How Brands Should Respond in Times of Uncertainty


Fraught news headlines have become more and more commonplace – especially in the last year, as we’ve faced a deadly global pandemic, a national reckoning with racial injustice, a historic and divisive presidential election, and so much more.
During times of uncertainty, like those we are all muddling through right now, it can be difficult to be a marketer or brand manager and know for certain how to respond effectively to match what consumers are feeling, thinking, and buying. Some big brands have made momentous missteps in this arena in recent years. Other brands make it everything short of company policy to ignore politics or current events, staying silent on the issues of the day. But neither of these strategies is the right one. 

For brands to successfully navigate the muddied waters of consumer sentiment during uncertain times, the best path forward lies somewhere in the middle–and, crucially, leveraging advanced analytics can help marketers understand their customers and inform applicable business strategy.
Responses in times of uncertainty
In determining company strategy and marketing tactics during times of economic turmoil, political tension, or social unrest, the most important thing is to know your customer base. Are your customers young and engaged in politics? Are they neutral, older, or averse to a brand taking a stance on these issues on social media or other consumer-facing communications channels? Fueling an efficient marketing strategy for all kinds of advertising will require a deep understanding of the audience you are reaching.

It’s also important to look at data from all sides, which you can mine on a very granular level in near real-time using advanced analytics, to be clear and consistent in your messaging and provide meaningful insights–without straying from your core brand values.
Being genuine is important, too. For example, when the formerly-named Aunt Jemima brand changed its name to avoid alienating customers due to its insensitive branding, for many consumers, the change was “too little, too late.” Now that its name has been officially changed to Pearl Milling Company, an Ad Age-Harris poll shows that while two-thirds of consumers are aware of the name change, only 23% would be more likely to buy from the brand. And more notably, 28% said the update would make them less likely to buy Pearl Milling Company products.
The fact of the matter is that you’ll probably alienate someone, no matter how you proceed during difficult times. Brands that really understand their customers can confidently take a stand and make that tradeoff — Nike is a perfect example of a company unbothered by taking a stand and alienating those who don’t agree. But for most, instead of diving headfirst one way or the other, it’s best to find a middle ground and determine if voicing an opinion – whether supporting or condemning events – presents an opportunity for your brand in the long run.

Advanced analytics will be necessary for big brands to navigate 2021 and beyond
As brands both big and small weigh their options and determine the best course of action, advanced analytics can help. Using tools that are able to tap into the universe of external data sets, companies can manage data to drive strategic decisions and extract actionable market intelligence and predictive insights. Think of it as market research, powered by artificial intelligence, without the kinds of data delays that limit the shelf life of an insight.

For example, platforms like Signals Analytics look at thousands of data points to understand trends, so brands are not just looking at one audience or group to strategize before making a move. With all of the data in one place, marketers can look at both influencers’ commentary and social chatter surrounding current events, for example, to gauge public sentiment. Leveraging product review and trend data can be beneficial, as well.

The next critical ingredient in this recipe is the ability to test messaging quickly and with minimal risk prior to going big. Digital media campaigns are an excellent place to run live tests and gain visibility into the true business value of insights from your analytics platform. Leveraging search and social media advertising to run experiments limited to specific regions or audience cohorts for a quick read is a smart way to gather additional data before investing in a larger values-centric marketing effort.

These strategies have become important in any climate to make successful business decisions, and using them during times of uncertainty is a necessity. In both proactive and reactive settings, understanding your consumers and the opportunity cost of “making a statement” are the key components to navigating tricky waters. Advanced analytics can help make both of those things much easier to source quickly and accurately.
Looking to the future, brands will increasingly rely on advanced analytics to make informed business decisions, particularly as the stakes get higher and higher in regards to consumer preferences surrounding messaging on current events. Whether navigating a tricky political landscape, a natural disaster, or one of the countless other events that dominate our headlines, it’s crucial for brands to stay true to their authentic brand identity, be clear with consumers where they stand (If making a stance presents a beneficial opportunity for the brand), and stay in touch with their consumer base to ensure that core messaging aligns with consumer preference.
These actions can help simplify and inform better decisions, and along with utilizing advanced analytics tools to gut check a marketing strategy, they can help brands move quickly and efficiently to keep up with the rapid pace of the world in which we live—and shop. 

Margo Kahnrose is CMO of Kenshoo, a leading marketing technology platform for brands looking to plan, activate and measure growth strategies across the most-engaging digital channels. Kenshoo’s ( solution combines data-driven insights and best-of-breed optimization to help make informed decisions, scale and measure performance across Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Walmart, Roundel, Instacart, Apple Search Ads, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, Verizon Media, Yandex, Yahoo Japan, and Baidu.  

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