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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thank the recession: Couples less likely to marry

To follow-up on a story I posted here earlier this week [see “As household income decreases,” below, posted 9/28/10], new analysis from the census bureau suggests that the trend toward delayed marriage is becoming even more dramatic, and the gap between low-income and affluent is getting bigger. For one example of the coverage about this analysis, click here to see the Associated Press story from WSB-TV in Atlanta.

Implications: If you needed any more evidence that the great recession has inspired long-term change in consumer behavior, this story provides it.

In several recent Consumer DNA workshops—where I help a group of marketing professionals explore findings in qualitative data—we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about this fundamental point: Traditional families don’t look all that traditional anymore. In some cities, the number of adults who live in a two-adult household (but are not married) is larger than the number of people who could be described as, “Married with (1+) children.”

I’ve been looking forward to the wealth of information that should come from the 2010 census for quite some time. While most details won’t publish until early 2011, watch for more fascinating previews to be revealed beginning in October.

If you're a marketer, don’t just think of the census as a set of population statistics. Think of it as Consumer Anthropology.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

As household income decreases, the need for responsive marketing increases

A few moments ago, I received an email alert story from the Washington Post, which cites census bureau statistics to explain that household income has dropped for the second consecutive year in the U.S. Click here to jump to the full story.

Implications: One in five American households now brings in $100,000 or more. One in four earns less than $25,000, according to the story.

All of this was less relevant when people were using their homes like ATMs, or racking-up extreme amounts of consumer credit (see the blog posting below). But in an age when people are at least more prone to live within their means, incomes might be an even more important indicator of overall spending, at least in the near term. (Employment numbers and job growth will also influence how people feel about their spending in the future.)

Has your target consumer changed? Have your target consumer’s priorities changed? Has your company responded?

Mike Anderson

No more credit? Not so fast.

A recent story in the New York Times suggests that the numbers showing cut-backs in credit might have more to do with bank write-offs than cautious consumers. Click here to read the story.

Implications: I’ve been as vocal as anyone about consumers’ apparent aversion to credit. But we should all stay tuned to the facts. If bank write-downs make the numbers look a little more extreme than they really are, then we should make note of that possibility.

That said, I still think the “live now, pay later” mindset—where consumers thought nothing of racking-up frivolous charges on their credit cards—are over. I think most folks realize (more than ever) that credit is to be used with caution; more as a tool to help manage household cash flow than to buy things one cannot reasonably afford.

(Another factor in reduced credit balances is the tighter credit market, which might make new borrowing a little less attractive or convenient for some consumers.)

Mike Anderson

Monday, September 27, 2010

A sensible observation about the economy

This morning, a story from Marketing Daily focused on the spending habits of upscale consumers. It was somewhat of a good news/bad news piece, indicating that across luxury categories, spending was up 9% for the quarter, but trailing-off in the second half of the study. (Click here to read the story.)

In the very last paragraph of that article was this quote, from Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing (and the lead research for the report cited in the story): “A recession is not only an economic event… it is also a cultural one.”

Implications: While this Marketing Daily story was focused on upscale/luxury goods, that last statement from Ms. Danziger deserved might well have been a headline… for almost any consumer group you’d like to think about.

It’s not just about the money your customers have (or not)… it’s about the mood they are in.
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Is your product or service seen as a necessary evil… or an enjoyable indulgence? If the consumer has had to stretch their usual buying cycle (the interval between purchases of a repeatedly-purchased product or service), how can you get folks to act on “pent-up demand?” If consumers cut-back or traded-down during the recession, how can you get them to get “back in the habit” of buying again?

The answer might lie somewhere “back to the future.” Are customers often delighted with their purchase and ownership experience after doing business with you, or do they more typically suffer from buyer’s remorse? Are others starting to buy more of what you sell? Why… and how can you use this point to create momentum? Can you advertise that demand is picking back up for your category?

Mood swings are not a problem… if you stay tuned to your customers as a means of making them swing in your favor.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

UPDATE: Recession officially over. CONSUMERS: Not sure we believe officials.

This morning's USA Today heralded wonderful news: A panel of economic experts have declared the recession officially ended in June 2009. Click here to read the story.

Implications: If you took the time to read the story, you already know that the recovery is so slow and unstable that folks are not feeling it on a wide-spread basis. (If a recovery happens in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, did it make a noise?)

Best practice: Behave as if consumers will continue to be prudent, judicious, careful. Know your most important consumers well, and the deeper benefits they seek from your product or service. That accomplished, your recovery will be stronger and sooner than most.

Mike Anderson

Even affluent consumers like to save money

A story in Marketing Daily last week suggests that affluent consumers (HH income of $100K+, in this case) also shop at Walmart. (Click here to read the story.)

Implications: I enjoy any report that reminds us of the danger behind over-generalizing an audience or consumer group. People who are broke still find ways to splurge if the priority is strong enough. And people who are rich still like to save money.

I think consumers are becoming much more compartmentalized in their thinking. We’re trying to save money at a club or discount store when it comes to undifferentiated sweat socks or laundry detergent or other products that are available almost anywhere. That way, we’ll have some money when it is time to make a purchase of distinction, whether that is a nice restaurant, a jewelry or other gift to mark a very special occasion, or a suit that we can preserve for particularly important business meetings.

The popular term for all of this is channel-jumping (shopping at a variety of supermarkets, discount stores, club outlets, dollar stores, department and big box stores… to get he best deal on products that might be available in a variety of locations and store types). And it leads me to this question: If they’re available everywhere, are brands the new generics?

Seriously, is a same-sized jug of Tide laundry detergent worth more from one store than another? Why? What value is being added by the more expensive store, in terms of service or convenience to the shopper? If there is no answer to that question, there is no distinction for the store and no reason for the customer to pay more.

Clipping coupons, jumping channels, opting for store label goods rather than brand-name items. These are not the behaviors only of low-income consumers. They are the conditional behaviors of the wealthy, which allows money to be saved for a later purchase of greater distinction and priority.

Mike Anderson

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who are your new competitors?

This article is about groceries… but the implications behind it are likely to impact almost every category of business.

Building on the post from last Friday (see immediately below), I saw a Lempert Report newsletter last week that discussed the emerging channels that are competing for food dollars: Including drug stores and dollar stores. Click here to see the story.

Implications: If you run a supermarket, you have competition beyond the similar grocery store down the road. The lines that define a category are becoming blurred… as drug stores get into the grocery business, grocery stores get into the pharmacy business.

The bank on the corner doesn’t just compete with the bank down the street. They are seeing loans and deposits go to the credit union, car loans go to the car dealer, IRAs sold by the insurance company, 401k’s offered by the employer, and home improvement loans taken by the big home improvement retailer.

What business are you in? And who do you compete with… besides your competitors? Have you thought about ways to preserve share, among a diverse set of new competitors? What is driving this proliferation of options the consumer finds available? And how does your marketing message need to change to fit-in to this new landscape?

Mike Anderson

Friday, September 17, 2010

Insight into how and why consumers buy (groceries)

For years now, we’ve been talking about the way consumers have become more strategic and methodical in the way they set their purchasing priorities. A story from Marketing Daily this week sheds light on some of the motives and methods that drive consumer behavior in the grocery store. It cites research from NPD Group, and you can click here to read the story. If you're interested, you can click here to see the press release about the report at the NPD website.

Implications: From broader family involvement in “getting items on the shopping list” to cost-based spontaneous purchasing, or shopping multiple channels to achieve a purchasing objective… we know the consumer has become more sophisticated in their approach since the onset of the great recession.

This Marketing Daily story is well worth the read.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, September 16, 2010

So are you happy with your bank, or just not currently angry?

An interesting bit of research about bank customers was published in Marketing Daily this week. (Click here to read the story.) According to the Market Force Information survey, up to 40% of bank customers say they’d consider switching; that includes 9.4% of customers who claim to be satisfied or very satisfied with their current bank.

Implications: It seems you have to ask whether those satisfied customers are indeed really “happy” with their current bank, or simply were not currently angry at the moment the survey was taken.

How about your customers? Are they “happy” with you? And if so, are you happy with that? Or should the questions you ask your customers include…
  • If current levels of service, quality and pricing continue, do you see yourself being our customer five years from now?
  • Would you recommend us to your friends, if the opportunity arose?
  • Among the services we offer, where do you see the greatest room for improvement?
  • What’s the single most important thing we do (or don’t do) that keeps you coming back to us?
What other questions should you be asking, to make sure your customers are delighted, and not just tolerant?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

At least one habit learned during the recession remains strong

In today’s Lempert Report newsletter, you’ll find a story about the continuing use of coupons: More than eight percent of consumers who participated in a Red Plum Purse String survey claim to be spending significant time hunting for—and saving significant money with—coupons. (Click here to read the piece.)

Worth note… the story also suggests that many people have become more passionate about the process, even jumping on opportunities to share how “savings savvy” they are among friends.

Implications: We’ve been through lots of recessions. But this one stung. Elm Street Economics is based on the principle that the best thing you can do for a business is paying attention to what you can do for customers: Getting back in touch with who your most important customers are, and which benefits they value most when it comes to the product or service you sell.

You might be wondering, even if you don't run a supermarket, whether couponing might be a smart approach for your product, store, or service.

You know who to ask.

Mike Anderson

A healthy future for restaurants?

A lot of restaurant companies are trying to figure out how to re-build their revenue after so many customers cut-back on out-of-home dining in response to the great recession. If you’re among them, this story from Marketing Daily might appeal to you (click here to link).

It suggests that tactics like “bundling” or a more health-conscious strategy could enhance and accelerate the industry’s comeback.

Implications: A lot of family casual and other sit-down restaurants are wondering how they can regain market share they lost to fast food joints during the recession. I was challenged to a debate on the topic last week while working with some marketing executives in west-central Florida. A couple of folks thought that price points might be the way to win customers back from the fast food competition. But I don’t think “cheap,” in and of itself, is a sustainable position for most full-service, sit-down restaurants. Certainly, “cheap” does not make a restaurant distinct… so it does not classify as a unique value proposition.

Service, flavor, ambience… these are things that a more sophisticated or specialized sit-down restaurant can deliver more consistently than a fast food restaurant (my opinion). Perhaps healthy dining (like that explained in the Marketing Daily story) is another way for more complex cafes to regain share that was lost to fast food places.

If you’re a full-service, sit-down restaurant, why should I come back to you? What is it that I (as a former customer) might miss about my visits to your cafĂ©? Are you seasoning your invitation to me with that kind of flavor?

If you’re a fast food restaurant, how do you defend against the inevitable competition, as your sit-down counterparts decide to romance the customers you gained during the recession?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

“Eewww! That person just left without washing their hands!”

A story in this morning’s New York Times confirms what you already knew: Lots of people are leaving the washroom without washing their hands. Click here to read the story.

Implications: The numbers are up, with regard to hand washing hygiene, since the recent H1N1 pandemic. But the world remains a less than perfectly hygienic place. And when reminded of this issue—many of us have observed people leaving a public restroom without washing their hands—it makes some people visibly uncomfortable. (Did you get the creeps just reading the NY Times story? Did your face involuntarily take-on a look of disgust?)
Could your company take advantage of this issue? Yes, I’m serious.


Perhaps the conventional restaurant could muster images of a buffet-style competitor, where customers are selecting their food choices from an open cafeteria-style serving table. The headline or voice-over says something like: “One in six people don’t wash their hands after visiting the restroom. I wonder which of these people has dirty hands.” The body copy of the ad would conclude: “[Conventional] restaurant. Where your food is only touched by professional, clean hands.”

Do you offer microbe-killing hand sanitizer at your bakery or produce counter? Are your products packaged in a more hygienic way?

How could you talk-up the concept of clean?

Mike Anderson

Ask Y: The times, they are a changin'

Last week, there was a story about bellwether change in Marketing Daily. It had to do with a company that is starting to sell anti-aging beauty products… to Gen Y buyers. (Specifically, Oil of Olay has retained Carrie Underwood to help sell Gen Y consumers on face creams to stave-off crow’s feet.) Click here to see the story.

Implications: As a late-stage baby boomer whose bald spot is proliferating into more of a bald “region,” I am acutely aware that age happens. But if you’re a marketer who thinks Gen Y stands for “generation young,” you might want to update your view of the group.

Like the rest of us, Gen Y is starting to show its age. How have their needs changed, in response to the products or services you sell? (And you would be smart to answer that question with regard to your Gen X customers, boomers, and new age seniors, too!)

Mike Anderson

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hospitals—and health care options—are changing

While traveling last week, I noted an article in USA Today about the challenges facing independent hospitals (click here to see the story).

Implications: I was born and raised in a small Midwestern community… one that lost its town hospital in the late sixties. A larger city about fifty miles to our south had a comparatively massive hospital complex, and a new superhighway suddenly linked our small town to that more sophisticated treatment. (Doctors could earn much more in the major medical center than in a small town practice, another factor leading to the closing of the local hospital.)

It seems that similar circumstances are hitting more hospitals these days. But instead of changes in physical infrastructure (a highway that carries patients to alternative medical centers), it seems these changes are in the financial and regulatory infrastructure of healthcare. Insurance and government requirements are increasingly difficult for the local hospital to fulfill.

I was interested to see how the facilities mentioned in the article are re-inventing their approach to health care, capital improvements and physician staffing. This article is a great example of organizations that are tuning-in to changes in the patient and competitive landscape, and adapting to those new circumstances as best they can.

Those who fail to evolve amid this change—among customers and conditions—won’t have a very good prognosis.

Mike Anderson

Back to school: Delayed, reduced spending? (There are exceptions to that rule.)

Back in early August, I remember seeing an article from Marketing Daily which indicated the back-to-school shopping season had been slow to get started (click here to read the story). It seemed that many consumers were waiting for the all-important “list” provided by many teachers, explaining what incoming students would need to the year. Even through the Labor Day weekend, though, the BTS shopping season was looking a little weak, according to a story that was in Saturday’s New York Times (click here for a link to the piece).

Implications: If you sell clothing or pencils, you probably felt like the back-to-school season was a bit soft this year, at least in comparison to expectations. Compared to 2009, this year was supposed to be better. But before heading to the mall for blue jeans and notebook paper, it seems that students and parents stopped first in their closets, to see what might still fit and function without buying more of the goods which traditionally sell well this time of year.

In contrast to this fiscal conservatism, though, remember that there was some very strong spending on personal electronics this year; items the student did not have last year, and the parent could justify this year. (I wrote about this back on August 5, in another posting at ElmStreetTrends.com; click here to see that piece.)

Many people may have cut back in some areas, but it seems that many others ratcheted-up their spending in other areas. Worth noting: This season’s spending was a matter of shifting priorities, not just reduced spending.

ALSO WORTH CONSIDERING: Maybe the back to school season is not over. Perhaps parents (and students) will be buying supplies along the way, throughout the school year. Could it be that, instead of a "stock-up" mentality, consumers are switching to a "just in time" or, "buy as needed to even-out the pain" purchasing plan?

Mike Anderson

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Frustration-free packaging

I’m intrigued by this story from the New York Times, which explains the challenges faced by Amazon.com in moving away from “clamshells,” or as it is called, “frustration free packaging.”

Click here to read the story.

Implications: It sounds to me like simple inertia is what stands in the way of more simplified packaging. (Clamshell packaging is already widespread, made popular by the way it helps reduce “shrinkage.”) If Amazon, Target and Wal-Mart can’t figure out how to get it changed… how about the little, local, independent retailer?

If I were a small retailer, I might consider offering the “open sesame” service. Once a customer finishes at the check-out, offer to open her/his clamshell-packaged item(s) before the customer leaves the store. You might even offer to keep the packaging to have it recycled without inconveniencing the customer, or offer to let the consumer take the packaging home, in case the product might need to be returned for any reason.

Just an idea. (That bigger stores won’t embrace.)

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Air fares might seem less fair

In another case of supply and demand economics, the airline industry seems to have turned a corner, in terms of pricing and inventory. That’s according to this recent story in the New York Times. For the past few years, the airlines have collectively cut capacity… which is putting upward pressure on the price of air travel, and pushing profits upward for the industry. Click here to read the story.

Implications: Every product has a tipping point, at which the price takes consumers out of the market. It will be interesting to see if that point is acknowledged first by the airlines, or their passengers. We should know next spring and summer, as the tourism season resumes.

It is not so much the cost of a ticket that matters at this moment... but the cost of a ticket in contrast to their pricing in the depths of the recession, which was not all that long ago. I haven't heard too much about various baggage fees and pillow prices among business travelers... but I've heard a few "non-frequent vacation flyers" that were shocked by the hidden costs of hitting the skies. If that goes on too long (the surprise, I mean), I have to guess people will find alternatives that are closer to home. What do you think?

Mike Anderson

Naturally, I'm watching trends impacting "green marketing"

Yesterday, there was a story in the New York Times about a campaign for corks. No, really. The Portuguese cork industry is going to try bottle-up the idea that plastic or metal bottle caps are a good idea, by focusing on the sustainable nature of cork production. (Click here to read the story.)

I found this story in the Marketing Daily newsletter about a new campaign from Timberline, focusing on “environmental heroism.” (Click here to see the Tuesday story.)

Today in the Marketing Daily newsletter, there is a story about a partnership between IBM and The Nature Conservancy, which has to do with mapping the health of rivers in the U.S. (Click here to see the story.)

Implications: Obviously, the campaigns mentioned above have been in the works for some time, and their proximity (in terms of timing) to the Gulf oil spill this summer are purely coincidental. But as the next few months unfold, I would expect to see a number of additional environmentally-friendly campaigns roll-out; smart marketers know that many consumers have a heightened sense of environmental awareness right now, a reaction to the catastrophe and massive coverage given to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

According to a breaking news alert from the New York Times this morning, BP has issued a statement about the complex set of decisions and equipment failures—involving a wide variety of companies—that contributed to the disaster. (Click here to read that story… or click here to see the statement from BP.) To date, BP has largely been the focal point, if not the poster child, for this tragedy. It will be interesting to see whether their attempt to broaden the blame to other companies is another early sign that they’d like to draw a line in the sand, with regard to liability. (I wrote about the same idea back on September 3; click here to see the Elm Street blog posting “UPDATE: Oil industry incidents and implications.”)

More interesting still: The possibility that all of this could increase the sophistication of consumers... both in regard to their ecological savvy, and in terms of the way they decide to trust large companies and their marketing and PR departments. (Or not.)

Buyers ask: Why prop-up the real estate market?

Okay, I confess, this question went through my mind as my wife and I were house-hunting about 18 months ago (although I resisted asking the question out loud): “Why should the government or anyone else attempt to artificially sustain or inflate the price of houses?” After all, if you look at it from their perspective, the interests of homebuyers can actually be harmed when assistance is provided to homeowners.

At least, that was the gist of a story in Sunday’s New York Times (click here for the article).

Implications: As someone who bought a home shortly before all the incentive plans were rolled out, I can relate to the NY Times story. But more importantly, one should ask whether similar dynamics are in play in other categories. For example, used vehicle prices are up right now, largely due to the Cash for Clunkers program that expired a while back… which took supply out of the market. (It is not lost on me that another factor in rising pre-owned vehicle prices is that in a tough economy, some new car buyers gravitate more to the used lot.) The program that was designed to help car buyers and the auto industry last year is arguably costing some car buyers money this year.

Bailouts are likely to become—at least—less popular as we move forward. For one thing, the tax bill for these items will be coming due soon. But also, consumers are now getting used to living on more restrictive means; in that environment, they know somebody else’s loss might be an opportunity for their gain.

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: How to sell junk food

Funny, the last thing I wrote about yesterday was the first thing I read about this morning. Here's an article about "baby carrots as junk food" from this morning's Marketing Daily (click here to link). It refers to the same material that was referenced in the posting below.

Mike

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to sell health food: Make it look a little junky?

I’m catching up on some email that came in over the holiday weekend, one from colleague Matt Sunshine, sharing an observation he found in a USA Today story last week. It had to do with the producers of carrots, and how they’re going to market: Instead of trying to talk people into eating healthier snacks, they’re trying to convince people to think of the little orange sticks as “snacky.” Click here to see it.

Implications: Some say tomato, some say tomoto. I say it’ll be interesting to see the outcome of this campaign!

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: To the social media post I offered a few moments ago...

I guess it is not just easy to say the wrong thing in social settings. According to this story from SFGate.com (the San Francisco Chronicle), it is just as easy to hear the wrong thing, and then respond in the wrong ways. (Click here to read the story.)

The social media world is an increasingly interesting place.

Mike

Social media is like any other big social event: It's easy to say the wrong thing

Under the category of, “Glad I’m not that guy,” a Washington Post reporter published some erroneous info on Twitter, according to this story from SearchBlog (click here to see the posting).

Implications: This reporter tried, fast as he might, to “de-tweet.” Alas, in the world of social media, there is no way to put the toothpaste back in the proverbial Twitter tube.
Before you hit the Tweet, Send, or Publish button… ask one more question: Is there anything in this posting I might regret?


Also, make sure you’re set-up to monitor the social media landscape for any references to your company or brand name. (Your search starts here for Twitter (click to link), and you can tell Google to help you scan the blogosphere using Google Alerts (by clicking here.)

Mike Anderson

Consumer response to overdraft protection, fees

Once upon a time, a bank could “cover the difference” when a customer used their debit card to spend beyond their balance… and then simply charge a fee to that customer for the service. With the new bank regulations that took effect in August, customers must now opt-in to receive that service, and 49% of customers say they won’t, according to a recent Ipsos-Reid telephone survey, as reported by Marketing Daily last week. (Click here to see the story.)

Implications: I’m wondering how this sentiment will change over time. If/when customers are turned-away at the cash register a time or two, might they gain new appreciation for the concept/value of overdraft protection?

I opt to think so, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Perhaps the great recession has forced consumers to become so much more financially responsible that they won’t spend when the risk of overdraft is near.

Mike Anderson

Monday, September 6, 2010

For labor, it's a different day

Labor Day celebrates the efforts of our nation’s collective work force, which by many accounts is working harder than ever to support itself. There was an interesting story in the New York Times this past week, which did a good job of explaining the state of employment in the post-recession economy. Many people are still unemployed, but the recession led to under-employment, too (situations where people are working in a job that is beneath their level of skill, experience or training). That means in addition to multiple-income households, you might also find yourself serving multiple-income people; folks who’ve had to juggle two or three lower-paying jobs to make ends meet. Click here to read the NY Times story.

Implications: It’s important to remember that the labor force is made up of consumers, many of whom are working harder than ever for the money they spend. A company is wise to respect the effort their customers put forth to generate the money they will spend, as well as the time-pressures created by multiple income households… and even people who hold multiple jobs.

Can your product or service ease the burden of work, lead to time savings, or simply make life easier? Have you considered your company’s value proposition in the context of today’s consumer/worker? Can your offering be thought of as the well-deserved (and perhaps overdue) reward that hard working people have earned? The businesses who reflect on those kinds of questions will prosper… even in a strained economy.

It is a different day for labor. And its force is more likely to respond to companies who respect that fact.

Mike Anderson

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Will that be paper or plasma? (The new look of books.)

Here’s hoping your Labor Day Weekend is filled with relaxation. If your leisure time involves a book or two, you might appreciate this story which appeared in the New York Times this week, about the impact of technology on the book publishing industry and their customers. (Click here to get the story.) Some customers still prefer the tangible book, while others have migrated to the iPad, Kindle, or Nook. The publishing industry finds itself having to serve both sides.

Implications: Many industries find themselves having to maintain a legacy platform, even as they embrace emerging technologies. For some companies, that might mean a bricks-and-mortar locations in addition to an online store. For others, it might mean virtual applications which enhance a core product for a time, but then eventually become a product/service in their own right (think OnStar). Technology raises complex questions, and the confusion is only going to accelerate from here. But don’t worry…

Life becomes easier when you focus not on the technologies, but on the desires of your target consumers.

Mike Anderson

Friday, September 3, 2010

On the lighter side...

Everybody's eager to unwind over the Labor Day weekend. Here's a fun piece I discovered, recently, that will let you gain a little "consumer perspective," without taking life too seriously. It comes from the New York Times (click here to read it).

Have a nice weekend.

Mike Anderson

Mixed signals: More jobs are filled, but higher unemployment

Today’s unemployment report fails to give anyone a clear signal about whether or not the economic recovery is stable. According to this story from the Washington Post, 67,000 hires were made in August, but 54,000 jobs were lost. The jobless rate rose from July’s 9.5% to 9.6% in August, impacted by four major factors: 1) Manufacturing jobs fell, 2) More state and local government jobs were lost, 4) More of those temporary Census jobs were lost, and 4) More people unemployed people resumed their job search. Click here to see the story.

Implications: The stock market jumped a bit in response to the news, which some pundits expected to be worse. But much of the press I’ve seen early after this report was released provides a down-side perspective. Since consumer confidence (or lack of it) is so closely tied to a feeling of income security, I’m inclined to expect spending restraint to continue. That doesn’t mean people won’t spend. It means they will be prudent, judicious, careful. Not unlike the past three years.

The argument for carefully thinking about who your target consumer really is, and having a deep understanding of the benefits they seek through the purchase of your product or service, remains very strong.

Mike Anderson

Cleaning some story ideas off my desk...

Here are some stories I haven’t had the chance to write about yet… but didn’t want to discard until I shared them with you.

This is a story from Marketing Daily (click for link) on the topic of call center quality. Lots of companies are shipping their customer service capacity overseas, at least with regard to telephone interaction. But use any out-sourced customer service entity with caution… lest you ship your customers to a competitor that’s easier to communicate with.

Mom, Dad: It’s time for you to go. A recent story from the NY Times (click for link) discussed the separation anxiety some parents have when dropping their kids off for school… at college. What kinds of products or services do you sell that could help parents stay in touch with their kids (in a thoughtful way), or celebrate homecoming on weekends or holidays?

Speaking of call centers, Target indicates that it is expanding tech support services for electronics. The article was in Marketing Daily last week (click for link). Granted, the big-box discounter might not sell goods as “complex” as large computer- or electronics-specialty stores, but this moves help keep people from feeling “stranded” after a tech purchase. And perhaps it hints that Target will be selling more sophisticated electronics sometime soon.

If you’re eating it, wouldn’t you like to know where it came from? Last week’s Springwise newsletter offered a story about Lay’s potato chips. The package now features a code to help you learn where the potatoes were grown, produced and packaged. Snack foods for loca-vores! (Click here to see the story.)

Here’s another Marketing Daily story (click for link) about relationship marketing and the role it plays in helping banks develop “fee tolerance” among its customers. Based on research from Mintel, the article suggests that customers see honesty and transparency as important in their banking relationship. (Early dialogue might make the consumer less likely to see a fee increase as a knee-jerk price hike. - MA)

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: Oil industry incidents and implications

Last night and this morning, details about yesterday’s drilling rig mishap off the Louisiana coast have become more specific and clear. Thankfully, no lives were lost, and no petroleum is spilling into the Gulf for now. And the mishap was a fire, not an explosion, and it did not occur in “deep water” (beyond the continental shelf. Nonetheless, the incident was a stark reminder of April’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy and the environmental mess that followed, as explained by a story in today’s New York Times (click here).

What is less clear today than in weeks past are the intentions of British Petroleum, related to the payment of clean-up costs and compensation to victims following this summer’s massive oil spill… as explained in another NY Times story that was published late last night (click here). The company is asserting that if future drilling and well rights are restricted, their ability to keep payment commitments may be compromised.

Implications: It seems to me that people—consumers—have an increased level of anxiety with oil companies these days, coupled with a decreasing level of trust. These two developments will not mitigate those feelings of anxiety and mistrust.

Watch for signs of the influence these emotions might have and the advantage these issues might provide… to car companies launching fuel-efficient and hybrid models, to politicians who call-out big oil between now and the November 2nd election, and to corporate America, overall, or any big company that does business here. (For an example of what I mean, see the posting immediately below.)

Mike Anderson

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fearing guilt by association, banks consider environmental impact of loans

A recent New York Times story suggests that some banks are considering the ecological implications of lending money. Click here to see the story.

Implications: My mother used to say, “If you’re hanging around with the people who do bad things, you’re just as guilty as they are.” In the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf, all kinds of chief executives might be thinking back to similar warnings they heard from their own moms.

Of course, guilt by association is not a literal offense. But one that is judged in the court of public opinion. (Mom knew that, too.) But the thought might inspire you to consider—from support companies to inventory vendors and service providers—are the companies you rely on to operate your business operating in a responsible manner (environmental or otherwise)? It can be hard to answer that question in times like these. But it becomes much more difficult after a news-worthy event gains momentum (as implied by another recent story in the NY Times; click to link).

Mike Anderson

UPDATE: Another oil rig explosion in the Gulf

My email in-bin looks like a news desk right now, as alerts pour in about another oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana shore. (Click here to see the Washington Post news flash. Click here to see the alert from the New York Times.)

Implications: On more than a few occasions, I’ve written about the likelihood of this summer’s (first) Gulf oil spill to elevate environmental awareness or action among consumers… and the inevitable scrutiny the oil industry will face, in terms of safety policies and procedures.

There are few details about what happened in this morning’s explosion. But it will certainly amplify sensitivity to the issues mentioned above... among consumers, as well as folks who are campaigning for elected office right now.

Stay tuned...

Mike Anderson

Getting consumers to stop and think could be the first step to a green campaign

I did quite a bit of traveling last month… which affords one the chance to indulge in a lot of newspaper reading. One story that I missed in the online edition of the NY Times, but saw in print… was a piece about the abuse of air conditioning that can occur when the tenant is getting AC for free (or included in their rent). I hunted-down the online version for you so that you can read it, too. Click here for “Air-Conditioning That Runs When Nobody’s Home,” 8/16/10 NY Times.

Implications: Think of the thoughtless things we do. Does your company provide any means of energy efficiency or conservation that you assume people already know about? It might be a good idea to conduct an energy audit of your products and services… asking, “In what ways could our offerings help consumers save energy, and therefore money?”

This NY Times story reminds me that some companies don’t see the forest because they are so close to the trees. But just because an energy-efficient (or any other) benefit is obvious to you, doesn’t mean it’s thought of by the customers you serve.

Just thought I’d share that idea with you before I recycle this paper…

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Hello, welcome to 9-1-1... can you hold?"

Crime fighters are facing the perfect storm: In times of economic stress and high unemployment, crime rates tend to go up, just as income tax and sales tax revenue to local governments is going down. As a result, police might be less likely to respond to “lesser crimes,” according to a recent story from USA Today. Click here to read it.

Implications: If you sell anything to do with security, now might be the time to showcase it. If the parking lot of your store is dim and scary, now might be the time to replace some bulbs and brighten it up. This story is a good reminder that, in an insecure world, consumers are likely to gravitate to places, products and services that make them feel safe.

Mike Anderson

Health and fitness: A national security issue?

Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity might be more than just a good idea. It could be an early initiative in a larger, longer-term focus on national health.

In yesterday’s New York Times, there was a story about the condition of new recruits when they arrive for basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC. (Click here to read the story.)

Implications: Again, I have little desire to assume the role of futurist; in fact, this NY Times story inspired me to look to the past, when poor fitness was recognized as an important problem… worthy of a nation-wide solution. I did a search for the original President’s Council on Physical Fitness (circa 1956), and came across this history at fitness.gov (click here to see the piece).

A country is only as healthy as its population; I don’t see issues like fitness, diet and overall wellness fading away anytime soon. That’s not a hint from the future, but one from our past.

Mike Anderson

Reputational implosions

In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a lengthy feature, recently, on what not to do in the aftermath of a major corporate crisis. It’s worth the read, and you can click here to see it.

Implications: Not long ago, I heard someone jokingly refer to BP as, “…the best thing that ever happened to Toyota.” The muse suggested, of course, that the wide attention given Toyota in their series of recalls was dwarfed, by comparison, with coverage of this summer’s environmental catastrophe in the Gulf. Sometimes, luck happens. But for those other times, it might be smart to learn what we can from the steps—and missteps—of companies like BP, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, and more. Enjoy the read.

Mike Anderson