Lead Forensics

Cost of living and mental health: How should your brand respond?

25 January 2023


If you’ve been keeping on top of the latest economic forecasts for 2023 – and we really don’t blame you if you haven’t – then you’ll know that the current consensus is essentially thus: take 2022, rinse, and repeat.

Indeed, as warned by the Bank of England, we’re now in the midst of a ‘very challenging’ two-year recession.

And it’s being felt far and wide. According to research conducted by Mintel, 63% of Brits think inflation will harm their finances in the year ahead, while 80% are braced for a further hike in interest rates. Meanwhile, 50% believe they will be worse off due to the UK’s ongoing economic struggles. Separate studies by Experian suggest that 60% of households will have less than £1,000 to spend once essential bills are taken care of in 2023, while up to 30% will see their spending power reduced by at least 25%.

The toll on mental health

Unsurprisingly, this perfect storm of inflation and stagnant wage growth (otherwise known as stagflation) is now being orbited by a mental health crisis.

Having barely had time to recover from the worst pandemic in generations, we’re now living with what for many is an untenable rise in the cost of living. This has placed severe strain on daily life, creating conditions that may increase the likelihood of mental illness, substance abuse, physical issues and domestic violence.

An illuminating infographic from Rehab Recovery puts the scale of the problem into sharp focus.

It shows that around three in four adults (77%) have reported feeling very or somewhat worried about rising costs, with food, electricity, gas and fuel for cars particular pinch-points.

This concern is felt most acutely among people aged 30-49 and those living with a disability, with 82% of respondents from each group admitting they are alarmed by the situation.

And, as expected, the crisis appears to be affecting households with children more than those without. 90% of adults living with a dependent child aged 0-4 years are at least somewhat worried about their finances, compared to 76% of non-parents.

Very few demographics are immune to anxieties induced by the current climate. One apparent, outlier, however, is retired adults, with only 18% claiming to be worried, while people who own their home outright (69%) are less concerned than renters (85%) and those with a mortgage (78%).

A majority of people across all income levels are at least somewhat worried about the months ahead.

So, what does this mean for your brand?

Brands are not mental health practitioners, of course; but they do have an integral role to play in the country’s recovery as drivers of growth and sources of reassurance.

Yet, with Brexit and the conflict in Ukraine adding complications upon complications, it might feel like your own brand is currently trying to wade through dried cement. We appreciate that you will have your own worries right now – but by implementing the right marketing approach, you can go some way towards alleviating them.

Above all else, it’s vital that you engage with consumers in a sensitive manner. Compassion, positivity and authenticity are what people want to see from you right now; your company is powered by humans, so be human. Examples of this were evident over Christmas, with many advertisers choosing to centre their campaigns on community support initiatives and empathetic messaging.

Consumers are also re-evaluating their concepts of ‘value’. We’re naturally becoming savvier and more discerning, with 72% of Amazon shoppers saying they now check the price of products across multiple outlets before committing to a purchase.

But price is not everything. In fact, with people generally buying less, quality is increasingly trumping quantity. We’re not just looking for value – we’re looking for long-term value.

And this value is felt in our hearts as well as pockets. We’re seeking ‘feel-good boosts’, and one of the ways we can obtain them is by purchasing products that have strong sustainability credentials.

Pre-loved goods and online marketplaces are becoming increasingly popular for this very reason: we’re both reducing our footprint and supporting other people. Likewise, healthy treats and eco-friendly holidays are enjoying their own moments as enhancers of mood and self-validation in these uncertain times. Though none of these categories may apply to your brand, they do serve as zeitgeists that can inform your approach.

Final thoughts

While the vast majority of us have been affected by the cost-of-living crisis in some way, it’s by no means a level playing field.

It’s therefore imperative that, as business owners and marketers, you understand how the consumers you’re targeting are being impacted: What specific challenges are they facing? How is it changing their behaviours and attitudes? Why are you well-placed to help? With this knowledge, strategies can be adapted to maximise efficiency and engagement.

But however you choose to go about it, do so with sensitivity, compassion and positivity as key pillars. It’ll be your brand that people remember when the good times inevitably return.

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