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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The chasm between foreclosure and hanging-on could be academic

A recent newsletter from Iconoculture led me to a story from the New York Times, which suggests that people who were good at math may have been less likely to lose their home in the recent burst of the real estate bubble. The basis for the story was a study from Columbia University.

Implications: Were “creative mortgages” more attractive to people who didn’t really understand the ramifications of the math? Were alternative solutions too difficult for some folks to understand… leading them to believe that foreclosure was the only way out?

There is a lot going on behind this story… points worth pondering as we all try to learn from history, rather than repeat it.

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: About today's earlier post on store brands

In Media Post's Marketing Daily this morning, there was another story discussing the strength of store brands. I think you'll find it supports the piece I offered on the topic earlier today.

Click here to read the MD story.

Implications: If you're a brand, it might be time for more than branding. Consider messaging that includes both Strategy (why buy), and Tactics (why buy now).

Mike Anderson

Store brands no longer syonymous with "generic"

According to a recent story from United Press International, more and more companies are doing what they can to improve the quality of store branded goods. The story provides important perspective about the store-brand category… which was launched, for the most part, during the oil shortage of the 70’s as a means of helping the consumer stretch their budget. Click here to read the story.

Implications: As the popularity of private label and store brand goods have increased, it only makes sense that the category would become more competitive and sophisticated. (The UPI story—among others—suggests that consumers can seldom distinguish a difference in quality between name brand or store brand goods.) Thus, the circle of popularity and consumer acceptance is only likely to expand.

[Note: Thanks to friend and trend-watcher JoAnne Naganawa for sharing the UPI story!]

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cashing-on on the oil spill, or doing some genuine good?

I heard an ad for a political candidate recently that said something like, “It’s not enough to clean-up the oil spill. It’s time to clean-up our act.” The message went on to explain how this candidate supported alternative and sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, etc. You’ll understand why I’ve chosen not to name the candidate here.

In another example of tying-in to the environmental tragedy that is happening in the Gulf right now, I read a story last week about Kenneth Cole selling t-shirts to help raise money for clean-up efforts. The company has started a Facebook store to facilitate the project, according to this story from Marketing Daily.

Implications: The ongoing oil spill off the coast of Louisiana has already earned the title of being the biggest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, so it is understandable (and appreciated) that marketers would want to tie-in to the cause. But proceed with caution, by asking this question: Are you tying-in to benefit communities, lands or wildlife affected by the spill? Or are you tying in for your own benefit? Without doing a lot of the former, I’d be very careful about trying the latter. My hunch is that the line between green and greed seems increasingly apparent to an ever more environmentally-aware population.

By the way… way to go, Kenneth Cole.

It’s okay to do well while doing some good. But doing one without the other is likely to be either unprofitable or in poor taste.

Mike Anderson

Monday, June 28, 2010

Issues that could level the playing field between foreign and domestic products, prices

In some categories, like automobiles, the distinction between foreign and domestic has been blurry for quite some time. Many components in “domestic” models (Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, etc.) come from abroad, and some domestic vehicles are actually assembled in Mexico, Canada, or elsewhere outside the U.S. Meanwhile, many “imports” (Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Nissan) are assembled in places like Kentucky, Alabama, and Texas. The biggest “difference” between the two seems to have been the legacy costs associated with the Big Three (union wages, pensions, health care, and so on). In the recent reorganization of the domestic auto industry, many of these costs have been made competitive with foreign producers… especially those using U.S. factories.

In some industries, though, the divide between foreign and domestic is still quite vivid. In furniture, for example, many products are now manufactured overseas, with a large share coming from Vietnam and China. And again, it is the difference in labor cost that has given those companies a competitive advantage.

But last week, I had the chance to speak with several executives in the home furnishings industry, as I attended the American Home Furnishings Alliance annual conference to present a modified Elm Street Economics workshop. A few “import” companies expressed at least mild anxiety—and a couple of domestic producers exhibited a corresponding optimism—that the production cost equation could be more balanced, and in the foreseeable future.

This competitive re-set could be influenced by a number of issues:

First, the Gulf oil spill is likely to put more regulatory burden on petroleum exploration and production. More rules generally lead to greater expense. And even without those regulatory concerns over the long term, supply and demand pressures could cause price increases in the short term. So if you’re shipping a sofa across the ocean (rather than part-way across the country), it could become more expensive to deliver your inventory.

Second, labor unrest in China could result in cost increases for manufacturing. When that expense finds its way into the price of a dining room set, some of the advantage for overseas production becomes diluted. (If you haven’t been following that issue, click here to see a story on the matter from the New York Times.)

Finally, quality concerns. Just a few short years ago, many people associated imported goods with the idea of quality. But with numerous toy recalls (many being products produced in China) and the high-profile Toyota recall of earlier this year, I’m not sure the concept of quality is something the consumer automatically assumes, just because an item came from a company on the other side of the globe.

Implications: This blog is not intended to be about manufacturing or the global marketplace. It attempts to be focused on matters that shape consumer sentiment and consumer behavior. That’s the point: These three significant issues are floating around there in the media space—seemingly unrelated for now—but eventually, I have to believe they could converge to create change in the marketplace (and therefore the consumer’s mind).

If you use the word “foreign” or “imported” as if quality and affordability can be taken for granted, I’d stay tuned to these three issues.

Mike Anderson

Friday, June 25, 2010

But wait… I have a (reason to) coupon

In the Research Brief that was published this morning, an Online Shopper Intelligence survey indicates that in addition to being a good deal for the consumer, online coupons can provide more than one form of benefit from the retailer, too.

People who used a coupon code during their online transaction indicated that they were more satisfied with their purchase than folks who did not use a coupon. Further, 57% of coupon users said they would not have purchased an item if they had not had the coupon. And finally, coupon users spent more, overall, than people who were not using a coupon.

Click here to see the Research Brief story.

Implications: Does it make sense for your company to consider offering coupons at your website (or elsewhere on the web)? Among other things, this piece of research suggests that people would not have “made the purchase anyway.” So companies who use online coupons aren’t necessarily giving away margins they would have had, anyway. (Although, I’m sure that possibility varies greatly by category and company.)

Mike Anderson

Another take on "the new consumer"

By now, phrases like “the new normal” or “this new frugality could stick” have become cliché (to a point that has become annoying, in my opinion). Instead of more over-generalizations, I want to know what this “new frugality” looks like. I want to understand the values and motives that might influence spending differently today than they did five years ago. So, I’m always on the lookout for events, evidence and articles that might replace confusion with clarity.

A story from Marketing Daily this week led me to a recently-released white paper from Euro RSCG Worldwide on the topic of, “The New Consumer in an era of mindful spending.” The Marketing Daily story provided a nice overview, but I strongly suggest you read the complete white paper. (Click here to see a PDF copy of the full white paper.) Warning: The paper is an instrument to promote an upcoming book, “Consumed,” to be released in July. But a shameless plug is fair trade for having access to the white paper.

In our man-on-the-street interviews conducted for use in the Elm Street Economics workshop, several participants said, essentially, “I was beginning to change the way I spend already… I wouldn’t say my cutbacks were in response to the recession, necessarily.” It would appear that this study is, in many ways, consistent with that consumer sentiment.

One fascinating note from the Euro RSCG Worldwide survey: “56% of respondents said the recession served as a reminder of what’s really important in life… and that that’s a good thing.”

Implications: Many of the conclusions in the Euro RSCG paper (and presumably, in the upcoming book) are broad generalizations, driven by global research. The local business owner, manager or marketer will have to decide what is useful and what is not. This isn’t the first post-recession article or book to focus on long-term change, and it won’t be the last.

But when someone or something causes me to think, or look at the world from another perspective, I consider it time and thought well spent.

For another overview of the Euro RSCG research, visit this version at PR Newswire.

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: Comparison shopping from the floor of your store

You’ve seen a few different stories about consumers using smart phones as retail shopping tools (click here to see a couple of them), but here’s another one.

A story from Media Post Marketing Daily this week suggests that Kia plans to place great focus on mobile and online marketing. The reason: 39% of the people who visit generally did so through mobile devices… from dealership lots. (Click here to see the Marketing Daily story.)

Implication: More than ever before, it's important to be thinking about your unique selling proposition. If price alone is the only comparison, you might be facing a world of competition... both virtually, and literally.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, June 24, 2010

One person's trash is another person's... revenue stream

Another gem from Springwise this week: A company in Utah is gathering food waste from restaurants and grocery stores, and then composting the goods into premium soil that is sold to nurseries and greenhouses. (Click here to see the story.)

Implications: In a word where consumers increasingly think anything that’s too good to be true is probably false… I love the way this business model shows a clear connection between garbage-in and sustainability-out. The company, Eco-Scraps, has put itself in a position to not just claim—but demonstrate—their environmentally-friendly actions. And in an example of greatness-by-association, any restaurant or grocer who provides waste, or any nursery that buys the soil produced, can also lay verifiable claim to being green.

The consumer has been surrounded by reasons to suspect many companies and the claims they make. Are your claims supported by this kind of simplicity and transparency?

Mike Anderson

Shock value: Should restaurants prepare now for impending nutrition labeling requirements?

The restaurant business is facing a new, updated menu… featuring caloric and nutritional information about items offered on the menu, just as packaged goods companies are required to provide.

A story published this week by Marketing Daily suggested that smart restaurateurs won’t wait for these new regulations to go into effect in 2011; foresighted operators will begin to modify the ingredients of menu selections now, or begin a gradual reduction in portion sizes (to make the per-serving nutritional information more favorable). The article featured research from Mintel (click here to read the story).

You can visit to learn more about these new regulations (or click here for a pdf summary), as well as other issues of concern to the restaurant business. (It is important to note that only restaurant companies with twenty or more stores will face this new requirement.) That having been said, it’s not just the federal government that is taking action on nutrition for out-of-home meals. A number of states are looking at the issue, too, according to these articles from Nation’s Restaurant News.

Implications: If I’m an independent restaurateur, right now I am probably wondering whether it will matter that I’m not required to post nutritional information on/with my menu. It this new practice resonates with a more health-conscious consumer, it might not be a federal or state government that requires me to take the action… it could be consumer demand, as customers could expect the same transparency from a stand-alone that they're getting from the franchise restaurant.

Regardless of the business you’re in, here’s an important question: When new rules are inevitable, is there a reason to delay your compliance? Or are the interests of both your company and your customers best served by voluntary transparency… and solving any issues now that such transparency could reveal?

Mike Anderson

Simple problem, digital solution

My wife and I were walking through a department store at Mall of America last week. Oddly, if you go in at the main entrance, you have to walk through the cosmetics and fragrance department (primarily aimed at women) to get to the men’s department on the same level.

As is typical on a Saturday afternoon, the store was offering a free make-over, giving consumers a chance to try-before-they-buy, and giving the store greater odds at making a sale. I asked my wife if she wanted to indulge while I shopped for the items I was looking for.

“No way,” she said. “You never know what some of those brushes and applicators have come into contact with.” Being an ignorant male, I hadn’t thought of that. (I don’t use make-up, so how would I know?) Turns out plenty of women have the same concerns. (And many are uncomfortable with having anything to do with make-up done in public.)

Out of sheer coincidence, a cool new product demonstration device was featured in this week’s issue of Springwise. It’s a mirror designed to be used at the cosmetic counter, which takes a digital photo of the customer, which can then be treated—virtually and hygienically—with samples of the make-up the store is selling. (To see the story about EZ Face, click here.) Trendwatching refers to this as a digital form of "Tryvertising."

Implications: Where do people come up with great ideas like this? By listening to people like my wife (or whomever they consider to be their target consumer).

What commonly-available tools could be modified slightly to create an extreme advantage for your company?

Mike Anderson

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The pendulum of housing keeps on swinging

When sub-prime mortgages were re-setting in 2006 and 2007, buyers called the shots while sellers with few options took whatever they could get for their homes. Then, as more buyers jumped into the mix, real estate sellers became good at generating “bidding wars” on for-sale houses, often turning the deal-of-a-lifetime into a purchase that was more expensive than expected for the winning party.

As incentives ran out in April, it seems that May brought the pendulum of bargaining power back to the buyer, according to this story in the New York Times, which suggests that many “deals” fell apart at the last minute last month. That’s important to the housing market. But it creates a ripple effect that is felt throughout the greater economy, as moving into a new home can be the precipitating factor that causes the consumer to spend on home improvement, home furnishings, and a host of other items.

Such dramatic swings in the real estate market can even restrain the progress of the apparent recovery. As a story from today’s Wall Street Journal indicates, the industrial sector seems to be trying to lead the economy into positive territory… but under the drag of a housing market that seems unready to cooperate. (The inset graph from the WSJ story is particularly telling.)

Implications: I’m thinking about a couple of things this morning, in response to these housing issues.

First, when people move, they are moved to a variety of purchasing actions. If yours is a business that indirectly relies on relocation as a stimulus for buying, have you maximized your marketing with the folks who have already moved within the past three years or so? (Lots of people bought when there were first-time homebuyer incentives, but I don’t think I ever saw a furniture or appliance store create their own “First time home furnishings buyer” stimulus plan. It might make for a good sale, at least among those people expecting a rebate after purchasing their home.)

Second, I believe home ownership is still the great American dream. But buyers are going into the process fully awake… and ready to hold off until sellers meet their expectations.

Regardless of what you sell, do you know, for sure, what the expectations of your buyers are?

Mike Anderson

If boomers are less likely to retire, where will they (not) retire to?

This morning, I am speaking to the American Home Furnishings Alliance at their annual conference, being held in Myrtle Beach. And one of the questions I have is about changes in traditional life stages and in generational economics.

Once upon a time, when people reached 62 or 65 or so, they retired. Today, boomers are less likely to do so, according to this story from Engage: Boomers, a publication of Media Post. For one thing, many investment portfolios have been on shaky ground since the great recession, and their nest (the house) is no longer their nest egg. Plus, a longer life expectancy means their retirement fund must now last twenty or thirty years or more… and few Boomers have set-aside enough money for that to happen.

Implications: It’s funny. (I can say this without offending anyone, because I am in the age group.) But back in the 40’s or 50’s, when people got deep into their sixties, the commonly held fear was, “Oh, my… what if I die!” Today, it is more like: “Oh, my… what if I live!?” (Will I outlive the money I have saved?)

What impact does this longer life expectancy have on the way a Boomer furnishes their home?
And that question is not reserved for people over 50. When today’s young adults find themselves marrying later, having children later, and living in a less nuclear household… what does the furniture look like? How has the dining room changed? IS there a dining room?

Generational changes happen over such a span of time that few of us note the impact those changes might have on our day-to-day business. But these are important questions to ask… regardless of the business you’re in.

Mike Anderson

Your table (or salesman or colonoscopy) is ready for you now

I’ve spent much of the past few weeks on the road, and I’m catching up on a few of the trend newsletters I subscribe to. I found a pretty cool story in Springwise, for example.

You know that little plastic buzzer thingy a restaurant gives you to hold while you’re waiting? The one that lights-up and vibrates when a table is available and it’s your turn to be seated. Turns out that almost all of us own one of those things… in the form of a mobile phone.
Using a tool most of their customers already have—a mobile phone—a clinic in Quebec has made a very simple innovation. If it looks like your wait will be longer than anticipated, they encourage you to wander away (for shopping, refreshments, whatever). When your appointment time is known to be imminent, they give you a call, email or text message. (No more frustrated patients losing their patience.) Click here to read more.

Implications: I can think of many ways to use this concept. If a customer leaves their car with you to be serviced, why not give them a call on their cell phone about the time the car is ready to be picked up? If a customer must wait for your staff to grab their goods in a warehouse after paying... why not invite them to wander a while longer in your store, and let them know you'll call when it's ready. Same thing for you, Target Pharmacy: Why should I have to check-back five times after placing my prescription order? You should just call me once it has been filled!

If you're already doing this, are you promoting it?

Mike Anderson

Don't just watch the votes. Watch the voters.

I have waited a while before submitting this particular entry, for one reason: Remarks in either direction could have been seen as political. But I offer this posting as a matter of simple observation in the way elections are evolving. Note that both matters come to us from California.

First, in case you missed, Carly Fiorina won her primary in the race for the senate. And Meg Whitman won her primary in the race for governor. (For more information, see this primary coverage from the LA Times.) Worth noting, in my opinion not because these were both GOP races, or because they are both highly successful women from the technology field (Fiorina is the former CEO of Compaq/Hewlett Packard, and Whitman is the former leader at eBay). These candidates are important for what they both are not: Life-long politicians.

Secondly, with the passage of Proposition 14, voters in California have signaled a fundamental change in their state’s primary process. Instead of having two parties pick candidates that voters must then choose from, the top two vote-getters of any kind (party or no) will be placed on the ballot for fall elections. Political pundits don’t know whether this is a change for the better or a change for the worse: But everyone agrees this measure represents a fundamental change to politics. Read more on the matter in this story from The New York Times.

Implications: In advance of recent primaries, much commentary focused on the challenges facing incumbents at a time when the voting public is growing tired of the status quo.

Perhaps this frustration will not only impact longtime office-holders… but the system itself.
Think about consumers who have been frustrated buying in your category. Are they likely to change providers… or could they go so far as to change categories, completely?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Comparison shopping, coming soon (with greater clarity) to Health Care

The Internet has made it easy to comparison shop… for everything from books to cars to real estate. Well, that same kind of competitive consideration is arriving soon… at a health care facility near you. According a recent story in the New York Times, there are a couple of companies who are eager to make it easy to compare everything from colonoscopies to stents. Click here to read the story.

Implications: There is an old saying that I will paraphrase: “No army can defeat an idea whose time has come.” Once upon a time, the sheer complexity of a medical procedure made gaining a second opinion confusing and time-consuming. Today, confusion is given clarity by the information resource of the web, and that same web has accelerated the comparison shopping process.

Even if your product or service has been too complex to compare in the past… are you ready for an age when comparison is commonplace?

It is in your very near future.

Costs, quality, features, follow-up services, satisfied customers. Which of these (or other) attributes will consumers use to compare you by? With whom will you be compared?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When asked to choose between substance and style, consumers choose substance

According to a survey by Chadwick Martin Bailey that was covered in this morning’s Media Post Marketing Daily, great content is far more important than the device that content might be delivered on. Click here to read the story.

Implications: Some of the assertions in this story would be easy to argue. One cannot enjoy “access to great content” without a user interface (device, app or web page) that makes it easy to find and use. But the more important implication from this story is this: Having the most sophisticated home page or landing page on the web is not as important as delivering the kind of content the consumer came to you for.

Mike Anderson

If forced to choose between texting and driving, which will today's young adults pick?

Boomers are widely considered to be the driving force behind the auto industry in the U.S. It’s the generation that had an insatiable appetite for things like muscle cars, convertibles and minivans. But does Gen Y feel the same way?

A while back, a colleague sent me this link to an Advertising Age article suggesting that in an age when digital tools are so popular, it only makes sense that mass transit could be popular, too.

Implications: “I can’t text and drive? Fine… here are my keys.” If forced to choose, that seems to be the choice many young adults are making. Maybe this is due entirely to their love of technology or social networking. Maybe it hints at the assumption that eventually, we’re going to run out of (affordable) oil anyway… so I might as well not get too involved with cars at all. Or maybe it has something to do with a sense of environmental responsibility.

But for whatever reasons might be driving it, this could be a trend to watch. Do you deliver? In the future, if the product or service you sell is inconvient to take home on a bus or train... maybe you should.

Mike Anderson

Taking advantage of discontent: Some credit unions make their move

Last weekend, a story in the New York Times made public a trend you may already have noticed: Credit unions are starting to encourage new customers from the pool of people who might be discontent with traditional banks. To read the story, just click here.

Implications: Any negative publicity or incident can spark churn in a company or category. And whether or not they were involved in causing the meltdown that led to the great recession, many conventional banks are paying a PR penalty right now.

I interviewed a banker, recently, who expressed frustration that while it was the risky behavior of select investment banks and mortgage lenders that largely fueled the great recession, all banks are public relations victims of the mess.

Interesting. If something negative happens in your category (think automotive recall or oil spill), is the damage limited to the companies involved, or should you step into the mix to state your role or innocence in the event… or why your company is an exception within the category?

Mike Anderson

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are shoppers "trading-up" to their old ways?

A recent issue of Media Post Marketing Daily suggests that some consumers are going back to their old favorites; stores or products they abandoned in the name of frugality with the onset of the great recession.

Implications: While it is dangerous to make sweeping statements about consumer habits, there are signs that some folks are going back to their old ways… a trend that would be fortified through continued improvement in the job market and our collective sense of job security, among other things.

Remember, though, the pack mentality can only take you so far. Your customers might feel or behave differently than the customers who are loyal to a competitor. Indeed, your customers might feel differently when shopping for a restaurant than when they’re shopping for a car.
“The Recovery” will be a very individual thing, decided by the individuals involved. Are you listening to your customers?

Mike Anderson

Happy Days: More companies look back to help customers look forward

On several occasions, I have written about the power of nostalgia in courting consumers during difficult times (see “Looking back as a means of coping” from 4/2010, for example).

A recent story from the New York Times added some fresh insight into the idea. Click here to read it.

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: A shortage of doctors

Back in September, I wrote a piece about the emerging shortage of doctors and other healthcare professionals [see “Generally speaking, not enough doctors,” September, 2009.]

This morning, I received my Chart Focus newsletter from McKinsey, which offered further insight into the matter. Click here to read it.

Mike Anderson

Far more than an eyesore: Potential outcomes of the BP spill

The Deepwater Horizon tragedy cost eleven lives on the day it began (April 20, 2010). To state the obvious, the impact of this incident on the wildlife, the waterway and adjacent communities will be far-reaching. (The catastrophe is now recognized as the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.) But considered from the context of consumer trends, what are some of the plausible outcomes of the BP oil spill?

There is a fine line between being a trend watcher and being a futurist. And while I usually avoid crossing that line, I decided to give this question a little thought over the weekend. So, as we look out over the next months or years, what kinds of things might we see that could impact consumer behavior? (I encourage you to think about this, too, in terms of the way these issues could impact consumers in your category. If you come up with anything you’d like to share, just send me a note by email.) What I offer here are not predictions, but a range of possibilities.

Regional frustration. In a post-Katrina world, everyone seems more sensitive to the lapse that occurs between a catastrophe and an effective response. One form of regional friction will likely come from the delay, again, that the Gulf region has endured in terms of response time. But that is not the only form of regional friction to watch for.

In Florida, the temptation to generate revenue through off-shore drilling has long been resisted; one reason is the threat a possible spill might pose to the immense tourism industry. Now, Florida residents and public officials are increasingly upset that they stand to suffer environmental consequences regardless of their disciplined approach to offshore oil. For more on this angle, see this story from the New York Times.

Accelerating the pursuit of alternatives. There’s a good chance that the BP oil spill could speed-up the move toward more environmentally responsible energy choices. As the intense barrage of media coverage continues, consumers are more likely to realize that the cost of energy is greater than the price we pay at the pump. Also, consumers are more likely to make the connection between their personal energy consumption habits and consideration of how that energy is created and where it comes from. Another story in the New York Times offers thoughts on this topic, as does this op-ed piece from Thomas Friedman.

Increased scrutiny and regulation of the petroleum industry. It will be politically popular to write legislation that provides for greater protections and more strict performance expectations within the petroleum industry. On a flight to Denver last week, I sat next to a gentleman from the nuclear energy industry. During out chat, he said, “This is the oil industry’s Three Mile Island” (get background on that disaster by clicking here). The implication, of course, was that the accident at Three Mile Island served as a wake-up call for the nuclear industry, which saw a plethora of new rules and protocols after that 1979 incident. (The gentleman also offered that the entire nuclear industry became safer as a result of that accident.)

After a delay, increased prices. The oil industry (and I mean beyond BP) certainly doesn’t need any more ill-will these days. For a time, I would anticipate most producers will make every effort to avoid price increases. But when clean-up costs are tallied by BP, when new preventive measures can be expressed in terms of their expense to the petroleum industry (see previous paragraph), and if the moratorium on deep-water drilling should affect supplies, those price increases are inevitable. Of course, those prices will hit drivers at the gas pump… but they could also be felt in the cost of goods that are shipped from anywhere to anywhere.

Supply & demand implications. From tourism to seafood, prices are likely to mirror demand, whether that demand is high or low. And even in cases where spilled crude has not tainted the tourism or seafood industry, much of the press coverage has. Watch for more marketing campaigns to support industries which are not as bad off as the consumer might assume.

Implications: I apologize if the thoughts I have expressed here seem, in any way, impersonal or removed. The BP oil spill has been a terrible tragedy that has touched—and will touch—many people deeply. But my goal for this conversation was to place the effects of this environmental disaster into the context of consumer trends.

Don’t think of the list above as a set of answers. Think of it as a set of questions… or a simple range of possibilities.

In what ways might higher oil prices, if they happen, impact your company or your consumers? Are there things your organization could do, in particular, to serve people in the affected regions? If jobs are seriously impacted in the region, what new industries might sprout, tapping an eager workforce whose lifestyle and livelihood has been altered, perhaps long-term? If your company strives to practice sustainable energy and operating policies, will consumers give you more credit in the future than they have in the past?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Economically optimistic, but consumers remain tuned-in to future factors

This morning’s Research Brief from Media Post cites research by Deloitte when suggesting that consumers are feeling pretty good about things right now. But at the same time, the study shows that consumers are still watching for things like rising energy costs, tax increases and stability/instability of the job market… and could quickly change their mindset and purchasing behaviors.

Implications: If this recovery had a theme song, it might be “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Consumers have been surprised by a lot of major events since the beginning of this century… and those surprises came with great frequency during the past three years.

Caution is a caveat that seems to be a new part of many peoples’ current optimism. Is there anything you can do to bolster confidence—if not in the overall economy—at least in your category or company?

Mike Anderson

Monday, June 7, 2010

Automotive Orphans: Where will Mercury buyers go now?

According to data cited in today’s Media Post Marketing Daily, there’s a good chance that Merc owners will stick with Ford or Lincoln when it’s time to move away from the line that Ford Motor Company is planning to close.

Implications: Sometimes, the reason given for brand closure is simple profit efficiency, as was the case in Saturn and Hummer. Other times, the reasons for ending a brand include ending unnecessary redundancy, as in the case of Pontiac and Plymouth. Mercury seems to be among the latter, with similar models found throughout the Ford and/or Lincoln lines. Automakers have long used one body style as the framework for multiple car brands.

But anytime a habit is altered forcibly, it puts the buyers who had that habit “up for grabs.” Count on seeing “Mercury Alumni” groups pop up on Facebook, as nostalgia amplifies any loyalty people might have had for the Mercury brand. And count on hearing plenty of advertising from dealerships and manufacturers about why their line should be the alternate choice for those folks formerly known as Mercury buyers.

Mike Anderson