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Innovating in a post-Brexit Britain

Since the referendum on June 23rd and the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, brands and marketers have been contemplating what it means for them, and how, if at all, they should adapt their strategy and communications to appeal to the residents of a Disunited Kingdom. One idea put forward has been that the result points to a “fear of the future” on the part of consumers, and therefore a cautious approach to innovation is called for. I would argue, however, that times of uncertainty such as this are exactly when ground-breaking innovations can flourish.

Consumers confident about the future

With the latest GfK Consumer Confidence Barometer showing that confidence about the economic outlook has recovered to pre-referendum levels, it seems that for the time being at least consumers are relatively relaxed about the immediate future. However as others have pointed out, Brexit has not actually taken place yet, and there could still be instability in the months and years ahead. In any eventuality, it’s unlikely that consumers are going to become less amenable to innovations that genuinely improve their lives without depleting their bank balance.

Economic uncertainty presents an opportunity for innovation

At GfK, we’ve been able to observe how consumers’ attitudes and behaviors have evolved over time, not only via the Consumer Confidence Barometer but also through our Consumer Life survey, which has been running in the US since the 1970s and globally since 1997. We’ve seen time and again that in times of economic uncertainty or difficulty, both at home and abroad, that consumers will make cutbacks, but at the same time will want to maintain their standard of living as much as possible.

During the global financial crisis at the end of last decade, for example, we saw the emergence of a number of innovations that helped consumers to do just that, including group discount sites such as Groupon, and the use of smartphones to get location-specific deals and discounts. All of this innovation helped consumers to maintain habits such as eating out.

What innovation means to consumers

More recently, we’ve asked consumers what innovation means to them, and here in the UK some of the most enthusiastic responses came from those aged over 50, who were more likely to vote Leave in the referendum and therefore might thought to be the kind of people to display a fear of the future. In fact, however, they were more likely than average to see innovation as an easier way of doing something, simplifying complexity and saving money. Millennials, on the other hand, only mentioned a few innovation attributes more than average, namely being unique and different, fun and exciting, and harnessing technology.

The lesson for companies and brands is that times of uncertainty are exactly when consumers are looking for disruptive and ground-breaking innovations to help them carry on with their lives regardless of the macro-economic situation. What’s more, it’s the group that might be most expected to prefer a cautious approach to innovation that makes the most demands for new products and services that make practical differences to their lives.

David Crosbie is a Director at GfK Consumer Life. Please share your thoughts with him at david.crosbie@gfk.com.

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