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2023, a year of questioning?

Reflecting on 2023; working smarter to stay in tune with consumers

After another busy year in 2023, January has brought a much needed chance to catch our breath and take stock. Jon Wilkins shares the Researchcraft team's reflections on what kind of a year we have just had and what it may mean for the future. 

Change is the only constant

Over the last few years, we have learned to expect the unexpected. The world is less permanent and the nature of change keeps hitting us from different and uncharted directions. Thanks to events like Brexit, the global impact of Covid-19, the growing influence of AI, new military conflicts and the rising cost of living, no two years have looked remotely the same recently. 

Light is beginning to shine through the doom and gloom. Although the economic situation is still fragile, declining inflation is starting to take the sting out of the cost-of-living crisis. Across many of the largest global economies, Consumer Confidence is recovering from a low point mid-2022 and is predicted to improve further in 2024.

So what kind of year was 2023? Of course, everyone will have their own perspective on this. We canvassed the views of our team of research and insight specialists here at Researchcraft, to see if there were any consistent themes that we have experienced in our professional lives over the last 12 months. 

Three themes stood out; all borne of the constant changes that we are experiencing.

1. Consumers scrutinising value for money more than ever

2. Working data smarter

3. Stronger focus on what’s driving brand choice


1. Consumers scrutinising value for money more than ever

Spanning the wide variety of markets in which we work, this is something we have been coming across time and time again during 2023. It seems to transcend geography and market sector. The cost-of-living crisis has clearly reduced the spend power of many and increasingly forced them to make price-based decisions. But importantly, this hasn’t stopped them buying premium brands altogether.

As rising prices for many discretionary purchases have out-paced wage inflation, consumers have had to make sacrifices somewhere, forcing them to scrutinise what they are actually getting for their money. This is particularly true for bigger ticket items and the premium brands they have historically preferred to buy.

We are privileged to track hundreds of different brands for our clients each year. Value for Money perceptions have shown sector-wide declines in many of the markets we cover, a strong indicator that the value equation is coming under pressure. For many of our clients, significant price rises have become a commercial necessity. The quality of the brand experience is now key to remaining competitive in ‘value for money’ terms.


2.  Working data smarter

Brands have more data than ever at their disposal, but making sense of it isn’t always straightforward. Over the past year, an increasing number of clients have been asking us to help them work smarter with the data they already possess. 

This has taken various forms. We’ve been asked to simply re-work data from our surveys to explain new or unexpected outcomes or provide greater granularity for key segments or business units. We’ve also been asked to re-purpose existing datasets with a completely new objective in mind. But other times, we’ve worked to establish links and relationships between separate pre-existing datasets, making connections between hard commercial data and softer consumer perceptions and attitudes.

Whilst some of this stems from budget pressures (it’s usually less expensive to re-analyse existing data than collect fresh data, especially if it can give you 80% of what you need), it also enables brands to be more agile. It’s much quicker to extract fresh insight from an existing dataset than wait weeks for new survey results to be collected and then analysed, which will potentially be too late to be useful.


3.  Stronger focus on what’s driving brand choice

The frequency of this request rose dramatically in 2023:

“Can we (re-)look at what’s driving brand consideration?”

Brand owners understand that the rules of the game in their sector are constantly changing, and changing quickly. These constantly shifting sands are backed up by the insights they are seeing in our tracking studies. They need to stay on top of what’s making their target consumers tick. 

Driver analysis across the numerous brands, categories and markets we cover, shows that drivers of brand consideration are in flux. Value and affordability have become more important generally, but they are not the only factors to do so. In some cases, functional aspects of brand experience continue to grow in importance; a prime example being the wider adoption of digital ordering processes which in turn, change consumer expectations of a brand.

But what is clear, is that brand drivers are not set in stone. We need to revisit them regularly to ensure we are still in touch with consumer priorities.


What does this mean for 2024?

Change is constant. The brand owners we have been privileged to work with during 2023 clearly recognise the constant state of flux we are in and are keeping their finger on the pulse. We don’t expect that to change. 

If predictions are to be believed and there are no nasty surprises ahead, then rosier times may be around the corner. After a troublesome decade, brands have been focusing their energies on understanding the new world order to enable them to emerge in a healthy state. Equipped with this knowledge, the brands that do this well will be in a better position to grasp the opportunities for growth when they do emerge.


How was your 2023?

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2023, a year of questioning?