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Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting away for the weekend... but not completely

I’ve carefully timed this post for late Friday afternoon, going into Memorial Day weekend. Because if you’re like many others, you have left the office early today… but you have not left the office behind.

Thanks to that device formerly-known-as-a-cell-phone, you’re bringing along your contacts, email, text messaging… access to virtually your entire office. That’s according to this story that was published on Wednesday by Media Post Marketing Daily, citing research from ad network Burst Media.

Implications: We bought into mobile technology with the idea that it would let us leave the office anytime. But in reality, mobile technology means it is almost impossible to leave the office completely.

As best you can this weekend, set the phone down. Focus on the road while driving. And focus on family and friends when you’re supposed to be sharing in the fun. Spend some time thinking about and thanking those members of our armed services who sacrificed on our behalf.

Have a nice Memorial Weekend. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

Mike Anderson

Red in the face(book)

After considerable push-back from both users and critics, Facebook has decided to adjust privacy settings and reconsider how personal information is used. In case you missed, here’s one explanation, as published by the New York Times earlier this week.

Implications: With matters of privacy, just as in matters of price; fair is what the market will bear.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Are we there yet (Part Two)?

Back in October, 2008--two months before the recession was officially announced, but roughly ten months after it had technically started--I wrote a posting for this blog that was titled, "Are we there yet?" The piece suggested that it doesn't matter what the Fed says... or the treasury department or the white house or the pundits and economists on Wall Street. My position was (and is) this: If your customers think you're in a recession, you're in one.

Today, I am most pleased to repeat that position, but in a manner which leads to a much more optimistic outlook.

According to this story from today's Media Post Marketing Daily, most consumers are reasonably sure the recovery is here. The article is based on input from DeLoitte Research, and it offers the assertion that this optimism is particularly strong among affluent consumers.

Implications: The recovery is in the eye of the beholder. There are likely to be continued fits and starts with the stock market, and we could still hit some bumps in the road.

But behold... a lot of consumers believe the recovery is indeed underway.

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: On automotive credit

Last Wednesday, I shared a story about the possibility that General Motors, for one, is considering getting back into the banking business, in order to facilitate more loans to sub-prime borrowers. This, in the interest of selling more cars than GM could without access to those buyers. (See "A return to sub-prime," from May 19.)

Today, there are conflicting sentiments in a single edition of Automotive Digest. First, there is a "staff meeting video" which suggests, like the story mentioned above, that lenders are making more money available to borrowers with sub-prime credit. Click here to go to the AIN Video featuring Melinda Zabritski from Experian.

Later in the same Automotive Digest, another story comes from the Detroit Free Press, suggesting that car loans will not be easy to come by, according to J.D. Power. Click here to see the story.

Implications: Conflicting stories like this illustrate the unsettled landscape that can be left in the wake of a recession, whether a recovery is underway or not. If you're a consumer and saw both of these stories, which one might you be inclined to agree with?

If you're an auto dealer, do you dare leave that conclusion to chance, or should you be reinforcing that status of credit availability and services you're willing to provide?

Mike Anderson

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is your marketing a monologue or a dialogue?

Is the conversation authentic?

A story in today’s Media Post Marketing Daily suggests that many consumers are less than impressed with the level of engagement companies provide. The essence of the article is that consumers want to be heard, not just marketed to, especially with regard to this like product and service development, and social or environmental initiatives. Click here to read the story.

Implications: While the basis of this Media Post story was a survey from Cone, Inc.—a communications agency, of sorts, that apparently sells engagement-related services—the premise is difficult to argue: There is room for improvement in the way many companies communicate with their customers.

In a world where two-way communications are possible (using the web and other feedback tools), it seems reasonable to me that customers are no longer satisfied with one-way messaging.

Another issue surfaces in the MP article: The consumer’s hunger for authenticity. As one example, consider how easy it is for almost any company to make some sort of claim related to their environmentally-friendly products, services, or policies; statements without substance led consumer’s to coin the term “green-washing.” But the need for authenticity reaches far beyond ecological issues. “Making a statement” or explaining what you stand for is no longer enough to satisfy the cause-driven consumer. Consumers don’t just want to see your logo on the t-shirts that are worn during a walk-a-thon. They want to know what you have actually done or what you are doing to help solve a problem.

Mike Anderson

Saturday, May 22, 2010

All that glitters

This week, a story from the New York Times sparked a conversation about the dueling interests of Goldman Sachs: Helping grow client portfolios, and generating revenue for the firm through other means.

Implications: While this story was about Goldman Sachs and the larger topic of investment practices, any company faces the challenge of dual interests: Serving the customer’s interests, and serving other interests of your company.

This Times article is fascinating for the topic it focuses on, but it also inspires some soul-searching for any company that must balance the interests of its customers and its own bottom line. Click here to read the NY Times story.

Mike Anderson

Friday, May 21, 2010

Update: Smart phones as shopping tools

I’ve written about how consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices as shopping tools… for both online and bricks-and-mortar purchasing. (See this previous posting about mobile shopping/comparison from 2/9/10, or, scan through more than forty articles about Pervasive Technology by clicking here.)

This week, Media Post Marketing Daily offered another look at the world of using smart phones as retail tools. Click here to see the article. It’s worth your reading time.

Mike Anderson

Social networking: Why the addiction?

Today’s Media Post Research Brief sheds light on the extent to which people are engaged in Social Networking. The story cites research from Retrevo Gadgetology, which suggests that 56% of users check their Facebook or other social site at least once a day, and that 48% of users check it either during the night or the first thing when they wake up. While frequency of use varies significantly between those who are under age 25 or over age 25… the frequency still seems significant in both age groups. Click here to read the story.

Implications: I’ve been thinking about the concept of social networking a lot, lately. So I’m fascinated when nearly a third of respondents say they don’t mind having a meal interrupted by an electronic message. (A significant number don’t even mind being interrupted by one during sex.)

As the practice becomes ubiquitous, here are some things we can learn from the evolution of SN:
People can follow a conversation that is broken into very small parts, and scattered across a relatively wide timeframe. (Are people learning to converse in thought fragments? Or do these chunks of dialogue represent a form of conversation that finally conforms to the attention span the consumer has always had?)

In my circle of friends, I find that people increasingly share parts of their life by casting snippets across a wide landscape; then, they cannot resist checking-in to see who finds their life (or experience) interesting. (Do you spend enough time listening to your customers? Social Networking habits suggest they want to be heard… and found interesting.)

Just a thought.

Mike Anderson

Dealership experience a critical link in the auto buying equation

For years, manufacturers have tried to differentiate vehicles, financing plans and incentive programs. But when innovation happens, it doesn’t take long for the rest of the industry to follow suit (i.e, “Keep America Rolling” after 9/11, various “Employee Discount for Everyone” gimmicks, and so on).

Well, a recent study but Foresight Research suggests that the dealership experience—at the local level—can be an important distinction in the process of buying a car.

Implications: At our house, the purchase (or shopping) experience has long influenced a final decision about the vehicles we buy… and has certainly influenced whether we return to a dealership after buying one vehicle. Turns out we’re not alone.

This is good news for anyone who competes in a “flattened” industry: When products and prices sometimes offer little help in the way of differentiation, you can still rely on the purchase experience—the quality engagement your company has with its customers—to help distinguish your company, products and services.

Mike Anderson

Ironman 2: Helping with the laundry?

On more than a couple occasions, I’ve written about the shifting gender balance in the workplace, and the changes that could occur in how family responsibilities are delegated as a result. (See the stories on employment from as far back as February, 2009, or this note about women in the workforce from September, 2009.)

This week’s newsletter from Springwise included one item that might serve as anecdotal evidence of shifting roles in the household: The traditional clothes iron, presented as a power tool. Click here to see the story.

Implications: Change happens. It’s always fun to see product and packaging innovations that seem to serve as a response to those changes.

Whether due to a less traditional family composition, changes in the traditional roles family members play within a household, or the idea that men are generally more appearance-conscious today than they might have been decades ago… with this product, Philips is offering a response to change.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Competing with nothing

This week, a story from Media Post Marketing Daily focused on the most recent price “roll-backs” from Wal-Mart. Click here to see the article.

Implications: Based on a variety of measures, the economic recovery is underway for many consumers. But Wal-Mart knows that a significant number of consumers are still reeling from the effects of the recession. So, what’s the cost-efficient alternative to shopping at Wal-Mart?

Not shopping at all.

Some retailers might see these latest price drops as the cold, calculating move of a big company, trying to hit competitors even harder on price. I see it as a company respectful of the fact that many of its customers are on the lower-end of the income scale… and capable of even further spending restraint.

Mike Anderson

This is not your mom's motherhood

This morning, the Research Brief from Media Post summarized the ongoing change that is occurring with how we define “motherhood.” The study compared statistics gathered in 1990 to similar stats from 2008. Among the most noteworthy changes: 41% of children were now born to unwed mothers in 2008 (compared to 28% in 1990). Click here to read the Research Brief synopsis. Or, if you’d rather get more detail, click here to see the full report from Pew Research.

Implications: For several years now, we’ve been cautioning marketers that, “the traditional family does not look traditional anymore.” This research supports that notion, and helps illustrate one facet of the new family norm… which is more diverse than ever.

The women who deliver children these days are, on average, both older and more educated, and more likely to not be participating in a traditional marital relationship. (Remember, though, that if 41% are single, then 59% are presumably not.)

Does your messaging deliver for today’s mom?

Mike Anderson

A perspective on the erosion of brand loyalty

There has been much speculation about the harm that has been done to brand loyalty over the past three years, as the Great Recession caused many consumers to consider true benefits and needs against casual preferences and wants. This greater consideration for price and “trading down” is summarized well in a study from comScore, explained in yesterday’s Research Brief from Media Post. Click here to read the story.

Implications: While the focus of this comScore research was primarily packaged goods, I’m thinking about the wider realm of consumer purchasing right now. From automobiles to restaurants, from shoes to office supplies and everything in between, we can agree that many consumers were more price-sensitive during the great recession. Indeed, the Research Brief story suggests that the focus on “benefit versus brand” was beginning even before the recession.

In return for this focus, consumers were rewarded by many packaged goods companies with steep discounts on branded goods, as companies worked to mitigate the effects of the recession on their brand sales.

Now, as the recovery takes hold, companies focus not just on retention, but customer re-acquisition (bringing consumers who may have abandoned their brand for cost-savings back to the fold).

Where does your company sit on the name brand/value alternative spectrum? Whether you are a restaurateur, car dealership, bank, grocer, furniture store, doctor… did you benefit from the shift to value-focus during the recession? If so, should you be thinking about how to keep those consumers you acquired from going back to their previous habits? Or, were your products and services among the revenue casualties of the economic downturn? Do your customer acquisition efforts include a “welcome back” re-acquisition plan?

Mike Anderson

Auto insurance gets a sense of churn... and how to avoid it

Churn takes place in every category, but a recent story from Media Post Marketing Daily suggests that up to 62% of customers are considering a change in their auto insurance in the next year. Click here to read the story, which cites the results of a survey by Acxiom Corp.

Implications: Early in this story, as one might expect, great attention is given to the issue of price. But the second half of the story indicates some non-price factors can influence consumers. For example, they don’t want their insurance company to behave like an insurance company; they think of insurance as just one aspect in the overall experience of owning a car. They would appreciate it if their agent or insurer would also provide tips on driving safety, auto ownership and maintenance, etc.

Does your customer see you as simply the purveyor of the product/service you sell? Or do they wish you looked at the world as if you were part of another, bigger experience?

Could being part of that experience make you a more vital provider in the customer’s eyes?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Momentum (and opportunities) for "healthy lifestyle" habits

Michelle Obama has focused a great deal of attention on the issue of childhood obesity. And a variety of marketers—including soft drink manufacturers—are taking note. As a recent example of the response, see this story from today’s Media Post Marketing Daily.

Implications: The food and beverage manufacturing industries are smart to embrace the obesity issue, not just because of the celebrity and press coverage it is receiving, but because the issue enjoys such wide-spread popular support.

My question is this: Where else could the momentum of “healthy lifestyle habits” be harnessed to help companies do well, while doing good? I’m thinking about restaurants (healthy menu selections) and sporting goods stores (active lifestyle), for starters. But it seems to me that the possibilities are very broad.

Does your product or service facilitate healthy living? In a realistic and marketable way?

Mike Anderson

Automotive: Ready for another try at sub-prime?

A recent story from MSNBC suggests that General Motors revenue goals cannot be satisfied by well-qualified buyers… and since outside lending sources remain reluctant to borrow to sub-prime customers, GM is thinking about getting back into the banking business so they can write their own sub-prime paper. (At least, that’s my take on the matter; form your own opinion after reading this story from MSNBC.)

Implications: I’m wondering. Has the pain of borrowing to unqualified buyers already had time to fade enough that companies have forgotten how much it hurt? Were the bailout measures too effective at deflecting the pain from companies involved? Or has the market simply gone too far in how it defines “qualified buyer?”

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

UPDATE: About today's earlier post on Home Improvement

Moments after my earlier story on "Signs of Improvement for Home Improvement," I received the current newsletter from Iconoculture. In it, they also cited drivers behind home enhancement. Click here to read an excerpt.

Mike Anderson

Improvement for Home Improvement

Yesterday, Lowe’s reported impressive results for their latest quarter (see this story from Marketwatch). About an hour ago, The Home Deport reported impressive results for their latest quarter (see that story from Marketwatch).

Implications: I have long submitted that home improvement would be a leading indicator that the recovery was gaining strength. (See “Changing purchase Priorities,” October 2009.) Many homeowners now find themselves unable to “upgrade” by moving into their new dream home. So, the next best thing is doing what you must to make your current residence the home of your dreams.

Evidence suggests that the home improvement category agrees.

Mike Anderson

Las Vegas... rolling the dice again (on housing)

A fascinating story caught my eye in a recent edition of the New York Times: More new homes are being built—at a remarkable pace—in markets where the real estate market was hit hardest, like Las Vegas. Click here to read the story.

Implications: While this story focuses largely on investors, bankers and other speculator participants, it also suggests that home buyers are less inclined to buy homes that were the subject of foreclosure. Two reasons: First, individual homebuyers have a hard time competing with investors that are swooping in with cash. But second—and most impressively—the story suggests that home buyers are so fixated on the latest, greatest homes that they will not consider one that is two or three years old… even if it is new.

How long is your inventory attractive? When does it spoil?

Mike Anderson

Monday, May 17, 2010

UPDATE: On the velocity of (fresh) food

Back on May 11, we posted a story about the increasing presence of fresh foods at convenient locations (like CVS). (Click here to see the 5/11 Elm Street story.)

Today, the Lempert Report provided another perspective on the topic of food sales at convenience drug stores. (Click here to see the Lempert Report story.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Adapting to the consumer's evolving purchasing process

A recent Lempert report gave a footnote-size mention to an article I was really glad to discover: It had to do with the multiple channels that consumers can now use in the process of investigating, selecting, paying for, and taking possession of products and services. The piece was authored by Brian Kilcourse of Retail Systems Research, and features an interview with Dean Sleeper, the CEO of AccessVia (click here to read it).

Implications: I found this story important on a couple of different levels. First, it acknowledges the myriad options consumers now have in researching a potential purchase, and how those options (the traditional Web, the mobile web, social networking, etc.) have served to disrupt the once-linear process of shopping and buying.

Implicitly, the article reinforces the importance of having a consistent message across all platforms, from traditional media to digital media, and from in-store signage to the “floor talk” of a sales staff or telephone receptionist.

As Mr. Sleeper suggests, you cannot know which device a consumer will be using when they become acquainted with you—or whether that acquaintance might be made over-the-phone or when the she/he randomly walks into your place of business. But an overall review might be a very good idea… to make sure your messaging is consistent throughout your organization and marketing efforts.

I had a couple of other small epiphanies while reading the story… but why don’t you read it for yourself, and see if you have some revelations of your own?

Mike Anderson

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Isn't it funny how we "need" things that didn't exist just a few years ago?

A recent story from Media Post Marketing Daily explains how “gadget” sales are up… helping personal electronics retailers (and manufacturers) accelerate their recovery.

Implications: We heard a lot of assertions about how consumers had given-up on want-related purchases, and that they were only spending on needs. You already know I disagree with that assertion; all kinds of consumers interpret “need” in different ways.

The Media Post story—and that smart phone in your pocket—seem to agree.

Do you sell a want or a need? In whose opinion?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Politics aside, it might be smart to consider politics when setting policy

The developing financial reform movement is starting to see more than a few hitchhikers. As one example, a story in today’s New York Times suggests that car dealerships (and their financing practices) could be affected by legislation intended to bring clarity and consumer protections to the derivatives market.

That might sound like a bit of a stretch for some people—especially if you’re in the car business—but you’ll see the connection that is being made if you take a moment to read the story.

Implications: For what it’s worth, I believe car dealerships get an unfair share of bad press and criticism; the vast majority of shops are wonderful corporate citizens that serve an important function in the community. They are a source of jobs to thousands of people (it takes a lot of sales people, service technicians and managers to run a dealership), and they are often generous supporters of various causes and charities in the communities where they prosper. Auto dealers are a great example of the idea that a few bad apples give the entire industry a bad rap.

That having been said… I can see why—in a mid-term election year—politicians are piling-on to the idea of fairness. Few people will criticize a vote-hungry politician for saying, “I will work to make sure consumers are treated fairly.” That is a safe position for any politician.

My advice would be to consider the angst that led to this issue in the first place. How do your consumers define “fair?” Based on
the NY Times story, I’m thinking that the difference between fair and unfair is often little more than information. There is a very close correlation between feeling informed and feeling “treated fairly,” as there is between finding out later that one was uninformed, and thus feeling they were treated unfairly.

I don’t like politics or regulations any more than most folks do. But I do think it wise to consider politics when setting policy. If voters (consumers, all) are in the mood for greater transparency, communication and clarity… a company can profit from delivering those elements long before they are regulated into doing so.

Mike Anderson

Smile. You're on consumer research camera!

I belong to a LinkedIn group that has recently been talking-up the extent to which research companies are turning to web cams as a means of cost-efficiently (and conveniently) interviewing consumers… as a means of gaining insight into consumer behavior. (Think of it as a virtual focus group, conducted one-by-one.)

A recent Market Research Bulletin offered this story about the practice, featuring a research firm known as GONGOS.

Implications: A few years ago, interviews by webcam might not have been considered socially or statistically acceptable. But as conversations online become more commonplace—i.e., social networking—perhaps consumer research online will become more the norm than the exception.

Mike Anderson

As health matters rise in profile, so do opportunities

A bill has been introduced in Congress that would take steps to address issues related to obesity. You can get the essence of the measure by reading this story from Media Post Marketing Daily.

Implications: Coverage of both health care reform and specific health care issues is getting more and more intense.

Are there ways your company could benefit from addressing health issues? For example, see this story from Media Post about how Sunny Delight’s “Fruit2O” brand is engaging the conversation about diabetes.

Does your product or service facilitate health, prevention, or exercise? Are you tapping that aspect of its benefit list?

[UPDATE: Another recent story from Media Post illustrates how companies can collaborate to address matters relating to obesity. Click here to read it.]

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CVS creates more competition for velocity (and fresh) foods

A recent Lempert Report newsletter led me to this story from the Cincinnati Enquirer website: CVS stores are adding salads and other fresh foods to their grocery line-up in urban stores.

Implications: Over the past few months, I’ve seen many articles suggesting that consumers were abandoning convenience in pursuit of saving money.

Does that mean people have more time on their hands than they used to? I don’t believe that for a minute.

Convenience is so important that the lines between different channels are becoming very blurred. Drug stores are now grocery stores. Grocery stores are now restaurants (via the deli, heat-to-complete, and grab-and-go foods).

What do customers want from the business you’re in? How fast do they want it? What other places might they find it? How will your company look different five years hence… than it did five years ago?

Mike Anderson

A health claim can only be as realistic as the claimed serving size

As consumers grow in sophistication, they realize that many packages make “health claims” based on a certain serving size… but that the serving size, in theory, is never as big as the serving size is, in reality.

A recent Lempert Report column addressed this issue. Click here to read it for yourself.

Implications: The typical consumer--if there is such a thing--has always been reasonably smart. But recently, it seems like they’re reading the fine print more often, and paying even more attention to detail.

Sometimes, adhering to regulations is not enough. A company must adhere to the consumer’s common sense.

Monday, May 10, 2010

From "re-greeting" cards to boxes that go back to their roots

The latest edition of the newsletter had a couple of innovative ways that some companies are serving consumers’ sustainable appetite. First, greeting cards that are intended to be used more than once. (Hey, most people have heard of re-gifting… why not re-greeting?) I also liked the box that is laced with the seeds of trees, and intended to be planted after using, rather than simply being discarded. Appropriately, it’s called “Lifebox.”

To read the whole Springwise newsletter for May, click here.

Implications: Springwise does a consistently good job of taking-in new business ideas from around the globe, and sharing them with their readers. Often, the concepts cqn be a bit trite. But each month, it contains at least one or two concepts that make one stop and think.

If someone from “the outside” were to explore your company… what kinds of creative, meaningful ideas would they find? Are there any concepts at work that are being overlooked, and thus not living up to their full profit potential? Are you doing anything to actively foster creativity within your company?

Mike Anderson

Friday, May 7, 2010

Broad appeal for private-label goods... and the brand

This morning, friend and fellow trend-watcher JoAnne Naganawa from Seattle sent me a link to this Media Post Marketing Daily story… explaining how diverse the appeal of private-label goods has become. (The focus of the article is now both Gen Y and Affluent consumers are gravitating to the goods.)

Funny… but about the same time, I was reading the actual Nielsen briefing cited in that story. Click here to read the report, “Store Brands Flex Their Muscles,” courtesy of Nielsen.

Implications: For all of the press given to the shift toward store brands, one graphic from the Nielsen briefing was particularly telling: It is a small but devoted group of heavy users that drive most private-label sales. See this graphic for an illustration of what I’ll call “the heavy-user effect.”

Further, while store brands may have gained ground during the recession, name-brand products still dominate most categories, according to another graphic from the report. Click here to see it.

I leave this research reminded that there is room for both products on the shelf: Those which focus on quality, and those which focus on cost.

Mike Anderson

More evidence of the challenges facing the Sandwich Generation

If you are providing care and support for both your children and your parents, you’ll be able to relate to this recent story from the New York Times. It suggests that in Virginia, for the first time, missing adults (primarily seniors) outnumber the cases of missing children.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are considered two important drivers behind the shift.

Implications: The outcome of trend watching is to understand what your customers are going through, empathize with them, and provide products and/or services that help solve or mitigate problems or help people capitalize on the opportunities those trends create.

For most Baby Boomers and many Generation X consumers, caring for family has become a multi-generational issue. Can you help in the task itself? Or can your product or service be the relief mechanism that allows the Sandwich Generation to rest, re-charge, or briefly escape their responsibilities?

Every life stage comes with its own challenges and responsibilities. Which life stage(s) does your company most depend on… and how do people in that life stage depend on you?

For more thoughts on Generational Economics, click here.

Mike Anderson

Changing what drives consumers

With big gains in sales reported by most auto manufacturers for April (see this Media Post Marketing Daily story), car makers are offering significant incentives for May in an effort to keep that momentum (see this note from PR Newswire).

Implications: While the industry has made great strides in solving its over-supply problem (manufacturing more vehicles than the market can reasonably be expected to buy at full price), it still seems like the automotive world is very incentive-centric. Perhaps once reduced production capacity has filtered-down into a more realistic supply, things like distinct product, dealership service, and transaction experience will hold more influence in the vehicle purchase.

This category is a great example of how difficult it can be to restore a sense of distinction in an industry that has for so long allowed itself to be driven by price… very generally speaking.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Going back to basics (just like your customers)

A recent story from Media Post Marketing Daily cites a Pied Piper “Prospect Satisfaction Index” in suggesting that Victory Motorcycle dealers are doing what it takes to win in the challenging motorcycle segment. The study—involving more than 2,000 “mystery shoppers”—seems to be more of an inventory of salesperson behaviors than an actual “buyer satisfaction” report.
Nonetheless, it’s a good example of how to observe and quantify the kinds of behaviors that can lead to sales.

Implications: For quite some time now, I’ve been suggesting that if consumers have gone “back to basics,” we should, too. And this article seems to offer several ideas about how to do that, like asking for the business, discussing barriers to the purchase, and inquiring about a potential trade-in the customer might have.

Here are a few more:

Is your company telephone answered as if your employee is glad the customer called?

Do sellers act as if they are trying to get a sale… or like they’re trying to gain a customer?

Is your courtesy car driven by someone who is… courteous?

For more, search the Elm Street archives for customer service issues.

Mike Anderson

A new twist on conspicuous consumption

This month’s newsletter suggests that status is still the center of the consumer universe, but that status is no longer measured by simply “spending” or “owning.” Now, it is manifest in things like giving, doing well (to others), social responsibility, and more. Click here to read the issue.

Implications: This edition of Trendwatching is not all about luxury goods... but that's a category I'm thinking about right now. Purveyors of upscale or luxury goods had a particularly challenging time during the Great Recession, and they are likely most eager to see the economic recovery gain momentum. But even with apparent stability returning to many household economies, it might be a good idea to study how and why consumers spend on premium products.

For example, have you noticed any instances of “inconspicuous consumption?” That’s when people buy a Gucci or Coach handbag, and then ask the clerk to wrap it in a logo-less shopping bag. They want the nicer item… but they don’t want to be seen as spending too much when many other folks are cutting back. Another example might be the consumer who buys the flat-screen TV, but waits until the garage door closes before taking it out of the car and into their home. (In a previous life, perhaps that same consumer would have been happy to show-off the purchase to the rest of the neighborhood.) Earlier this week, one of my clients referred to this behavior as “Stealth Wealth.”

My personal hunch is that luxury goods will regain popularity as more and more people begin to prosper during the economic recovery. But there are many people who are ready to go upscale now… perhaps motivated by a different set of criteria than they were pre-recession. Which reasons motivate you?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Notice of event change

We do not regularly promote details about Elm Street Economics workshop events at this site, but under the circumstances, I will.

The two Elm Street Economics events that were originally scheduled for next week in Nashville and Knoxville have been postponed, and rescheduled for July 13 (Nashville) and July 14 (Knoxville), 2010. This change is in response to the severe regional flooding that has occurred over the past week in parts of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Our thoughts are with the families and businesses impacted by this natural disaster.

Mike Anderson

Passing Judgment: Consumers can see through a lack of transparency

As the Washington Post announced that BP had capped one of the three sources of oil spilling into the gulf this morning, I caught myself reflecting about the way this environmental tragedy has unfolded. The tragic explosion happened on April 20th, and the burning rig sank on the 22nd. According to a timeline published by the Wall Street Journal, the initial reports of a leak—reported to be 1,000 barrels a day—came on April 24th. The number is later revised to suggest that 5,000 barrels are spilling daily.

While the current estimate is that 210,000 gallons per day are spilling into the gulf, according to this story from the New York Times, in a closed-door meeting with members of Congress yesterday the company conceded that the outflow could go up to as many as 60,000 barrels of day (quoting yet another NY Times article).

Implications: A seemingly infinite number of articles have already been published about the damage this oil spill has done to the reputation and brand of BP. (Here’s one example… from Media Post Marketing Daily.) But I’m not here to pile-on. I’m just thinking about how any local company might benefit and learn from BP’s tragic experience. It seems to me that the best damage control is a full frontal admission of the problem; “I guess we over-reacted” is preferable to telling the world, “I guess we under-estimated the problem.”

Case in point: The most recent Tylenol recall. Did it hurt sales? Of course. But in responding to the issue as soon as it was discovered—proactively, rather than reactively—Johnson and Johnson preserved the integrity of its Tylenol and other OTC brands, according to this story from Marketing Daily.

Public relations is not just about "the spin" you put on a situation. It's about the relationship you have with your public. And the best relationships are built on a foundation of truth.

Mike Anderson