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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The economic year in review

Today’s New York Times offers some commentary, as well as a number of charts, to summarize the economic events of 2010. Their view is a bit less than gratifying, and it is only one point of view. But the supporting visuals offer an empirical glimpse at things like unemployment (related to population growth), as well as inflation, stocks, housing and healthcare.

Click here for the full story.

Implications: Before the recession was even announced, we started telling companies to focus less on the events of Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue… and pay more attention to the consumers they serve; the people who ostensibly life on “Elm Street.” Local consumers, and their needs, wants and purchase priorities.

It looks to me like that will remain sound advice for the foreseeable future.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Broke-ville, U.S.A. (The deferred impact of recession on city governments)

Today’s New York Times features an important story about Hamtramck, Michigan: A city that has fallen on very tough economic times, and is considering all options. The reason I believe the story to be relevant is that Hamtramck, Michigan could be just one example of an issue that we could surface again and again over the next two to four years… as short-term budget cuts fail to solve long-term financial issues. Cities are facing the perfect storm of reduced revenue from three years of flat retail sales, falling property tax assessments, and shrinking state and federal aid.

Because most consumers live in a municipality of some sort, this story is relevant to consumer trends. Click here to read the full article.

Implications: Whether or not cities begin to claim bankruptcy, they have begun to cut services and will likely need to raise taxes in order to return to functionality, if not solvency.

How will your business be impacted by this chain of events (reduction in services, increase in expenses)? How will your consumers be impacted? Will new business opportunities arise that replace services formerly delivered by a town or municipality?

Mike Anderson

Holiday sales success! (A return to the "old" normal?)

For the past three years, we’ve heard a lot of chatter about “the new normal,” a state in which people are credit-averse, financially responsible, and frugal in their spending habits. I thought the phrase was a bit over-used, to the point that it became cliché. (Any phrase that is used in a way that is thoughtless eventually becomes meaningless.)

Anyway… this morning’s New York Times offers one estimate of retail performance for the holiday season: UP 5.5%. Click here to see the article.

Implications: I loved seeing the good news this morning, and I hope your company was among the businesses that enjoyed strong revenue. But I’m wondering: Will the pundits now herald a return to the “old” normal?

Mike Anderson

Real estate unlikely to begin recovery until late 2011

A few moments ago, The Washington Post published a story featuring executives from Radar Logic, Inc., and… who suggest that—and explain why—they believe real estate prices will fall another five to seven percent, and then begin to recover (nationally) toward the end of 2011.

As primary reason for this forecase, both guests point to plentiful supply (more homes available that demand for housing) and high unemployment (making people cautious—or incapable—of committing to major purchases or plans). Click here to read the story, or, click here to watch the video (commercial pre-roll required).

Implications: First, it is important to remember that this is a forecast which could be influenced by unforeseen events (an accelerating recovery, a slow-down in the recovery, etc.). Also, note that national trends don’t always reflect local realities. The real estate market in your metro area could behave dramatically different than the national market. I’m told the real estate market remains comparatively resilient in New England, for example, while it remains frustrating in places like south Florida and Arizona.

It’s important to look for tools that help you keep abreast of what’s going on in your area… like this Washington Post graphic that helps you monitor unemployment rates by county (click to link).

Finally, note that even in adversity, there is opportunity. If people are not shopping for their next dream home, are they considering home improvements, home theatres, new appliances or new furniture to make their current house the home of their dreams?

I think so.

Mike Anderson

The value of trend watching... from all sides

There is an obvious importance that drives smart business owners and managers to monitor consumer trends: They might notice a shift in purchase priorities, consumer behavior, or pop culture that they can respond to and profit from. But there is another important reason to watch consumer trends: An opportunity could reveal itself that contradicts the prevailing sentiment.

Examples: When big cars were all the rage, Volkswagen introduced the Beetle. When full-bodied flavor was hot, Miller introduce Lite Beer (“Everything you’ve always wanted in a beer… and less”). Sometimes, a company can profit not by following the trend, but the counter-trend.

To that point, there was a good opinion piece by Joseph Gelman in this morning’s Media Post Marketing Daily. Click here to see it.

Implications: When you see a series of behavioral changes that could represent a trend, it’s a smart idea to ask, “In what ways might my company (product or service) profit by appealing to consumers who are involved with or influenced by this trend… or consumers who belong to an opposing behavioral/sentimental set?”

Mike Anderson

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A new twist on "Experiential Philanthropy?"

Over the past several years, I have noted frequent examples of something we refer to as Experiential Philanthropy: When someone gives of their time or talents, rather than (or in addition to) making a financial donation to a worthy charity.

In this week’s newsletter, I saw what might be another example of this hands-on contact with worthwhile causes: Tours of London… conducted by the homeless. Click here to see the complete article.

Implications: Move over, tourist attractions. People’s move toward authenticity in response to the recent recession could have an impact on destinations from Big Ben to Mickey Mouse.
Consumers are increasingly in touch with reality.

Are you?

Can you contribute to the realism consumers are increasingly after?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Internet use is often evidence of higher income

A Research Brief published about two hours ago suggests that people with higher incomes are more likely to be consistent users of the Internet. (Click here to see the full story.)

Implications: Once upon a time (and it wasn’t that long ago), the Internet was a great way to reach a niche group. As we move into 2011, the Internet audience is more aptly described as mainstream, if not upscale.

Does your site look like a portal waiting to serve a niche… or an additional front door to your business? Do you have just one site? Should your company have more than one site—a number of micro-sites, perhaps—that super-serve it the wide variety of niche markets which comprise that market we call, “the mainstream?”

Mike Anderson

Birth rate among teen mothers declines

The overall birth rate has declined, including and especially among teen moms, according to a story published yesterday by The Washington Post. It is the second year in a row of decline, and results in the lowest birthrate among teen moms in the 70 years since the federal government began collecting the data. (Click here to read the full story.)

Implications: The Post story suggests that teens have responded to the financial constraints of the recession with increased personal responsibilities, perhaps not adding to the stress in a household. I’m not sure whether that holds… but the cause might be less interesting than the effect: The only increase in birthrate was among women over forty.

Mike Anderson

More consumer and business trends for 2011

The annual barrage of year-end "trend" articles continues. Trendhunter has released their set of top trends for 2011. Look beyond the sometimes overly-cute names, and you might just discover some meaningful ideas that coincide with your own, local observations. Click here to see the printed version, or click on the screen below to watch the Trendhunter TV video.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Food trends for 2011

Looks like I’m hardly the only person who quotes packaged goods and supermarket guru, Phil Lempert. A friend sent me this clip from the Vancouver Sun, summing-up Phil’s top picks for food trends in 2011. (Click here to read the full story.)

If you prefer, here’s another take on 2011 Food Trends, provided by The Food Channel (click to play, or visit The Food Channel site on Vimeo).

2011 Trends Forecast from The Food Channel on Vimeo.

Implications: Some of what is presented as a trend is actually more of a prediction. But I share the information here with the idea that you’ll watch for what’s important to you, consider implications for your business, and discard the rest. But the overwhelming message: Watch for changes in your target consumer... and be prepared to meet shifting needs and wants.

[Editor's note: Thanks to friend and fellow trend-watcher JoAnne Naganawa for the leads on these stories!]

Mike Anderson

An educated guess: Cost of higher education going higher

Last week, Research Brief published an analysis of National Center for Education Statistics data done by the Pew Research Center. The analysis suggests that college students are borrowing much more money in recent years. (Click here to read the full article.)

The following day, the New York Times published a story that points to a cloudy future for the funding of Pell Grants. (Click here to see that story.)

Implications: Think about book stores, back-to-school clothing, wireless phones, laptops, local pizza delivery shops… right down to the beer vendors: There are lots of business categories that rely on college student spending for their livelihood. But this trend stands to impact more than just the companies who build or sell those small dorm-room-sized refrigerators. These reports suggest that we might be wise to look for fundamental changes in the way some people seek education.

Could increasing costs lead more people to online classrooms, or at least to down-grade from a distant, private college to a hometown, public university? Or, could these costs inspire students to take classes with the idea of gaining specific collection of knowledge, a skill, or ability… instead of seeking a broad degree?

Mike Anderson

Smartphone Santa: Shopping from the small screen

A recent New York Times story indicates that more people are using the shopping capacity of their smartphones to get some of that holiday shopping done this year. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: As time pressure continues to drive many consumer behaviors, this evolution in the use of handsets is not surprising.

Is your site ready for the small screen? Should it be? In what ways might the needs of a mobile-phone wielding shopper be different than the point-and-click user of a full-sized computer? How about a walk-in shopper?

Mike Anderson

Monday, December 20, 2010

My opinion: A smart use of email marketing

Last night, I was flying from Atlanta to Minneapolis, and learned of a special “holiday gift” from Delta Airlines, Google Chrome, and GoGo in-flight internet service: Free Wi-Fi on this flight. So I fired-up the laptop and started working… free, except that I had to give GoGo my email address during the registration process.

Today, I received a very simple email from GoGo, with “Receipt” in the subject line of the message. It showed a table like this:

$12.95 for In-flight Internet Service
-12.95 for promotional discount
0.00 Sales Tax
$0.00 Total Cost (Happy Holidays!)

Implications: This was a smart way for GoGo to get me (and thousands of others, I will assume) to try in-flight Wi-Fi. Some people will pay to use the service in the future, some people will not. But I loved the way GoGo didn’t just give me value. They reminded me that they gave me value! (No harm in that, is there!?)

Next time I need to get some work done when I'm in the air, will I remember how easy logging-on to the plane's Wi-Fi system was? Absolutely.

Mike Anderson

My opinion: How to not run a loyalty program

I keep a folder in my personal email account called “Bad Business.” It is the place I deposit examples of what I believe to be really poorly executed email marketing. This is not faceless spam that comes from some nameless hacker, mind you… the folder holds examples of email marketing that I believe could be doing more harm than good. Now, I don’t like to single-out or pick on any company in particular, but a recent sequence of messages I’ve received from Best Buy simply offers too many good teaching moments. I can’t resist. Can you spot the missteps that lead to the risk of losing a loyal customer?

Back on October 29th, I received an email from Best Buy Reward Zone that included the following text:

“We are writing to let you know that Best Buy has changed the way it manages opt-out preferences. Going forward, opting out of either Reward Zone or Best Buy marketing communications will result in being removed from both marketing lists. In order to honor your request to receive Reward Zone program e-mails containing special offers, invitations to events and account updates, you have been opted-in to receiving Best Buy marketing communications generally.”

In other words, Best Buy was letting me know that they were going to start using my email address the way they wanted to, not the way I wanted them to. Within a few days, I had already received several sales messages that struck me as abuse-of-access, so I opted-out of the program they had shoved me into. The notice I got back said, “It could take up to ten days” to stop receiving emails. (Funny, when I change the auto-response setting in Outlook, it happens the moment I click on, “OK.” Best Buy sells a lot of tech equipment, and they even have their own Geek Squad; they should be able to figure this out much more quickly than ten days… like, NOW.)

Anyway, the opt-out was not successful. I continued to receive emails (I wanted to see how long this foolishness would go on). But it wasn’t just the number of unwanted advances that was stunning to me… it was the nature of the messages. I received coupons for movie tickets (to shows that had no appeal to me), tacos and pizza (Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, you are complicit in this insanity), and other offers that had little or nothing to do with Best Buy’s knowledge of what kind of things I might spend on! (I’ve received at least ten smartphone offers, even though I purchased one just weeks before the spamming started.)

After too many unwelcome and irrelevant advances, I added the company to my spam list this morning. Best Buy, I’ve opted-out of my relationship with you... whether you like it or not.

Implications: If your marketing efforts include an email component… go back through this story to spot the mistakes Best Buy may have made (in my humble opinion), and see if your company could be at risk of making some of the same missteps.

“Opt-in” is short for giving people the option of participating. A company cannot “opt me in.” That’s my decision. Ask your customers for permission, and sell them on why it’s a good idea to receive communication from your company.

“Opt-out” means knock it off! “No,” means “no.” Consumers are not so stupid to think that a “stop sending me email” command is delivered by pony express and could thus take ten days to arrive.

If I give you access, give me respect. You knew my age and interest, based on information I had given you and transactions I had completed with you in the past. Don’t send tickets to a teenage-appeal suspense movie to a fifty year-old guy. That’s just common sense.

Smart email policy is not dictated by your company. It is decided by your customers.

[Note: The New York Times offered a story about Best Buy’s current state of operations in their December 17th edition. Click here to see it, and see whether there are more learning opportunities within.]

Mike Anderson

Hands-on vs. Homemade

According to an article in Media Post Marketing Daily today, more consumers are giving homemade gifts this year. Click here to read the story.

Implications: I don’t think many retailers will be put out-of-business because consumers are spending less this year… but I think some retailers could profit more by using the attitude that, “if you can’t beat them, join them!”

At risk of spoiling a holiday surprise, here’s one example: Someone on my gift list will receive a leather-bound photo album with a few dozen of my favorite wildlife shots. I took the pictures, but a retailer printed and bound the product. Is this a homemade gift? Perhaps not (maybe it’s more hands-on than homemade). But I’m hoping it will be received as a personal, one-of-a-kind gift.

This holiday gift season, for the most part, is done. But for future occasions, how could your company let the consumer finish or personalize the gift they will give… even if that gift originates in your store? If you are a restaurant, could you let the consumer modify a special menu for an upcoming date night? (Note: Valentine’s Day is the only weeks away.) How could the family tree be brought into Mother’s Day or Father’s Day this year? Can your product or service become an even more attractive Wedding Anniversary option, if some aspect of the relationship were brought into it?

Less “stuff,” and more “personal touch.” I encourage you to think of that as a long-term trend, and figure out how to profit from it.

Mike Anderson

The 2011 choice: Higher prices, or lower margins?

I’ve been out of the country for the past eight days, with limited access to email (or news, for that matter). So I have some catching up to do here… but year-end trend reports and studies leave me with plenty of raw material to work with.

The first item that caught my eye when I got “back on the grid” last night was this quarterly report from McKinsey: The Commodity Crunch in Consumer Packaged Goods (click here to see it). It suggests that the cost of raw materials will continue to rise, and that companies are quickly approaching a tipping point where those increased costs will have to be passed along to the consumer.

Implications: During the recession, many companies did their best to absorb cost increases, so as to appeal to already value-conscious consumers. But as world demand for commodities grows, we can expect the laws of supply and demand to further push prices… so there will come a time—soon—when companies simply have to ask the consumer for more money in exchange for goods.

Has your marketing message focused on price for so long that this issue exposes you to risk? Is it time to focus more on the value your product or service adds to the consumer’s life… and less on the price one pays for it?

Mike Anderson

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I wonder if this just-in-time marketing idea will fly

In the Springwise newsletter that arrived yesterday, one article featured a new approach to dining-on the-fly while waiting for your flight from JFK or LaGuardia airports in New York Airport.

Near select gates, there are designated seating areas that are equipped with i-Pad-powered menus. You place an order, and a participating restaurant will deliver the food to your gate within ten minutes. (No more walking away, and risking the loss of your upgrade!) Click here to see the story.

Implications: Yet another example of companies responding to time-sensitive consumers, and exploiting the capabilities of new technology.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

UPDATE: More trend watching for 2011

As I mentioned earlier today, this is the season that trend watchers and futurists offer their forecasts for the coming year. Many are hyperbole. But some are consistently reliable. Here’s the trend set from… which I put in to the “well thought out, fairly reliable” category.

Click here to enjoy the full story/series.

Mike Anderson

Is "not losing" the new "gaining?"

A story in the New York Times last week inspired the question in the above headline; interest rates on most savings accounts and investment instruments are very low. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: I’m certainly not the only person whose IRA took a beating throughout the recession. But now, I’m wondering whether that pounding has created a different paradigm in folks like me: Do we feel really good… just because we’re not getting punched?

That seems to be plausible, given the fact that folks are prepared to tolerate such low rates on their savings instruments these days. But even if I don’t make a dime this year on my savings accounts…

It will be more profit than I’ve made in the past three years.

Can completely different options—different from stocks, bonds, CDs and other investment options—be terribly far away? (Will individuals be tempted to invest in small enterprises, rather than public companies? Will we see more peer-to-peer lending? What other options could pose a threat to conventional banking, savings and lending relationships?)

Mike Anderson

Tis' the season for consumer trends and 2011 predictions

I’ve long evaded the description of “futurist.” Someone who watches trends (like myself) is quite different that someone who predicts the future, in my opinion, especially in the wake of the Great Recession (which precious few futurists saw in their future).

That having been said, I do enjoy glancing at the work of various futurists, from time to time... especially when they are founded in trend watching, like this piece from a recent Marketing Daily newsletter. It offers the annual forecast of events from JWT. Click here to enjoy.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

UPDATE: More on the motives behind gift giving

Earlier this evening, I shared a Research Brief on this topic. Well here’s another story, this time from the newsletter at Iconoculture. Click here to read the full posting from Josh Kimball.

Implications: Why do people want to open the package holding your product or service this holiday season? (I can always count on at least one golden nugget every time I read that newsletter. If you like these kinds of postings, too, click here to subscribe to the Iconoculture newsletter.)

Mike Anderson

No fee unless we win your case... to be offered by divorce lawyers?

Last Friday, a story in the New York Times explained how one California law firm was prepared to “invest” in the name of their client, much the way a personal injury law firm takes-on a case with nothing down, and the promise of no fee unless they win the case.

The twist in this story: It was about a new breed of family law firms handling big-ticket divorces. Click here to read the piece.

Implications: It was only a matter of time, I guess. But watch for this trend to spread quickly, as law firms on the east coast, too, are entering their markets with this kind of contingency fee-for-service pricing.

Mike Anderson

The deeper motives and mentality of gift giving

Today’s Research Brief highlighted results of the Liberty Mutual "2010 Responsible Giving Survey," and sheds light on the how and why… behind the way people buy gifts. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: I smiled at the finding that 49% of men say their spouse handles the gift-buying responsibilities, but women answered that question with 75%. (Still, it seems, she is not getting the credit she thinks she deserves!)

Some gifts are given out of obligation, others out of love, others out of appreciation, and others out of tradition. The truth is, reasons for giving could be virutally infininte. But, why would someone presented the gift of your product or service (if it would make an appropriate or logical gift)? Does your messaging speak to that motive… and satisfy the benefits sought by a gift buyer?

If it truly is better to give than receive… why should people want to give what you offer?

Mike Anderson

Monday, December 6, 2010

Will your product or service be left behind?

An interesting story from the New York Times last Friday pointed-out what many of us already knew: More sophisticated mobile phones (smart phones with cameras, more specifically) are causing folks to leave their point-and-shoot cameras in a drawer. Click here to read the story.

Implications: The casual-use digital camera is about to fall victim to technology, just as they made their film-photo predecessors obsolete just a few years ago. But the consumer driver was quite predictable: If I can carry fewer devices, and still enjoy the functions, why not!?

One must wonder whether ever more sophisticated hand-held devices (like Androids and i-Phones) might render less critical the need to carry along a small laptop. Or whether the i-Pad or similar devices might render a larger laptop less critical… especially with so many options in cloud computing coming into the market.

How are you reaching customers, digitally speaking? Is your presence as friendly on a phone as it is on a desktop? The answer to that question could dictate whether the consumer brings your message along for the ride.

Mike Anderson

Friday, December 3, 2010

Consumers have a plan. Do you know what it is?

More consumers are arriving at the grocery store with a plan in hand, according to data from NPD and featured in a Marketing Daily article just yesterday. (Click here to see the story.)

Implications: From cars to gifts to groceries, many consumers have held-on to the recession-inspired habit of planning for more purchases, and making fewer purchases “spontaneously.”

In your category, what does that buying cycle look like? Will they replace the vehicle when they hit a certain mileage point? Or are they waiting for the first major repair, and then ready to dump the vehicle they have now? How thin or dated must their wardrobe become before they’ll replenish the closet?

A grocery shopping list is not just a logical, tangible example of planned purchasing. It is emblematic of a new way of life for lots of folks. Is your product or service category impacted by this practice?

Mike Anderson

We've got some good news and some bad news

First, the bad news: The labor market did not expand as much as we had hoped in November, according to this report from the Washington Post. 39,000 jobs were added, but the increase in job seekers led the unemployment rate higher to 9.8%. Click here for the story.

Then, the good news: Retail sales were up more than expected last month, too… reaching a 6% increase in same store sales compared to November last year. That’s according to this article from Media Post Marketing Daily (click to link).

Implications: For some, the recovery is going strong. For some, it is just beginning. For others, it is still something they are waiting for… and will not see until they or members of their household are more fully employed.

One might ask: Which of my consumers are gainfully into recovery? Which have begun their recovery, but are still in a state of caution? Should my marketing message—or my sales floor conversation—be the same for each of these differing targets?

Mike Anderson

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Auto industry on the road to recovery

For November, sales at GM were up 22% over last year, and Ford was up 24%, according to many accounts, including this story from today’s Marketing Daily (click to link).

In other goods news from the auto industry, Hyundai reported a unit-sales increase of 45% compared to last year, according to this article from yesterday’s USA Today (click to link).

Implications: These sales figures might imply that the recovery is gaining momentum in the automotive category, or that pent-up-demand has finally reached a tipping-point for many drivers, or that manufacturers have brought more exciting values to the market... or all of the above.

What other reasons could explain why this category seems to be gaining momentum?

Mike Anderson

Consumers are operating on a need-to-know basis

This morning’s Research Brief features a Pew Research report about People and the Press. The study was designed to examine how much—or how little—people know about the balance of power in their own government and other high-profile topics, such as the recession, TARP, and more.

Click here to read the full article.

Implications: After first reading this report, it would be easy (and a bit unnerving) to assume that a lot of people are generally idiots. But thankfully, I don’t think that is the case, and I don’t think that’s what this data implies. In my humble opinion, the report might indicate that people are operating on a need-to-know basis.

They’re very busy trying to get or keep a job, raise families, make payments, catch-up on retirement, go to PTA meetings, take care of aging parents… et al. Political rhetoric has turned government into something that would often be more compatible with Entertainment Tonight than C-SPAN, and people don’t have time for it. Bailouts and recovery plans seem like out-of-reach topics that are decided behind closed doors and topics over which the consumer (voter) has little influence… so why pay attention? They have plenty of other things to worry about.

Certainly, ignorance about how our country works is a fundamental problem, and it needs to be addressed. But lack of education is only one cause; a greater cause might be lack of interest.

When it comes to your business, how complicated has life become for the consumer? Is you marketing message focused on things you want people to know? Or does it focus on what consumers need to know?

An important question to ask… when so many consumers are operating on a need-to-know basis.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Does your product focus blur the customer experience?

Okay, this posting is a little different, because it is based purely on personal observation and experience rather than an issue I found from some web site, trade publication or news organization.

My wife and I had stopped at a JC Penney store to pick-up a gift item we had ordered online. While walking to the catalog pick-up area, we passed a rack of nice sport coats that were just my size… so I tried one on. Then, wanting to see how it looked, I scanned the men’s department for a simple mirror.

There weren’t any.

Really? In the area of the store that sells sport coats, suits, tuxedos, pants, shirts and ties... no mirror? Thus, I placed the coat back on the rack, and didn’t even pick-up the other two that I thought might be nice. So the opportunity to make a perfect add-on sale was lost. (I say “perfect” because a spontaneous purchase like this involves no additional-overhead for the retailer; they already had me in the store on another mission.)


Dear local clothing provider (and other small businesses),

Do you study these nuances to notice your competitive advantages? Companies so focused on the type or volume of the product they sell can easily overlook the other, more important part of the transaction: Their shoppers.

I really prefer buying clothes in-person, rather than online, for the simple reason that I can try-on an item to see what it will look like on me. (I don’t care what it looks like on the male model at the website or in a catalog.) But in this particular store, that advantage has been squandered… as the retailer had squashed so much inventory into the department that they did not leave space for even a single mirror outside of those in the dressing rooms down the hall (which nixes getting second opinion from my wife.)

How do you help people consider the product you sell? Has that that device or assistance been overlooked, in recent years, as you try to keep up with warehouse stores, big discounters, department stores or other competitors?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

FDA likely to get new influence over food supply

About an hour ago, the senate passed a bill that could result in new scrutiny of the U.S. food supply by the F.D.A. Read details of the bill as published by the Washington Post by clicking here.

A similar bill was passed by the house weeks ago, and must now be reconciled with the senate version. It remains to be seen if that can happen in this congressional session, according to this version of the story from the New York Times (click to link).

Implications: These days, bi-partisan support for anything is very rare. But after recalls on everything from eggs to peanut butter over the past few years, the topic of safe food is an easy political target.

Politicians often bet their survival on topics they deem popular and important to voters. Your company is a candidate, too, with elections held every day and where consumers vote with their dollars. Are you focused on what’s important to them?

Is food safety a competitive advantage for your grocery store, restaurant or other food business? Or… is it an issue that could haunt you sometime in the future if you don’t take time to inspect operational procedures and staff training?

Mike Anderson

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Friday post-game report

Reviews about day-after Thanksgiving sales was pretty simple: A lot more shoppers, and a bit more spending, according to this story from Marketing Daily. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: Sounds to me like this translates into more spenders, but continued modesty... or "spending per shopper." It will be interesting to see if there is still such a thing as "Cyber Monday," and we should have those reports by late today or early tomorrow. (Isn't cyber shopping now kind of a daily occurrence? Once upon a time, people went online to grab items they couldn't get at the stores--at least at the price they wanted--or shoppers looked at today as the deadline for buying online if you wanted to receive the package by Christmas. With so many shipping options now, and the ubiquity of online comparisons, I'm not sure either of those elements continue to be the case. But I guess we'll see.)

Here's hoping the positive start to the shopping season has sufficient momentum to give your company... "Happy Holidays."

Mike Anderson

Credit card use driven by caution and changing priorities

Here's a story about credit card use during this holiday season, from our friends at the Palm Beach Post (click to link).

Implications: Are your financing and plans and credit card offers the same now as they were in 2007? People are using credit differently... and for different reasons. If you respond to those changing needs and cash management priorities, they win, and you win.

[Note: Thanks to the Palm Beach Post for inviting us to be a part of your story on credit practices.]

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For Gen Y, perhaps the vehicle they own won't be "automatic"

A story in today’s Media Post Marketing Daily cites KRC Research in suggesting that car ownership is not the priority for Gen Y that it has been for previous generations. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: The more things change, the more things change. Gen Y could be a transitional cohort for whom vehicle ownership is not to be “taken for granted.” Whether out of environmentalism, economics, both, or “other,” it would appear that an increasing number of Millennial consumers are rethinking whether vehicle ownership is an absolute need, or just a want… which can be satisfied through other means.
  • It might be smart for manufacturers to start talking about freedom and flexibility (of time, travel, scheduling, etc.), rather than just horsepower and style. How does this pitch sound coming from a dealership?
  • Is there room in the market for a vehicle that is “situational?” (A car that one does not drive everywhere, but which is affordable enough to own even though it might be used only few times per month?)
Is your business good? Great! How will it be when the current generation of customers move out, and the next generation moves in? What can you be doing to make sure you remain relevant to that set of consumers?

Mike Anderson

How about some health food with your health care?

For years, grocery store pharmacies have tried to compete with discount stores, dollar stores, corner drug stores and mail-order suppliers. But for years, they’ve overlooked the biggest competitive advantage they have:

The grocery store.

In a recent Supermarket Guru column, Phil Lempert reminds grocers of that very point. (Click here to link.)

Implications: Glad I’m not the only one who things of this as blatantly obvious. When you fill or renew a prescription, why not provide cross-department incentives like these?

- For diabetics: A shopping list of lo-carb snack ideas, along with the aisle-address of where to find each item.

- For cardiac or cholesterol prescriptions: A few recipe cards with heart-healthy meal ideas, or a list of benefits associated with various fruits and vegetables (and a map to the produce department).

- With the purchase of cold and flu remedies: A cents-off coupon on a can of chicken soup (the kind mom fed you to make you feel better when you were a kid).

- For osteoporosis patients: Coupons for calcium-rich dairy products that could enhance bone health.

Even for a category as “prescribed” as grocery store pharmacies, opportunities surface when you stop thinking about the products sold, and start thinking about the target consumer who buys, and why. And you’ll create a grocery/pharmacy value proposition that is difficult to match in other drug store channels.

Mike Anderson

Monday, November 22, 2010

Banks regaining *some* customer approval

Few industries took a bigger reputational hit than banks during the great recession. From liberal lending by mortgage banks, to the bundled securities (many involving sub-prime debt and illiquid assets) offered by some investment banks, to the T.A.R.P. “bailout” money offered to many commercial banks… there was plenty of negative press to go around.

Some of the bad feelings toward select banks were well deserved, but other hostility may have misdirected toward all forms of banks, including some who were impacted by, but not necessarily responsible for, the financial meltdown of 2007-2009.

It seems as if some of those negative emotions could be starting to wane, according to this story from Media Post Marketing Daily. Click here to see it.

Implications: I think that as more time passes, consumers will realize the complexity of the financial crisis that was the great recession. It was not an industry that brought all this hardship on, but certain players within that industry.

Surviving banks—even those who brought no harm to their customers or the economy—must nonetheless realize the importance of explaining their role in the community they serve… or risk being unfairly cast with an industry that some consumers are still slow to forgive.

Few consumers realize that some banks were “encouraged” to take T.A.R.P. money, even thought they did not want it. Fewer still realize that it wasn’t a “bailout,” but a loan, to be paid back with interest. Fewer still realize the many ways their local bank, thrift or credit union serves as a vital cog to business, employment opportunities and prosperity in the community.
If you work in financial services, it might be prudent to educate your customers thus, rather than waiting (or hoping) for your customers to figure it out.

Mike Anderson

Friday, November 19, 2010

YOU can balance the federal budget and solve the looming deficit

While doing research for another project, I came across this dandy little tool at the New York Times website: It lets participants make choices about how to solve the projected deficits. Click here to give it a spin.

Implications: The challenge of government, these days, is to help its citizenry understand the complex issues of taxation, services rendered, and sacrifices required. This puzzle/tool helps the participant gain fundamental knowledge of a complex issue. (I found myself wishing a form like this could have replaced the one I was offered at the ballot box a couple of weeks ago.)

You know, really good political commentary is hard to find these days, but I did hear a pearl of wisdom one day, just before the election, while flipping through the news channels. Someone said (I’m paraphrasing), “The problem is that we all want to go on the Hot Fudge Sundae Diet. We all know we need to go on a diet, but none of us wants to give up the hot fudge sundae that’s sitting right in front of us.”

Indeed, many folks have a NIMBY approach to tax cuts, not unlike their feelings toward nuclear power plants or hazardous waste facilities: They’re necessary and important to have, but Not In My Back Yard.

I only bring it up because voters are also consumers. And most companies are at risk of eventually facing the same kind of conundrum. It could be related to the battle between products that are cheaper because they are made with less expensive foreign labor… or it might have something to do with a service that is personally enjoyable but environmentally harmful.

Do you have ideas to explain complex consequences in an easy-to-understand way? Doing so might mean the sale or no-sale of a product, service, new store location in a quaint neighborhood... or even just an idea.

Mike Anderson

The importance of (your) Target

In contrast to the story I posted about Wal-Mart earlier this morning (see below), Target stores predict they’ll have their strongest quarter in three years, according to this report from Marketing Daily (click to link).

Implications: This is a good illustration about the importance of smart targeting (no pun intended).

One could argue that when people had to cut back, Wal-Mart was an attractive alternative. One could further argue that the store was an attractive destination for people who did not “have to” cut back, but wanted to cut back.

Now that the economy is turning, Wal-Mart retains those customers who were forced to cut back, but they might have little to spend. Those who decided to cut back during the depths of the recession might be finding their way back to less price-oriented providers… or to those retailers that might be seen as “balanced” between quality and price.

Mike Anderson

Some "recession refugees" start leaving Wal-Mart

According to a story from Media Post Marketing Daily this week, both store traffic and dollars spent per transaction at Wal-Mart declined in the third quarter. Click here to see the story.

Implications: While the commentator in this story (Adam Hanft) puts it a bit harshly, he makes a good point. And that is, Wal-Mart enjoyed a windfall of new customers with the onset of the recession, but whether they can hold on to those customers as we move through recovery remains to be seen.

This might just speak to one of the principles we focus on often, in Elm Street Economics workshops: Know your target consumer, know what benefits are sought by that consumer… and realize that both the Target and the Benefits are subject to change at any given moment.

Did you lose customers to competitors with the onset of the recession that might be ready (or may have already started) to return to your business? How can you make that happen faster? Did you gain customers in response to the recession? How can you prevent them from going back to their old ways, if those ways did not include you?

Mike Anderson

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A generation of emerging investors... overlooked?

In a story from Marketing Daily this week, an interesting pair of questions is asked: Has the investment industry overlooked an entire generation of new prospects? And are they doing enough to court Millennials? Click here to see the complete story.

Implications: This year, I’ve facilitated dozens of workshops we refer to as “Audience DNA” and “Consumer DNA” programs. In the DNA workshops, we mine through volumes of qualitative research to understand the demographics, lifestyle (nature) and affinities of various population segments and industry categories.

One category that is particularly interesting is banking and investments. We typically explore whether a financial institution is wiser to court “blue chip investors” (which I define as having at least a six-figure household income, and who pays for the counsel of a financial planner, accountant or full-service stock broker), or whether it might be wiser to consider reaching “emerging investors” (which I define as having an above-average income, but someone who does NOT yet have a financial planner, accountant, or full-service stock broker).

This challenge raises the perfect conundrum: The blue chip investor has more money, but is already a customer in the category. (To win their business, they’d first have to fire whomever they are using now.) The emerging investor has less money, but has nothing to unlearn, no habits that need breaking, and might therefore represent “a path of less resistance.”

Are your best prospects for the future the same as the best customers from your past?

Mike Anderson

Who owns your brand, really?

Two articles of similar nature crossed paths on my laptop yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about the collision ever since. The first was a very simple newsletter from Media Post: Engage Moms. The essence of the story was that when you target “moms,” you shouldn’t focus simply on reaching them as an audience; you should consider everyone they touch as your audience too… and make your message/offer engaging enough for them to pass it along. (Click here to see the complete posting.)

The other piece that captured my thinking was an interview with Chuck Brymer, CEO at DDB, which I found on Watch the edited version below (pre-roll required, and a free membership to is required for the full interview version).

Implications: Back in 1980, Reis and Trout authored “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” asserting that marketing does not take place in radio, television or newspaper, but in the mind of the consumer. They were right… and now we can add a plethora of digital tools to the list of media where marketing does not take place. (Positioning still takes place in the consumer’s mind… it’s just that we now access those minds using dozens of tools which did not exist back in 1980.)

So, perhaps the notion that companies own their brands is outdated. If “brands” are nothing more than the identity of a product, perhaps companies own products, but consumers own the brands. That’s important to think about, since many consumers also own their own media companies (including email, blogs, and social networking pages). Is your traditional media messaging designed in a way that inspires adoption, virility, and positive commentary by (consumers) the owners of your brand?

Are you inviting feedback from customers in a way that it can be captured and used? (I’m thinking survey results, and testimony in a wide variety of formats, including email, voice or video.)

Are you rewarding customers who tell a friend? (Not just “liking” you on Facebook, but becoming your product, service or company evangelist!) What kind of rewards might profitably spark that kind of behavior?

Mike Anderson

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More news suggesting confidence in the 2010 holiday shopping season

This morning’s Media Post Marketing Daily included a story with input from BDO (the accounting firm), which suggests more people doing more gift shopping this year, fewer discounts from retailers, and that email will be one of the main digital tools used by retailers to get customers into their stores (whether that store is composed of bricks or clicks). Click here to see the full story.

Implications: There was a subtle but important observation by Ted Vaughn (BDO) in this story, and I want to make sure you didn’t miss it. He asserted that some people cut back on their spending over the past few years because they had to, and others cut back because they thought they should. For those people who cut back out of caution, rather than necessity, some of that caution is finally starting to wear off.

During the darkest days of the recession, it would have been easy to assume that everyone was unemployed, everyone was being foreclosed on, and that everyone was in dire straits. Of course, that wasn’t the case then, and it isn’t the case now. Some people who decided to cut back on spending (rather than having that decision imposed upon them by debt or income circumstances) are continuing to loosen the purse strings, it seems.

Mike Anderson

Will these global trends impact your local market?

McKinsey’s newsletter is one of the best I subscribe to, and this week it contained an invitation to consider five global trends that are likely to impact business and society for the foreseeable future. The list includes

1) The rise of emerging markets

2) The pressure on developed markets to increase productivity

3) Expanding global networks

4) The friction between increased consumption and the need for sustainability

5) The greater role of governments as a business regulator and partner

You are invited to consider these trends in the form of a video from McKinsey (watch it by clicking on the video box below), or, you can read the commentary by downloading a PDF draft (click here). To visit the site where I found these links, just click here.

Implications: The value of trend watching is simple. Awareness of a trend can help you profit from it; lack of awareness can make you a victim of it. The sand is always shifting, and it would be impossible to tune-in to every grain of it… but I enjoy sharing these kinds of overviews, as they can help you notice when the dunes, themselves, are beginning to move.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cash is payment of choice for holiday shoppers

According to a story from Media Post Marketing Daily, consumers continue their relative reluctance toward the use of credit. Click here to read the complete article. The article also hints at the idea that jewelry and other “emotional” gifts will be popular this year.

Implications: Do you ever just get tired of being logical, and want to step out and enjoy something that’s fun… even if it makes little sense? That seems to be the point that things have come to for an increasing number of consumers. Enough of practicality—to a point—it’s time to enjoy each other and have a little fun. (But not to the point we go back into the debt we’re digging ourselves out of.)

Mike Anderson

Beware: Big brother (and your teachers) could be watching

A story in yesterday’s New York Times had me smiling… and reflecting back to my classroom days, both as a student and as a professor’s resource. The article had to do with the use of interactive clickers in the classroom, both as a learning tool, and as a device that measures attendance and engagement. Click here to read the story.

Implications: If you stop and think about it, wireless devices such as smart phones are relatively new… but that newness will be quite temporary. As mobile digital devices find their way in to more and more veins of society, they will quickly become even more commonplace.

Don’t think of mobile technology as a new advertising medium, alone; think of it as a way of measuring attendance and engagement. Or in the case of a commercial enterprise, perhaps these devices should be used in helping you measure attention, engagement and relevance. After all, you do not enjoy the luxury of a professor who can require kids to show up for your message… you must rely on the consumer’s feedback to determine whether the consumer thought it might be worth their time, interest and money.

Again, a web site or mobile community is a society unto itself.

Mike Anderson

An owner’s manual on an i-Pad… and it comes with a free car

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written a few posts that explore how comfortable consumers are with technology, and why businesses should be thinking about how to engage their customers on whatever the (customer) preferred platform might be. This morning, colleague and friend Matt Sunshine shared an article that builds on the conversation; he found it in today’s USA Today, and it talks about the mode of delivery for the owners manual in a Hyundai Equus. Click here to read the story.

Implications: When some company principals think about technology, they picture a world that has become more complex. Hyundai has figured out how to use technology… to make life simpler.

Mike Anderson

What are the benchmarks of customer satisfaction for your business?

Yesterday’s issue of the Lempert Report newsletter led me to rediscover the American Customer Satisfaction Index, published by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. The ACSI is a monthly survey asking how pleased consumers are with various brands in the food, clothing, footwear, and pet food categories. You can click here to open the latest press release, which offers a convenient overview of the thinking behind the study. If details are your delight, click here to see the most recent report card.

Implications: This effort was fascinating to me not because of its relationship to food, clothing, footwear or pet food… but because of the information it extracts from consumers: How satisfied are you, and how has that changed since the last time we talked?

It got me wondering about “degrees of content.” Are you happy to simply be someone’s favorite restaurant (or bank or car dealership or store)? What if consumers rated your operation better than the competition; would that be good enough?

What if the consumer felt most of their usual restaurants were slipping, in terms of service, but yours has slipped less. Would that be good enough for you? Wouldn’t you rather compare the consumer’s opinion of your restaurant this month… to their opinion of you last month?
The danger of competitive comparison is that when the competition is weak, it can make you weaker, too. When you compete with yourself, as well as the competition, you will see their weakness as your opportunity to strike.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Move over, man cave: Introducing "Mom Caves."

I’m surprised if the Iconoculture newsletter doesn’t have at least one golden nugget each week. I wasn’t let down this week: Click here to see their take on Mom Caves.

Implications: Last year, we put an office and a family room into the previously unfinished lower level of our home. Because of the stone fireplace, the flat screen TV, and bold floor tiles, friends started kidding me about having a man cave. But after I moved in, we turned the area that was my office into a place where my wife could do some quiet reading, scrap-booking, or some office work of her own (I often refer to my wife as the CFO of the household). In hindsight, the loft became her Mom Cave. I thought the idea was a bit unique… but it turns our we were just moving with others along a trend line.

What do you sell that might complement that place she calls her very own? Furniture, accessories, an i-Pad or laptop? How about DVD boxed sets, a book, or something tasty?
For every trend, there is a counter-trend… or consequential trends that sprout in all directions. This story was a fun reminder of that.

Mike Anderson

Compensating consumers for the cost of switching

Last week, Marketing Daily published a story about point at which price will trigger a change in consumer adoption. The research behind the story came from professors at The Wharton School (at the U of Pennsylvania) and Columbia University. (Click here to see the MD article.)

Implications: For years now, I’ve been using the term psychological entry fee to describe the underlying cost a consumer must pay—beyond price—in making a purchase decision. I might visit a fast food joint not because it is a great dining experience, but because it is familiar (I know it won’t be great, but it won’t be a catastrophe, either). I might switch gasoline brands without a thought… but changing healthcare providers can be a time-consuming task requiring some research homework. The entry fee for buying fast food or gasoline is quite low. The anxiety caused by picking an unfamiliar restaurant or choosing a healthcare provider might be considerably higher.

It seems to me that these researchers have offered empirical evidence of this anecdotal thinking. Everyone has their price, whether that be expressed as a dollar value, level of service, quantity, quality or comfort zone. What is your consumer willing to pay… and in what denomination?

Mike Anderson

Monday, November 15, 2010

Less dashing through the snow, more point-and-click Santas

Predictions about more online spending seem plentiful this year. According to a recent story from Media Post Marketing Daily, Forrester Research predicts an increase of 16% in holiday e-commerce this year over last (click to link). Another Media Post story, published over the weekend at Online Media Daily, suggests that more consumer spending is moving online, citing data from a Complete Holiday Insights survey (click to link).

Implications: There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about how consumer priorities have shifted; among the frequently offered assertions is that people are more focused on saving money than convenience.

I contend that while people are more concerned about saving money, they are no less concerned about saving time. (Indeed, many wage-earners are working much harder for the same pay as they might have received a few years ago.)

Perhaps greater use of online tools is a reflection that both time and cash savings are important. Perhaps the change is because people have grown increasingly comfortable with technology and online shopping. What other motives might be driving this evolution?

Here’s another possibility worth considering: My wife and I started holiday shopping several weeks ago, hoping to spread our gift spending over several pay periods. Based on the traffic I’ve seen at the stores we’ve shopped, we’re not alone. More and more people seem to be shopping early this year, in order to manage the cost of the holidays more effectively. Does this earlier shopping commencement facilitate more online purchasing (as people don’t are less likely to suffer the anxiety of wondering whether an item will show up on time)?

Mike Anderson

The chasm between buyer and seller

A recent Supermarket Guru article led me to this story from Supermarket News, about the chasm between what consumers really want and what grocers might think they want. Click here to see the full story.

Implications: While this story focuses on grocery stores and packaged goods, it is worth the read for almost anyone who works in a B2C business. Because it might help you consider whether you define quality the same way your customer does… or understand why price becomes a more important factor for some products than others.

Does your customer want the same things you think they want? When was the last time you compared both sets of priorities on a list (your beliefs and their realities), and reconciled the two?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are you hitting them where they shop?

Yesterday’s Marketing Daily offered some sage advice: The best marketing happens when you have first-hand contact with the customer. Citing a report by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and Booz & Company, the article encouraged more companies to consider their in-store advertising and promotion efforts. Click here for a link to the story.

Implications: The MD story offered very simple, sound advice. To take it a bit further, I would remind companies that every touch point between a customer and company is a part of the marketing process. How you greet the customer when they when they walk into the store, showroom or lobby. How your staff answers the phone. How the consumer is greeted when they land at your website.

Outside advertising is critically important. But so is the inside job.

Mike Anderson

The first rule of Social Marketing: It must be social before it can be marketing

Yesterday’s edition of Research Brief from Media Post suggests that consumers only “friend” or “follow” an average of 4.6 companies. Not a big number, given the swarms of companies that are suggesting I “join” them on Facebook. Click here to see it.

Implications: Anytime you suggest that someone “Like” your company on Facebook… assume they will answer your invitation with this response: “Why should I?”

Is it because you’ll send me the “special of the week” as a status update? Or is it because you’ll be posting your monthly (analog, self-serving) newsletter online as a PDF file? Look… a lot of consumers realize that companies are simply using new digital technologies to distribute old analog advertising. And according to this RB story, consumers are reluctant to “like” more advertising from very many companies.

Consumers know that business is likely to see Facebook as a new marketing tool. But the consumer sees social networking as a way of staying in touch, sharing experiences, hearing from friends, and expressing their views. (Is your Facebook page consistent with the motives that drive people to Facebook?)

A church congregation is a social group. Employees in a workplace represent another subset of society. People who are passionate about freshwater fishing represent another collection of people who have something in common.

What aspects exist within your customer base that might reflect common interests, beliefs or passions… that are, in a way, a sort of social group? That might be the basis for a blog or a social networking campaign. But that people simply shop your store or dine in your restaurant is unlikely to be enough, in and of itself.

[Seriously… can you imagine this conversation actually taking place? “You shop at Bunky’s Supermarket? WOW! I SHOP THERE, TOO! We should start hanging out together!” Not likely.)

What are the common denominators exist among your customers? (Hint: What benefits do they seek when they buy what you sell? Or, what problem are they trying to solve with the purchase of your product or service?) In the answers to that question, you may find the basis for a social group.

Some folks think social marketing is entirely new and different from traditional advertising and promotion. But in this way, it is not: If your message is not relevant to the audience you're reaching for, you can't expect those consumers to respond.

Mike Anderson

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ending the week with positive employment news

The numbers are in for October, and employment numbers have finally seen a month of stability. The economy added more than 150,000 jobs, according to this story from the New York Times (click to link). The positive news was also covered in this version of the issue from the Washington Post (click to link).

Implications: The job market was adding positions through most of the summer, but those numbers were diminished by expected reductions in temporary jobs… like those involved with the Census.

150,000 new jobs is not enough, but it’s better… and a source of confidence to those of us who are focused on consumers, as well as a source of hope, perhaps, for those consumers who are still looking for work. After the campaign of nastiness that ended with this week’s mid-term election, I thought it would be a good idea to share a little good news.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Supply and demand could impact clothing types and styles

A story from the New York Times says that cotton prices are going up in response to limited supplies and increasing demand. Click here to review the article.

Implications: People could move to other fabric alternatives in the clothing they choose… when confronted with the prospect of higher prices for cotton garments. That states the obvious. But I’m wondering about other implications…

What impact this might have on clothing as a gift choice this holiday season?

Cotton is one of those rare products that is seldom challenged when referred to as “sustainable.” What other fabrics/clothing could emerge as an environmentally-friendly alternative? (Will people just bite the bullet and pay the higher prices for cotton garments?)

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The irony of consumer sentiment

An article in today’s Marketing Daily newsletter ponders why, in October, automotive sales were up, while the consumer mood was down. The story was actually published yesterday online, and you can click here to see it.

Implications: Good economy or not, we live in a mobile society… and I trust that some people have deferred their vehicle purchase to the point where they feel like it can be delayed no longer. Plus, in a world where so much is thought of as “beyond” the consumer’s control, a vehicle purchase can represent that “small indulgence” that makes folks feel better.

Either way, it’s proof that a company—or even an entire category—can do well in a weird economic (or political) environment.

Mike Anderson

Trend watching with Mintel

Colleague and friend Jim Hopes sent me this morning’s Research Brief, which quoted a consumer trend summary published by Mintel. Click here to see the briefing, or, if you’d like to see the Mintel press release, click here.

Implications: Many of the observations offered in this trend briefing support the idea that many consumers have taken economic matters into their own hands. Fortifying their savings, planning to work beyond traditional retirement years, making greater use of digital tools, and considering the ROI of their higher education choices are just a few examples.

Always fun to share these trend-watching summaries when they become available. One might not agree with all of the thought… but use these reports to stimulate consumer trend thinking of your own.

Mike Anderson

The web is an increasingly important utility for used-car (and other) shoppers

Last weekend, I saw this Marketing Daily story about J.D. Power research that indicates intense use of the web by used car shoppers. Click here to see the full story. Technology tools are not limited to traditional Internet devices, though… as another J.D. Power press release indicates that mobile devices are also being increasingly used to aid the shopping process. Click here to see the release for yourself.

Implications: More evidence that the web has matured from novelty to utility. How are consumers using technology tools in their consideration process for the product or service your company offers? Are you meeting them in that space, and speaking that language?

Mike Anderson

The election results on Elm Street

Don’t worry, this is not a partisan rant… just the usual observation/implication, as it relates to the mid-term elections, the results of which were pouring-in all night.

Observation: People remain frustrated and very much in a “trial and error” frame of mind. Two years ago, the Obama administration came in on a platform of change. When solutions were not felt fast enough—and economic matters are still not clear—that same wave of change has washed control of Congress to the conservatism. (But not control of the Senate.)

And we’ll be watching this same process resume again, in about a twelve months from now (when campaigning will likely be underway for 2012 elections.

Implications: Set your political opinions aside, for a moment, and look at this from a consumer's point of view. I’m looking at general numbers for a variety of races across the country, and at a glance, I’m seeing a deeply split and discouraged electorate.

First of all, the campaigning was particularly bitter, given the fact that this was a mid-term election. People feel like they’ve been through a lot with this economy, and we spent a lot of time hearing that all that work, effort and cost has been a waste of time and money. One would think all of these heated campaigns would have brought a majority of voters to the polls.

As of 3:00 a.m. this morning (Eastern), voter turnout was projected to be somewhere around 41.3%. Granted, more western states still had many ballot boxes uncounted at that time. But if it stands, I’d read that number to mean more than half of voters either didn’t like their choices, or they felt like they had something more important to worry about on election night. We'll hear a lot about a mandate (it's a popular word after every election), but at this writing, it's looking like we couldn't even muster-up a quorum.

Is that an inappropriate conclusion? Do people feel like Washington is unlikely to solve these issues, regardless of which party is in power? (That’s a good question: Consider the share of White House and Congressional control over the past decade… or, over the past two decades.) My hunch is that voter strategy right now is trial-and-error… and nothing they’re trying seems to work.

What does all of this lead to? I think voters (consumers) will continue to take financial management issues into their own hands… not waiting for some magical solution to come from Washington.

As a business owner, manager or marketer, that has important implications to you. Continue talking about the value you provide (not just the cost people must put into a product/service, but the enrichment they get out of it). Talk about the fairness of your price. Talk about quality of life. Talk about how you can reduce stress, offer simple truths, and save people time (so they can continue working harder than ever).

The election continues… and people will be voting with their dollars. What do your constituents, in particular, want?

Mike Anderson

At what point does a customer become "unbundled?"

Last week, there was a story in Marketing Daily about “bundled services” from Internet Service Providers. Essentially, the story explained that the more services a customer has with an ISP, the less likely they are to move to another company. Click here for the full story.

Implications: This is not a new issue. I have written, recently, about the increasing tendency of banks to focus on “products per household,” as a means of retaining their clients; the more products a customer has with their primary bank, the less likely they are to change banks.

But this is different. The JD Power research cited by the article suggests that dissatisfied customers outnumber the incidents of customer attrition (among ISPs). Is that a sustainable situation? Where is the tipping point?

Bundling is supposed to increase sales for a company, and lead to greater convenience for their customers (one provider, one point of contact, etc.) But in this particular category, “bundling” could be leading to customers who stay with a provider in spite of the service or value received, rather than because of it.

Think about your most important customers—regardless of the business you’re in. Is your marketing model designed to simply to make it less convenient for customer to leave you? Or is you strategy founded on delivering value that would make them not want to?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Anxiously waiting for... (what!?)

Another story in today’s Marketing Daily cites research from JWT, which suggests considerable discontent among voters (also known as: consumers). It is well worth the read, and you can click here to see the article.

Implications: The focus of the MD story is on political parties and on the mid-term elections occurring today, but it has me thinking about other aspects of the consumer’s life. The article hints at a sense of “equanimity” (being at peace with the moment) that might occur on Wednesday (once the elections have been decided).

I don’t think so.

I don’t think voters (consumers) are as dumb as most politicians (or political parties) might think. I’m quite sure consumers realize that both major parties had a hand in creating the current economic mess, and I don’t think voters believe the outcome of a mid-term election will cause a dramatic improvement in the situation. At risk of sounding like a negative Nelly, I’ll even suggest that voters (consumers) don’t expect the people who win today to fix the country’s woes.

But they’ll expect incremental improvement. They’ll expect elected officials to fix something.
When people are considering your product or service, what are they waiting for? What are they hoping for? Are they expecting a life-changing experience, or simply…

… A quiet date night on Thursday when they visit your restaurant?

… A simple explanation about how their cell phone connects to a car when they walk into your dealership?

… A clever meal idea that’s easy to prepare after work tomorrow?

… Courtesy?

Maybe it’s not necessary to be “all that and a bag of chips.” I think many consumers have dialed-down their expectations, as a by-product of the recent great recession. Perhaps the consumers you’re serving would be happy with simply a product or service provider that under-promises and over delivers in just one small corner of their lives.

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: Price wars could flare

Click here to see another story about the prospect of toy price wars this holiday season, this one from USA Today. It adds to my previous posting (see immediately below).


Is this because the last price cut worked, or because it didn't?

A story in today’s Marketing Daily says Walmart is taking another price cut in the toy department (following a similar announcement a couple of weeks ago). Click here to read the story.

Implications: I’m wondering whether this suggests that the first price cut led to signs that consumers would respond to the early sale prices… or whether it means they did not.

Perhaps there is indeed point where the consumer says, “Sorry, friend, but the Christmas season should not start in October.”

Mike Anderson

Friday, October 29, 2010

Enjoy the good news, and then keep working

It is nice to arrive at work this morning to find that the economy grew 2% in the third quarter. Details will be seen in most national news reports today, but here’s one version from the Washington Post (click to link).

Implications: My enthusiasm for this good news is tempered a bit by the reality that these are “overall” numbers, and might not be felt by all consumers nor all companies.

Working with colleague Stephanie Downs and a team of marketing pros at the Palm Beach Post, we conducted an Elm Street Economics workshop for a few dozen companies in the Palm Beach/West Palm Beach area on Wednesday of this week. And that group agreed with this consensus: Just as the recession impacted every household in different ways and to different degrees, not every household will benefit from the recovery at the same time or in the same way.

We were also reminded, through man- and woman-on-the-street interviews with actual consumers, that some of the habits people picked-up during the recession might stay with them for some time to come. And that while most people think they are more frugal now, they are still open to making "exceptions" to their generally more prudent lifestyle.

Embrace this great news, and carry on with the work of understanding the customers you have, the additional target consumers you seek, and the benefits they deeply desire when they purchase the product or service you sell.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the other side of the mortgage meltdown: Thrifty folks benefit from low rates

A recent story from the New York Times put the mortgage meltdown in a different light, by focusing on people who had not participated in the land rush of the early 2000’s… but who had stayed put, and paid-down debt on a less extravagant home. Click here to read the story.

Implications: I was struck by this particular quote from one of the folks who stayed in their modest, affordable house, rather than buying a bigger or more fancy home during the real estate rush: “There were times during the housing boom when I felt I was missing out on a big party,” the homeowner said, “Now I’m getting my reward.”

This is further evidence (if you needed any) that not everyone suffered through the same recession.

Mike Anderson