Thursday, July 29, 2010
Implications: Gen Y and Gen X consumers have heard many of their boomer friends and family members talking about what the Great Recession and its impact on their retirement. All of this trauma surrounding nest eggs has folks of all ages hedging their retirement bets. But I wonder if retirement is the only topic that will receive more forward thinking…
Are your customers thinking more long-term than they used to?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Click here to read the story.
Implications: For three years now, a lot of companies have focused heavily on price. If prices are forced upward by costs beyond your control… it will be even more important that your conversation with the consumer has also focused on the value proposition (benefits) of your product or service.
Implications: Some people make incorrect assumptions about the ages of people who text or talk while driving. And I guess that’s the headline if your work involves public safety, healthcare or insurance: People of all ages are more frequently texting or talking from cell phones (while driving).
I happen to work in marketing. So for me, the headline is shorter: People of all ages are more frequently texting or talking from cell phones.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Observation 1: This incident has been a huge reality check for a lot of people. Every once in a while, something happens to make us more aware of vulnerabilities that few of us had even imagined. Think Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Challenger explosion, 9/11, and more recently, the Great Recession. One thing each of these incidents had in common was their epiphany effect: We were made aware of a vulnerability that few (if any) had even considered before the event… and it stunned us.
As we watched millions of gallons of sludge spewing into the Gulf un-checked—with no prospects for slowing or stopping the environmental carnage—I think many on-lookers were caught completely off-guard. There was a sense of guilty ignorance: We had no realization of the risks were being taken in the pursuit of oil, without some “what if” thinking and worst-case scenario planning in place.
Implication: Consumers will be less likely to assume that companies are acting responsibly. And they will be more likely to insist that companies consider, “What if.” Some folks—even those who are usually against the heavy regulation of industry—might look more favorably on legislation (and legislators) that scrutinizes big business (not just energy) more closely. If you disagree, please note that financial system reforms were signed into law this week; even before there has been any official announcement that the recession is over and a recovery is well underway.
Observation 2: People realize it’s not just the environmental ecosystem that was harmed… but the business ecosystem, too. I don’t think people really care whether BP has committed $20 billion to an escrow account to pay for damages (I’m not sure the typical consumer can grasp what a billion dollars looks like). But I think it does occur to us that thousands of people are jobless as a result of this incident, whether they are the oil platform employees who were out-of-work in response to a drilling moratorium, shrimpers and boat hands whose oyster beds and fishing waters were tainted or banned, or tourism employees whose hotel, restaurant or store had streamlined or shuttered in response to the lack of Gulf coast vacationers. Even the BP gas station down the street is likely operated by a local, independent owner; someone who did not cause the spill but who serves, in a way, as its face.
Implication: A strong sense of empathy for the people directly affected by the spill. Of course, this spill affects almost everyone in some way. But even many of the consumers who jumped on the “boycott BP” bandwagon, early on, realized they were harming a local gas station owner much more than the corporate giant behind the logo. There were many innocent victims in this mess, and I think consumers had a sense of empathy for what they were (and are) going through… especially those dealing with the already difficult effects of the recession, and even more-so, those people who had been impacted by Katrina so recently. Watch for public support to be strong, as the affected areas seek assistance in recovering from this event.
[Note: When we refer to people directly affected, we mean not least of which are the families involved with the original human tragedy, here. Eleven lives were lost when the explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon on April 20th, 2010.]
Observation 3: The spill has energized the environmental activist in some of us, while it has had a de-motivating effect on others. The broad coverage of the oil spill has made some folks aware of how fragile the environment can be, and how quickly human behaviors can have a negative impact. While I think the widespread awareness of this event has caused more people to engage in environmentally-related activities—or at least, thinking—I think it has also generated a sense of hopelessness among others. (What this might sound like: “Does it really matter that I’ve reduced my personal carbon footprint when they’re burning-off thousands of barrels of oil a week, after it has been skimmed-off the water?)
Implication: While more consumers might be motivated by “green” marketing, prepare for a new kind of skepticism. Not just skeptics who question the deeper motives of your company and its environmentally-friendly message… but people who wonder whether what you’re doing really matters, in the big scheme of things. (You might have to do a better job of explaining it.)
Observation 4: This event has released the inner cynic in a lot of consumers. Over the past few years, BP had tried to position itself as an environmentally-friendly energy company, with campaigns that implied cleaner gas (note wind turbines in the background of this commercial), the pursuit of renewable energy sources (“beyond petroleum” was one of the favorites in their arsenal of slogans, as seen in this commercial)… and the now much-maligned sunflower logo. In hindsight, all of this branding led to the perfect marketing irony, as the widely-declared “worst environmental catastrophe in history” has made one oil company the poster-child for the term, “greenwashing.”
Implication: This might be a good time to review all of your marketing communications… from your in-store signage to your external advertising and even the dialogue you hear from sales people on the showroom floor or bank lobby. Is your company making any statement—either implicitly or explicitly—that cannot be reconciled in actual performance? Do you live up to your marketing claims? What potential risks, including those beyond your control, could serve to mock any claims you’re making right now?
Let me give you an example: On July 11, 2010, I stopped for gas, thoughtlessly, at a gas station in Elk River, Minnesota. There, on the rubber cover of the gas pump handle… I saw the most ironic of warnings. “PLEASE DO NOT TOP-OFF. Topping-off after automatic shut-off may result in spillage and cause a hazardous condition.” Until I read that warning, it had not occurred to me that I had pulled into a BP gas station. I thought it ironic that a BP gas pump was warning me not to cause a petroleum spill.
Don’t be that business owner.
Observation 5: People are good. (I realize this could be seen as somewhat of a contradiction to the previous observation.) Volunteers came out of the woodwork when it came to the task of cleansing oiled birds and walking countless miles of shoreline. Yes, many of the crews we saw in television reports were paid participants. But there were thousands of folks who just wanted to help.
Implication: Does your product or service help people help? Are you involved with a cause marketing project that raises money for a non-profit or does some other good in your local community? You can do good as you do well… sometimes, simply by facilitating the relationship between consumer and cause.
Observation 6: Nothing is as easy as it looks. From "top kill" to "junk shot," we've seen many attempted solutions not work out as hoped. Even today, many of the ships working to solve the spill are having to leave the site because tropical storm Bonnie, which is headed for the area.
Implication: Hedge your bet. With the rough news about the Gulf Spill--and on the heels of three years of rough financial news related to the recession--consumers are being taught to hope for the best, but expect the worst. That it's smart to hedge everything. Have a "Plan B," if not a C, D, and E.
There will be plenty of other lessons to learn from this multi-faceted business and environmental event. If you have consumer trend observations to suggest, related to this or any other topic, please feel free to drop me an email.
We’ve heard a lot about an impending recovery, and I’m confident one is underway, at least technically, and at least on paper. But like many other indicators, recent Harris Interactive survey results suggest consumers are still playing it safe, in terms of spending. The data was gathered in June, and a summary article was published this morning by Marketing Daily. Click here to see it.
Implications: A number of issues have tarnished the recent positive economic news… among them, a job market that remains slow. But beyond today’s news, yesterday’s events still matter; you’re dealing with many consumers that are still shell-shocked by the jolting wake-up call that was the Great Recession. Many of the pre-recession ideas they had about money were dramatically altered, and in a relatively short window of time: What they could afford to buy, how much money they should saving, and how much of a debt burden they could sustain over time.
The economy may have begun its recovery. But for many consumers, recovering from the financial trauma they have suffered is likely to take some time.
Think about ways your product, service, or company can become among the first practices they resume. If the new priorities include “providing for my family in a responsible and sustainable way,” how can you help? Are you affordable? Can the products you sell enhance one or more experiences the family can share together? Does your service let them preserve some effort, so they can apply that energy in other aspects of their life (few people are working less hard today than they did in 2006).
The consumer has a new world view. Marketing forward will involve figuring out how your company/product/service fits into that new context.
Apparently, more restaurants can answer "yes" to that question, according to a story in today's Media Post. Click here to see the story.
How could that be? Easy. People who own a smartphone—and use it to go online—don’t think of their phone as a computer.
Mobile computing—and surfing—is gaining. More evidence to that effect was published this week in a Research Brief. Click here to read the story. Another story, this time from Marketing Daily, cited ABI research on participation levels (responses) to mobile marketing. Click here to read that piece.
Implications: Don’t focus entirely on making a big splash with your website. Focus, too, on making it fit the palm of your customers’ hands.
Implications: If you're a restaurant or nightclub, perhaps the message here is to sell the menu, entertainment, or other experiential aspect of your business first... and then re-build the pour business with drink specials, features, etc.
If you're in the furniture, appliance, or home improvement business, this story about in-home cocktail consumption is a reminder that the consumer is more focused on entertaining in the home than they were before the recession. So, perhaps you're not just selling ________, you're selling entertainment accessories/assistance.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Now that it has become so popular to document every aspect of one’s life… a handful of companies have figured out how to tap the networking process to archive after someone’s death. Click here to read the story from Springwise about 1000Memories and other service providers who facilitate online memorials.
Implications: Caring Bridge has become a popular place for family and friends to share thoughts and updates when a loved one is recovering from an illness or injury. It should come as no surprise that social networking has found its way into another emotional time, when communication can be comforting.
I wonder how many funeral directors are thinking, “Wish I’d have thought of that.”
Implications: I find it ironic that on the same day this story was posted by Marketing Daily, President Obama signed the most sweeping financial reforms since the Great Depression into law. Among the changes in policy mandated by the legislation: Consent requirements for checking accounts that offer overdraft protection, open access to credit scores if they are used by the bank in the loan approval process, and more. Politics aside—and whatever the intention of the legislation—these new rules will make it easier to be a consumer, and harder to be a bank.
In recent conversations with a couple of folks in the banking field, the consensus seemed to be that some reforms were overdue. But concern remains, in the banking industry, that these stricter rules have arrived at a time when the consumer has more options than ever—options that could be seen as alternatives to traditional banking.
For financial institutions of all kinds, it will be important to make these new rules clear for the consumer. While these new laws are seen as consumer protections, it is rare that new government policy makes anything more simple.
A piece from Media Post’s “Engage: Boomers” cautions marketers to not overlook the fact that many boomers are at-ease with getting older… and reminds us of the size of the boomer market. A Monday story from Advertising Age cites Nielsen data to illustrate how lucrative the group can be, if courted well. And Ad Age wasn’t the only trade magazine to quote the research: Friend and trend watcher JoAnne Naganawa sent me this clipping from Candy & Snack Today. The report is cited again today in Media Post's Marketing Daily. (You can read the Nielsen-authored summary of the findings by clicking here.)
Implications: Yes, “baby boomer” represents a significant share of the population, demographically speaking… and if you could dip your hand into their collective wallets, you could pull back a big fist of money. But the term “baby boomers” does not exactly represent a well-defined target consumer. There are all kinds of sub-sets within the boomer genre.
Those who have grandkids and those who don’t. Those who are empty-nesters and those who still host “boomerang” adult children, or have younger children that have never left the nest. Those who are retired and those who are years away from retirement. The list of distinctions is almost infinite.
Narrow the target by understanding the deeper reasons of “why people buy,” and the benefits your customers hope to satisfy once your product or service is owned. Just a pilot must have a more specific desintation than "the sky" when filing a flight plan, you have to know--with some degree of specificity--which consumers you hope to land, from among such a broad population.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Implications: This story reminded me of another Media Post article I read back in May, which explained how Macy’s was attempting to position its stores as a “tourist destination” to be explored, not just a department store.
Could you do the same? If you run a restaurant, a theme park, a professional baseball team, a day spa, a night club… you might offer an affordable alternative to a more elaborate get-away. The key, of course, is to be realistic (don't compare a stop at your specialty coffee shop to an exotic voyage to Tahiti). Instead, present your offering as a well-deserved reward; a small indulgence that can be easily justified after a recession-long period of self-denial. “If you can’t have _______ this year, you AT LEAST deserve to enjoy _______.”
Closing thought: Don't focus on the product or service you sell. Focus on the experience or benefit the consumer will enjoy.
New research from NPD Group—in an article in this morning’s Marketing Daily—seems to further validate our assertions. Click here to see the Marketing Daily story.
Implications: It’s not enough for the furniture store to advertise why they have the best furniture deal. The store messaging might also remind consumers why furniture is a smart buy right now… because the enjoyment lasts longer than going on vacation, or because it can make your home feel new without moving into a new house, or because it can refresh your space without making the family suffer through the mess of home improvement project.
If you sell home improvement, real estate or vacations… don’t worry, I’m not picking on you. I’m suggesting that you, too, should be positioning your products and services against other categories the consumer might be considering.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Implications: I, for one, have begun to resent the time and effort it takes to update the various laptops, desktop, and smartphones that are floating around the household. Cloud computing—at the least—means that regardless of the machine I’m on, I’m looking at the most recent version of a document or project.
Many consumers—unknowingly, at first—have become spoiled by that universal convenience, by using various web-based tools like Google Docs, Box.net, g-mail, Hotmail, et al.
As recently as just a few years ago, many consumers thought of cloud computing as “a little too close for comfort.” (Why would anyone trust their personal information or professional secrets to some mysterious Internet company?!) But cloud computing has been around long enough to not only be accepted, but expected, in many aspects of life.
Does your web presence allow for the convenience of the cloud? Have you earned the trust of your consumers to the extent that they will take advantage of it?
Implications: In the years leading up to the Great Recession, one of the consumer trends I enjoyed pointing-out was called “Overwhelming Abundance.” It was the idea that we can buy almost anything, anywhere, and that we had become a very disposable society. Getting things fixed was rare. Getting things replaced was the norm.
This story suggests that people are looking back on that life with a little embarrassment. They are enjoying the idea of being a bit more picky, a bit more careful/responsible, and opting for products and services that actually add value to their lives. They’ve turned “value hunting” into a virtual sport, using coupons, shopping harder, and comparing prices.
You know, it’s funny: Not long ago, we would see an offer and say, “Why not!?”
Now, we are asking, “but why?”
Your messaging should answer that question.
Implications: This decision notwithstanding, more than a few people have been reminded that taking any medications can have side effects. Extensive news coverage—the kind you’ve seen this week—can compel people to eat smarter, exercise more consistently, and explore other lifestyle alternatives to help them stay healthy longer.
If you have a healthy (in this case, low-carb) menu at your restaurant, or a health foods section in your grocery store? Do you sell sporting goods or an exercise facility that helps people stay in shape? People who stay fit are often able to influence the extent to which they must rely on prescriptions to stay healthy. And when drugs are getting dramatic headlines, fitness can seem even more attractive and important.
It might be a good time to recognize this issue as a story that’s about healthcare alternatives… not just a drug.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
This morning’s New York Times offered a story that adds perspective to the labor issue, at least with regard to manufacturing in China. Click here to read the story.
Implications: The fundamentals of supply and demand are at work, world-wide. If the demand for workers is greater than the available supply, the cost of that labor force is certain to rise, in one way or another. And that expense will eventually find its way into the price of the products produced by that workforce.
Cheap labor was one of the reason many companies moved manufacturing operations overseas. Another factor that facilitates foreign production is inexpensive energy… which allows both raw materials and finished products to be shipped great distances, affordably. If one or both of these core expenses rises too far (the cost of labor or the cost of energy), the impact on both consumers and the competitive landscape could be significant.
Monday, July 12, 2010
First off, a story in today’s New York Times explained that the YMCA is now going to refer to itself as “the Y,” conforming to what consumers have called it for years. (Click here to read the story.)
Also today, a small hyperlink at the bottom of a Lempert Report newsletter led me to an American Express OPEN forum about how some of today’s most well-known companies decided on their names. Click here to see how titles like Google, Yahoo, and Asus were chosen. (Click here to read the blog posting.)
Implications: While these stories can seem more entertaining than informational, it’s important to remember the importance of choosing the right name when launching a company, product or service (or for that matter, even when simply rolling-out an initiative or promotion!)
Often, companies choose names based on how they would like to define themselves. The more profitable strategy can be to consider how the consumer might define you, how they might distinguish you from competitors, and how they might remember you in an age of information overload.
Implications: Remarks made in the story by Eric Jillard of Mercedes Benz sum this up well: “…bad experiences cost money. Customers who don't have good experiences with us are less likely to recommend us to others; a clunky or inefficient or bad experience on a Web site may signal to people that other things about the company will be difficult, or frustrating, including the vehicles and dealership experience."
Great approach, Eric. You remind us that we often judge the effectiveness of a website by its stickiness (how long people stay), clickiness (how many pages they see), and how well it serves the objectives of the company. The more prudent analytic is to determine whether it serves the objectives of the consumer.
Implications: As the line between computer and cell phone begins to blur, optimizing for mobile and making offers “portable” will become increasingly important in appealing to a growing number of consumers.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Make sure, in particular, you see this graphic.
Implications: If an expensive house was purchased more as an investment than as a place to live, it seems many among the wealthy are deciding to do what they might do with any investment gone bad: Dump it.
Does that change your perspective, with regard to people who’ve been through foreclosure? It might mean that not all foreclosed homeowners are poor or broke. Indeed… the converse could be true; the foreclosure path was taken because the family could afford to get out from under a house that was up-side-down.
In an unrelated but equally interesting story, Research Brief featured a study by Lucid Marketing that shed light on how often moms are using Twitter, and why. 68% said the reason they will follow a business on Twitter is because they provide useful information; only 60% said it was to make sure they find out about good deals. (Click here to read the article published on 7/6.)
Implications: A lot of companies are spending a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to use the web, social networking, and mobile marketing. But the better question might be: How are your customers using these tools?
The Research Brief articles are very good… but it would be dangerous to settle for such a broad target as “women,” or “moms.” Come up with a better descriptive for your customers and prospects. Do they have careers? Families? Both? What are their life priorities? How are they using technology to satisfy those priorities? What do they like to do for fun? How does technology facilitate that pastime?
Technology is the means. Getting consumers to respond is the endgame.
Now, there is a tool that helps you avoid them.
The latest issue of the Iconowatch newsletter showcased an interesting new application, called “Avoidr.” You can plug in people you don’t want to run into… and be advised of placed to stay away from.
Implications: People are increasingly able to use technology tools to block even “friends” from gaining access to their lives. So as a marketer, it is not enough to know where to find people. You must make them want to find you. Because about the time you’ve figured out where to reach an audience, they’ve figured out a way to block your advances. (This is nothing new; to legacy media, consumers could control their message exposure by simply changing a station, turning a page, or leaving the room.)
But as the consumer’s avoidance systems become ever more complex, the question is no longer “where to best deliver your intrusive message,” but rather, “how can I deliver a message that is engaging and relevant to my target consumer?”
Do you know who your target consumer is? Do you know what kind of benefits they seek when they buy the product or service you sell? Do you know what they are doing or thinking about at the moment they are exposed to your message?
Figuring out where to reach an audience is only half the battle. The successful marketer will seek ways of getting the consumer to reach back.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Implications: A story like this makes one wonder whether we should be gauging the same metrics in 2010 that we considered in 2006. Is a customer decline of 25% something to stress over… if your remaining customers are spending 50% more?
How have the dynamics of your category/company changed, in response to the recession? In anticipation of the recovery?
The New York Times ran a story about two economists who have studied 800 years of post-economic collapse information... and found that history does, indeed, repeat itself. And they've written a book on the topic, titled, "This Time Is Different."
Click here to see the NY Times story.
Click here to preview the book.
Implications: When we were raising a young family, I remember spending several vacation days on the quest of building a fence, adding-on a deck, or engaging in some other form of home improvement. Instead of getting away to a better place, it was an affordable alternative that made our place better.
The strategy of encouraging these stay-at-home working vacations might be pretty smart; young families are not the only folks being cautious with their money these days.
This is another example of consumers being encouraged to “Compare Apples to Oranges,” in which the airlines or travel agencies might compete with the home improvement store, not just other travel options. The furniture store might be competing with the home electronics store. And the high-end appliance store might be competing with the upscale restaurant.
Who do you compete with… other than your competitors?
In the other extreme, I keep finding articles like this story from the NY Times, which suggests a different fate for other young-adult veterans of the Great Recession: People who cannot find that perfect “first career job.”
Implications: We over-generalize demographics at our own peril. With the end of WWII, many veterans came home to similar working conditions, building and living in similar suburbs, earning similar wages, and giving rise with their spouses to similar (baby boom) families.
Today, 18-34 is not a consistently descriptive demographic group. It is a diverse collection of people, with diverse means, motivations and purchasing tendencies. And the same could be said of 25-49s, 35-54s, or “seniors” (the definition of which depends on which restaurant menu you’re looking at).
It’s important to keep studying that group of people you think of as your customers and prospects. They might have little in common with each other, except that they are fans of your product, service, or company.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Implications: If you’re in the restaurant business, you know that many consumers either “traded-down” in their restaurant choices during the recession, or simply cut back greatly on the frequency of their visits. Instead of going upscale, they were more likely to use a moderate-price restaurant. If casual restaurants were the habit, people were more likely to trade-down to price-point fast food locations.
With the recovery underway—and the study cited above indicates that it is, particularly in the restaurant business—the question becomes “How will you help old customers regain their old habits, and make yours the restaurant of choice?” Will price points be a consideration? Do your old customers long for an ambiance, customer service, or other experiential attribute that they haven’t enjoyed… since they left your restaurant with the onset of the recession?
Of course, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you are a fast food or family casual restaurant, how do you retain these new-found customers… who found you when seeking an economic alternative a couple of years ago?
Implications: Income drives consumption, and consumption drives a significant share of the U.S. economy. Any good news is good news.
Implications: Absent a renewed incentive plan—or in addition to one—it would be important to remember that summer and autumn home sales could likely be driven by people who are not first-time homebuyers. These might be people who are seeking to upgrade, down-size, or simply re-locate.
Perhaps some private-sector incentive plans might makes some sense… whether you work in real estate, home furnishings, home improvement, or other housing-related category.
Implications: I’ve heard a new term recently with increasing frequency: Up-skilling. A lot of people are realizing that the abilities required in their last job (or last career) are not the abilities that will be required in their next job (or next career).
If you’re a college or technical school, the opportunities here are obvious: Position your wares not as “courses” but as “occupational prep.” If you’re a company that might be hiring anytime soon, training might be an important consideration… whether that training is provided by your company or something you expect each applicant to gain before/during their employment. (Do you offer flexible hours to facilitate coursework?)
The “new economy” brings with it some new challenges and realities to consider.