level. Be open and transparent and show you treat people fairly. This is how most consumers evaluate ‘goodness’ now, rather than whether you’re tackling the big climate issues as part of your ESG programme.

 Download Smoking Gun’s ‘The Rise of the Shrewd Shopper’ report in full here.