In an Era of Continued Uncertainty, a Human Approach to Business Has Never Been More Necessary

The ‘Value: Relationships Under Duress’ report, conducted by C Space and Hall & Partners in partnership with Visa, identifies the critical steps brands need to take to build meaningful consumer relationships in 2024.

Dealing with multiple crises has changed consumers’ perception of value indefinitely. Despite being increasingly price sensitive, they are seeking value from brands that extends beyond price and embraces a more empathic, sustainable, and human approach, including reduced impact on the environment, treating employees fairly and supporting them through continued crises.

While new technologies empower companies to provide more embedded products and seamless services that deliver greater choice and a convenient experience, facilitated by an open data economy, the necessity for businesses and the brands that they sell to take a human approach has never been greater.

This is the finding of a multi-market qualitative and quantitative study (covering Europe, the USA and Asia) on the effect of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis on people’s expectations of brands. Conducted by insight, innovation and strategy agency C Space and research firm Hall & Partners in partnership with Visa, the ‘Value: Relationships Under Duress’ report is an essential manifesto for brand relationships.

Reframed as a quality-of-living crisis, they observe a dramatic impact on consumer attitudes and behaviour. Globally more than 2 in 5 people have cut back on essentials, and half of the population say they have cut back on joy. Yet for many trading down is not an option, leaving them ‘captive’ in relationships with brands that aren’t serving them and meaning this age of uncertainty is shattering trust in brands.

“Consumers remain anxious about the escalating threat of climate change and an increasingly volatile economic environment and rapid technological advances such as AI,” said Neha Mittal, Practice Director at C Space. “They continue to question whether their favourite brands are worth the investment or even whether they can afford them altogether. They are exhausted with the volume of decisions they make about what they buy. Many feel let down by the brands they have trusted for decades.

Consumers remain anxious about the escalating threat of climate change and an increasingly volatile economic environment and rapid technological advances such as AI.

Neha Mittal, Practice Director, C Space

They want brands to show up in ways that align with their values – with greater importance being given to personal health, family well-being and community connection. Brands must navigate the subjectivity of value to retain trust and show their authentic human approach.”

Globally 1 in 4 people are feeling alone, lonely and isolated. This is higher in India (44%) and lowest in Japan (12%). UK is 17% and US is 25%: Financial uncertainty, stress and other constraints is impacting decision making, meaning people are more likely to make poor judgements and take unnecessary risks that have negative long-term consequences.

Hayley Bramble, Group Strategy Director at Hall & Partners commented: “Brands should be asking what they can do to serve their customers better, make their lives easier or simply thank them for their loyalty. This is critical at a time when the pressure on ‘mental loads’ and ‘physical wallets’ is so intense. Winning brands build meaningful relationships with customers and employees but during a period of permacrises they need to bridge the solidarity gap.”

Helpfully, the study identifies five role models for brands to adopt to act with greater solidarity in this context. As  Simon Benarroch, Global Head of Insight and Analytics, Visa puts it “By embracing the insights in this report and the relationships role models, brands can adapt, innovate and better support both consumers and small businesses.”

  • The Constant: With each price increase and news story, people feel less able to trust what they see around them. When everything’s changing, reliability is a virtue. People want to have faith in what they see around them and have sources of stability for the future. From fleeting interaction to reliable relationships, how can your brand deliver consistency in a chaotic world?
  • The Confidante: People are feeling out of control, helpless and lonely. They hate grappling with challenges on their own while feeling like no one in power is listening. It matters to make time and create a dialogue with customers — about the big issues and the small ones, too. From one-way foghorn to dedicated dialogue, how can your brands really listen?
  • The Coach: Every decision counts, more than ever. Financial literacy isn’t just a skill for the rich. It’s for everyone. What people want most is tangible support in making the right decisions, so they can make their money go as far as it can moving forward. From brand vs customer to teammates in partnership, how can your brand help people make their money work harder?
  • The Boost: For customers, opening their bank accounts and seeing their bank balance is often as depressing as turning on the news. People need daily doses of hope, encouragement, and reassurance — comfort to keep them going. From daily grind to moments of belief, how can brands provide moments of joy to individuals and communities?
  • The Activist: People believe that institutions are ultimately against them and the planet, whether they are banks, governments, or brands. They want brands to feel their pain and stand with them in making a better world. And they want them to go beyond their typical limits — being bold to create change. From apathy to action, how can your brand change the world through your support of customers, communities and the planet?
Research methodology:

CSpace and Hall & Partners conducted quantitative research Q3 2023 among nearly 5000 consumers across 9 markets globally to cover Europe, the USA and Asia (UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Australia and the USA). In addition, qualitative interviews were conducted in these markets with: 600 VISA community members; 40 digital in-depth consumer interviews; 12 in-home interviews; 1600 people shared stories from their life and 8 experts including academics, economists and customer and brand experts were consulted.

Case studies, comparisons, statistics, research and recommendations are provided “AS IS” and intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for operational, marketing, legal, technical, tax, financial or other advice. Visa Inc. neither makes any warranty or representation as to the completeness or accuracy of the information within this document, nor assumes any liability or responsibility that may result from reliance on such information. The Information contained herein is not intended as investment or legal advice, and readers are encouraged to seek the advice of a competent professional where such advice is required.

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