As we head into a global recession, all the signs point to caution: inflation is up, dollar value is dropping, interest rates are high, and stock markets performance is lackluster. Additionally, China’s emergence from COVID-19 restrictions could place additional inflationary stress on gas and food prices as that country becomes more mobile.

Careful and cautionary strategies are needed to weather the recession, even by the most experienced business leaders. At this time, understanding your customers is vital to aid in the development of strategies to help you navigate the recession successfully.

On this early January morning as I pick mandarin limes from our tree, I contemplate how easy it is to gather the fruit within easy reach. I can evaluate the size and potential juiceness for use because the fruit are lower on the tree and easy to access. Similarly I ponder the low hanging fruit that businesses can leverage to help insulate from the impending recession. Which of your customers are signaling distress now and how can you pivot your business to retain them through the tough times?

As a market researcher who has guided businesses through a couple of recessions, I have been through some of the early signals. Cost cutting measures are the first signs of distress and could impact your client base. But do you know which of your customers are exhibiting those signs of distress? Now is the time to assess your own customers' risk factors and devise a strategy to partner through the recession and achieve mutual success.

Most At Risk:
To begin you need to identify your clients who are most at risk of churn; then find ways to help them. Zoom in on industries, cultures or groups most affected by the recession and start now to design strategies to guide through the crisis.

In 2007 before an impending US recession, a large retailer identified customers who were shifting their shopping patterns to reduce sizes and focus on discounted products. They went out and spoke to their customers, visited their homes and explored the shifting economic landscape that was impacting their lives. From this they identified segments of their customers whose behaviors were showing signs of being at risk for affording food. And would shift their shopping habit to Dollar stores that were a new growing trend in retail. This company was able to develop personas of “Good but Tightening”, “Starting to Shift” and “Extreme Risk”. They shifted strategy from mainstream branding to developing an economy brand to help their customers most at risk of food insecurity survive the impending recession. They also worked with manufacturers to institute a discount section that offered needed everyday items at reduced prices.

This retailer made it easy for their most distressed customers to continue shopping at that store and delivered their needs to make it through the recession. Not to mention the pivot in retailing strategy helps drive loyalty with their existing customers.

Connect with Stronger Customers:
One of the strongest advice I can give a client as a consultant is to keep forming a connection with your customers. Even if your customers have a strong long term relationship with you and seem at minimal risk of flight, it is still wise to as we head into a downturn to touch base with these customers. There may be surprises of customers who you didn’t expect to be suffering. Monitor your customer engagement/usage and look for customers who may be slipping. Maintain the relationship by reaching out through quick focus groups or 1 on 1 session to understand their needs and offer resources and strategies to help them progress through the downturn,

The rule of thumb is that it costs 5 times more to win a new customer than to keep a current one. A recession can exacerbate that rule. So keep connecting with your current customers and be an indispensable partner through the journey and they will be your low hanging fruit.

Color & Culture has a whole team devoted to customer understanding that can help you focus on customer success for 2023. We can work with you to identify your customer cohorts that are at risk. And develop the personas and help you to build defensive strategies to retain and re-engage your current customers. Reach out anytime at info@color&

Cherisse Lezama-Wagner is a researcher who has had over 22 years of experience of understanding customer behavior. She explores her curiosity of understanding human behavior through techniques across Design Thinking, Market Research & Behavioral Science. She has had experience with clients from many different industries such as CPG, Retail, Healthcare, Building Manufacturing, and more. She is the Chief Behavioral Officer leading the Customer Behavior expertise at Color & Culture.

Color & Culture is an integrated family of brands and changemakers that provides culturally relevant, human-centered strategies to solve ever-evolving challenges.