Think BIG: Social listening, recession lessons + L.L.Bean results

Welcome back to Belle’s “Think BIG” series. Each month, we’re sharing bold brand ideas, industry insights, and all-things measurement + goals. We hope our bitesize news + trend-takes inspire big thinking and big results for your next campaign.

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Bold Brand Ideas: A lesson in social listening: Airbnb + Alix Earle

TikTok mega influencer, Alix Earle and friends were recently traveling to Italy. When they landed, they realized the villa they booked didn’t exist. They were scammed and stranded – until Airbnb swiftly swooped in.

Soon after that comment, Alix Earle posted this TikTok – which now has nearly 600K likes, 4K comments, 9K saves and 9K shares.

This example is the gold star of social listening. It underscores the importance and opportunities associated with staying on the pulse. 

Social listening requires senior marketers to find, follow and analyze online conversations or trends. The conversations might be industry, brand, competitor or culture-related. For Airbnb, it was all of the above.

So, what are the benefits of social listening and how is it done?

Benefit 1: Better understand and empathize with audiences.

Brands should monitor comments, read online reviews, issue polls and incorporate feedback into decision-making. Marketers can create more relevant content when customers’ likes, dislikes, values and priorities are on the table. As social media managers know too well, customers are not afraid to share their opinion online.

Benefit 2: Uncover pain points and have a reputation for being quick to resolve.

A GoodFirms survey reported that 40.2% of surveyees were unhappy with brands’ customer services. Purchase decisions are made on experiences. Convenience combined with positive interaction can go a long way in building a lifetime customer connection.

Benefit 3: Stay relevant.

Social listening inserted Airbnb into a trending conversation. It created an authentic relationship with a mega influencer, resulting in organic coverage – which would’ve cost a lot through a paid post. The quick response also proved Airbnb is “in the know,” garnering love and kudos from Alix Earle and 5 million followers. Tools like SproutSocial and Sprinklr have strong social listening capabilities. Senior marketers can also track trends and conversations with features like TikTok’s Trend Discovery.

Investing in on-the-pulse marketing and relationship building is more important than ever… See below.

Industry Insights: History shows that marketing in a recession can lead to long-term growth 

Analysts say a recession is likely, and CMOs know that their marketing budgets are at risk. According to Gartner’s 2023 CMO Spend and Strategy Survey, 71% of CMOs feel like they already lack the budget to execute their strategy. They’re being asked to prove performance, with less. 

History shows being quick to cut marketing can be costly. A study after the 1990 recession found that brands who spent more on marketing during the downturn saw long-term gain. An analysis of the 2008 recession found that companies with continued marketing spend saw a 17% compound annual growth rate. In 2020, brands that invested in the “growth triple play” – creativity, analytics, and purpose – saw an average growth rate of 67%.

The data is clear: Enterprises that see recessions as an opportunity outpace competition. Marketing and PR campaigns increase share of voice when competition is quiet, and that dominance leads to long-term growth.

AdWeek says it best: “From a sales perspective, a recession is actually an ideal time to stand out as a leader in the crowded marketplace and tell the story of why your brand matters. Historically, recessions make winners and losers out of businesses.”

Despite this evidence, budgets often don’t budge. Shrinking budgets require strategic shifts in spending. They mean optimizing dollars and narrowing in on what matters most: the customer. Now more than ever, brands are at the mercy of consumers to determine if they deserve a dollar. 

Senior marketers must get creative with their budgets to convince consumers to choose them. If budgets are tight, consider prioritizing the following projects:

Revisit brand messaging to ensure it’s relevant and tells a compelling story.

Audit, reflect and build future-proof strategies and messaging that put consumers at the center. Be sensitive to financial strains, keep a pulse on community issues and create in-touch, value-add content. For example, this AdAge article shares how CPG brand messaging should shift with recent cuts in SNAP benefits.

Keep consistent touch points with consumers through micro influencers.

Micro influencer campaigns are a great example of effective storytelling opportunities. Compared to celebrity partnerships, they can activate quickly and generate more content – for a fraction of the cost. Most importantly, micro creators often have authentic relationships with their followers. They are on the pulse and connected to the likes and dislikes of consumers. By proxy, they help brands stay relevant and embedded in communities.

Build a crisis communication plan.

From a global pandemic to murder hornets and now a looming recession, no crisis seems off limits. Make sure that crisis plan is up to date and not collecting dust on the shelf. The best crisis plans mitigate risks before they escalate and ultimately build trust with consumers. Create response guides that align with refreshed messaging and make sure brand values shine in words and actions.

Double down on reporting to prove ROI.

Upper funnel awareness tactics that emphasize storytelling are critical for surviving a recession. Prove performance to the c-suite by tracking competitive share of voice, public sentiment, SEO impact, website referrals, engagement rates and more.

Goals: L.L.Bean didn’t post on social and their engagement skyrocketed

Speaking of measurement… 

Last month, we highlighted L.L.Bean’s “Off the Grid” announcement, in which the brand paused all social channels in recognition of Mental Health Month. They connected Mental Health Month with their brand values, emphasizing a commitment to wellbeing and the outdoors. 

This month, we’re following up on results. Despite no new content, L.L.Bean’s social channels are #goals.

L.L.Bean reported their Instagram impressions exceeded 8.5 million midway through May, a 95% year-over-year increase. This online support and engagement likely stems from values shared among L.L.Bean and its customers. Brand purpose and shared values are linked with customer loyalty and are that much more important in economic downturns.

L.L.Bean’s social campaign transcends the internet. The company did a similar campaign in 2022, which was their second-best year of all time. It’s no wonder they rinsed and repeated in 2023.

The takeaway is this: While recessions warrant concern and caution, they also bring opportunity to create and innovate. Our take? Do something different, double down on values, tell a story and measure the results.

What projects are you focusing on this summer? How will they help your brand stand out above competition?

Abby Papenfus

With extensive experience in B2B and B2C marketing, Abby Papenfus applies her love of analytics, research and creative strategy to connect-the-dots and drive what matters. She has led record-breaking influencer and PR campaigns for industry-leading brands like Nationwide Insurance, Big Lots and Dearfoams.