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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Y people buy

Most demographers agree that Gen Y represents that group of people who were born between roughly 1981 and 2001. In a story from today’s Marketing Daily, Nancy Robinson from Iconoculture shares some thoughts about Gen Y’s continued individuality, sense of discovery, marriage intentions and parenting style. Click here to see the article.

Implications: Values drive many of our purchase decisions… and I’m not talking about low prices. In this context, value refers to the set of principles and standards that a set of consumers might live by.

For example, when Gen Y orders something from a menu at an exotic restaurant, they might be inclined to choose an entrée they’ve never had before… simply because they’ve never had it before! If the story is right—and if the idea is interesting—the meal might appeal to their sense of discovery.

The better you understand the characteristics of the consumers you seek, the more likely you can offer products and services—and tell a story—that will appeal to them.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Not A, B or C... but some combination of the above

Once upon a time, advertisers could target consumers based on several fundamental criteria, such as age, gender, income, education, and/or race and ethnicity. One thing we’re learning as the 2011 Census rolls out is more people consider themselves to belong to more than one race or ethnic group. We live in an age where mixed marriages are common (and mixed relationships are even more common).

For more on this issue, visit this recent story from The New York Times (click to link). Also, see this story from Marketing Daily, which also focuses on the issue of multi-racial family demographics.

Implications: These days, understanding your target consumers might involve sitting down to talk with them, and transcribing their life stages, careers, hobbies, family composition and other lifestyle attributes… rather than sorting to the pre-existing terms that might be found in the traditional vocabulary of advertising.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Product shifts lead to category shortages, inflation

Two stories in today’s New York Times help us understand a practice that is likely to drive food inflation, and another practice that is intended to disguise it.

With higher prices paid for cotton, more farmers are moving away from food production. Click here to see that story.

Next… it was about a year ago that I offered a post related to hidden inflation; prices remaining stable while package sizes were shrinking [see: Package Size Gap, April, 2010]. Well, the practice is apparently becoming even more wide-spread, according to another article published today. Click here to see that NY Times story.

Implications: Inflation is often a by-product of an economic recovery. Many companies suppressed their price increases during the recession (when consumers are most price-sensitive), and try to play a little catch-up during the recovery.

Now, it will be interesting to see how tolerant consumers will be as cost increases find their way to store shelves and dealership lots. It’s not a question of if, but when, really. And this recovery-related inflation is aggravated by increasing demand out of the growing economies of China, India and other parts of the world… as well as the product shortages that will result (especially for technology, automotive and specialty foods) in the aftermath of the catastrophes impacting Japan.

Will your products or services soon come with a higher price? Have you started talking with consumers about it, or are you simply hoping they don’t notice? Is it time to start that conversation?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Monday, March 28, 2011

If you want to be green, you had better be authentic

A recent story from Marketing Daily serves as a reminder… that an environmentally-friendly campaign is not enough; the consumer expects truthfulness and transparency when companies lay claim to being green. Click here to see the story.

[By the way, a similar story ran last week on the Supermarket Guru blog, but focusing on cause marketing rather than green initiatives. Click here to see that story.]

Implications: I enjoyed the way this story clarified consumer sentiment toward “green” marketing. Few consumers expect any company to have a spotless track record, with regard to environmental issues. But they expect companies to be honest. The consumer can forgive a mistake… but they are less likely to forgive a cover-up or a false claim.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Consumer-designed products, services... companies?

This site has offered several posts on the topic of Social Media, and at least one article that specifically focused on the use of social networks as one element of consumer research [2/14/11]. Today’s USA Today gives us another story about this practice. Click here to see the story.

Implications: The world has faced a great deal of uncertainty this year (again), with another unique blend of natural disasters, global conflict, energy costs, and a still young economic recovery.

But in this digital age, it has never been as easy—nor as important—to understand your customers true needs and desires, and how your product, service and company can best fit into their lives.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Supply chain shortages ahead?

Saturday, another story from the New York Times explained the stress on supply chains that involve Japan, in the wake of the recent calamities there. Click here to read that story. Where the auto industry is concerned, the theme was echoed in today’s Marketing Daily (link) and Automotive Industry Digest (link).

Implications: It’s not just the cars coming out of Japan that will be in short supply… but also, cars and other products that are made elsewhere, but use parts that might come from Japan.

If a desired part or product is in short supply, does your company, product or service represent a reliable alternative?

And to repeat a theme from last week… if your parts or products could be perceived to be in short supply, should some of your short-term messaging focus on reassuring your customers that it won’t be a problem?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Whose loyalty is it, anyway?

An interesting story in today’s Marketing Daily suggests that many customers are less than impressed by some of the customer rewards programs out there. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: Do you see your company’s reward program first as a direct marketing tool that lets you advertise to current and past customers… or is its primary function to foster loyalty among those consumers?

Don’t get me wrong: A good rewards program could and should do both. But if you’re focused too heavily on the advertising aspect of this tactic, and too little on the customer service component… the company/consumer relationship could be at risk. A great loyalty program doesn’t just reward the consumer for being loyal to you; it should demonstrate that your company is loyal to the consumer.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The local impact of global events

As a consumer trend watcher, I’ve been thinking about how the events in Japan might impact local consumer behaviors here in the U.S., and perhaps throughout North America. No one can say with certainty, as the story and circumstances continue to evolve… but we can consider a range of possibilities.

Today, the Lempert Report published a story about the impact on global seafood trade and how it is likely to impact U.S. food buyers. (Click to link.)

Last night, the Detroit Free Press published a story about the likely impact of the disaster on vehicles produced in Japan, or those made by Japanese manufacturers in other parts of the world. (Click to link.) A similar story was offered by Marketing Daily yesterday, pointing out that Toyota is the only major auto manufacturer with operations in the most affected parts of Japan. Click here to see the MD article.

This afternoon, MSNBC published another story about the auto manufacturing industry. See their take on the situation by clicking here.

I belong to a LinkedIn group composed of photographers who use Nikon equipment. One member started a discussion over the weekend about the affects of this tragedy on that company’s plants and personnel. The company had posted a statement on their corporate website (click to link).

This morning’s New York Times reported about supply disruptions for electronics manufacturers and other industry categories. Click here to see that story.

A notice at one Japanese-based video gaming site explains that due to ongoing tremors and power shortages, the company was suspending play.

Implications: One cannot overlook the enormity of the human tragedy happening in Japan since last Thursday. Less conspicuous is the small-scale impact that these events will have on global supplies… from autos and auto parts to electronic components, entertainment services and even food.

Consumers have heard much about the “global economy” over the past few years. In the coming months, they are likely to realize the extent to which the global supply chain has found its way into their local supermarket or other shopping establishments.

Do you carry products made in Japan… or products manufactured domestically but which carry a Japanese name? Are you telling customers about your abundant supply of products or parts, in case they assume the contrary? If your supplies have been impacted, do you have contingency plans they should know about?

Absent a readily available answer, people sometimes jump to conclusions. Do you have answers… and are you making them readily available?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Disaster, re-defined and in real time

After tragedies like 9/11, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2010 earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, it is difficult to imagine any event that could be capable of shocking the collective conscience of the world. But the tragic events that began five days ago in Japan—the earthquake, resulting tsunami, and ongoing nuclear plant crisis—seem to have done just that.

First, Japan is an important political ally and economic partner to the U.S., at a time when really great friends are especially treasured. But our relationship goes beyond business. Japanese heritage is an important ingredient in the great American melting pot. People from Japan (and families of Japanese descent) populate cities and neighborhoods across the U.S., especially along our west coast and in Hawaii. While their geography is an ocean away, the reality of this tragedy has hit very close to home, impacting friends, families and companies we are familiar with.

Secondly, there have been few disasters so vividly captured as this one (I would include only 9/11 and Katrina in this group). While aftermath video was abundant following the recent earthquake in Haiti and the Indian Ocean tsunami, real-time event footage was spotty, at best. In contrast, the video coming out of Japan is in very real time, in very stark detail, and in plentiful supply. We have seen entire towns swallowed by water and debris, and hydrogen explosions at nuclear power plants (much of it live). We have seen never-before images of ships beached awkwardly on the tops of buildings… and the all-too-familiar faces of despair.

Implications: The goal of this blog is to help business owners, managers and marketers better understand and connect with their consumers. Most consumers are human, and events of the past week have touched much of humanity. So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to ask how the past week might impact consumer thought and behavior. Here are just a few of the things I’m thinking about, as I attempt to consider the wide range of possibilities:

Will these events re-define our general concept of disaster? (Are we becoming conditioned or de-sensitized to these massive catastrophes?)

Could these events cause more people to see their own difficulties as less dramatic or important? (Are we becoming more sensitive to the harm we see others suffer?)

Will these events cause the Japanese economy to slide back into recession? Will their trade partners also be at greater risk?

Given that Japan is the world’s third largest economy (4th if the European Union is considered a sovereign economy), will the charitable response be as strong, or different, than it has been in previous global crises?

Could the relief efforts lead to a sense of “shared experience” that brings parts of the world community closer together?

Could local a local company (like yours) facilitate the compassion many consumers might like to express… but not know how? (Is there a cause marketing effort that might help you do well… while you’re doing something good?)

This is one of those times when it is easy to have more questions than answers. But the events unfolding in Japan have captured the attention of many consumers, based on what they have been Tweeting about, watching on YouTube, and posting on Facebook in the past week. So they are questions worth asking.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Retirement stress?

A few days ago, we published a link to research that suggested “employed 65+ adults should be considered affluent” [see the posting from March 9, 2011 by clicking here]. In contrast to those findings, there is a story in today’s USA Today that suggests people headed toward retirement age are feeling a bit gloomy about their prospects. Click here to see that story.

Implications: What does one do with all of these seemingly conflicting reports?

First off, use them as a healthy reminder that for every trend, there is likely a counter-trend. The best research doesn’t always lead to having all the right answers. Sometimes, it only helps you discover all the right questions.

Study the consumer you serve, specifically. Find out how they’re feeling… and discover how you can make them feel better. That might have to do with retirement planning… or taking a grandchild to a theme park.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Smartphones increasingly used as shopping tools

Smartphones are increasingly seen as a utility tool for more and more shoppers, according to this story from today’s Marketing Daily (click to link).

Implications: Once upon a time, if the shopper was in your store, the work was half done. But now, comparison-shopping no longer involves driving across town to your competitor. Consumers can reach into a coat pocket or purse and pull out their iPhone, Blackberry or Droid… and double-check the value proposition behind your offer. Their phone can also be a source of product knowledge, something they used to rely on a skilled salesperson to provide.

Is your shopping experience compelling enough to keep customers focused on the in-store presentation (rather than a competitor’s website)? Could your most important display include a sample for the customer to hold in their hands… making it less convenient to juggle a smartphone? Does your signage sufficiently promote any sale-after-the-service or other value added that make comparison-by-phone difficult… and based on something more significant than price alone?

[A note from Mike: I realize we’ve offered numerous postings on Pervasive Technology in the past (click here to see the set), and smartphone shopping, specifically (click here for that sub-set), but this consumer trend is significant enough to justify repeat attention.]

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Store brands remain strong

Private label goods received a lot of trial thanks to the recession. And it appears they remain popular as the recovery gains momentum, according to Nielsen data as published in this recent story from Daily Finance (AOL). Click here to see the story.

Implications: One by-product of the recovery can be a surge in prices. Many companies delayed price hikes for fear they would further scare consumers during an already difficult time. But as the recovery gains momentum, those companies are more likely to move forward with those price increases.

Sticking with the store brands they discovered during the recession could be one way that consumers are managing in a more expensive world. This issue illustrates on lesson learned during the recession that is likely to stick around a while.

[Thanks to friend and fellow trend-watcher JoAnne Naganawa from Seattle for sending this link.]

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

UPDATE: Another take on the effects of higher gas prices

The Fuel Economy has been a frequent subject of the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog (click here to see posts tagged in that group), and it is likely to remain a hot topic. This morning, Colleague Jim Hopes pointed out a story that appeared today in Advertising Age, which explains how different companies and industry categories are preparing for the possibility of higher gas prices. Click here to read the story.

Implications: This article wisely points-out that for each increase in the price of gasoline, the amount of money that remains “discretionary” in a household goes down, causing families to sort their purchase priorities differently.

Another important take-away: Both companies and consumers went through a spike in energy costs back in 2008. If fuel prices climb appreciably, there is less likely to be “price panic,” as we all have the clarity of hindsight to our advantage. That was less the case three years ago.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Another natural disaster that will take some time to understand

Like you, I am watching the ongoing developments in Japan and across the Pacific Rim today, as the effects of a massive earthquake, tsunamis, and aftershocks unfold. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this immense tragedy.

Even with our ability to watch what’s going on through real-time video, the enormity of the human loss, property destroyed and other long-term impact is impossible to comprehend… at least for now. The situation continues to evolve, as waves come ashore in Hawaii (with less damage than originally feared, so far), and more waves anticipated along the entire west coast of North America. Like many of you, I’ll be watching and absorbing what this might mean over the weekend and the next several days.

Implications: So early in this ongoing event, it is difficult to think about local implications to such a global tragedy. This is likely to evolve differently than the Sumatra quake and tsunami of 2005, even though some of the footage seems all too familiar.

First, commodity prices could fall dramatically, for a time. Japan is the world’s fourth largest economy by GDP, and the fourth largest consumer of oil (source: CIA world factbook; considers the European Union as a sovereign economy). For at least the short term, much of the country’s manufacturing, financial and other day-to-day activity will be suspended, and oil consumption is likely to fall… dramatically enough to influence world demand.

There will be other implications for this event, on global banks, stock markets and aid organizations, to name a few. On the North American west coast, waves have yet to arrive. We’re thinking about you…

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Will the price of coffee go a little too Venti?

Insects and infection are cutting into the production of coffee in Columbia, according to this story found in today’s New York Times. Click here to read it.

Implications: Consumers cut back on their visits to designer coffee shops during the great recession. With the recovery underway—to different degrees, depending on your business category or region—media reports suggest that people have been returning to their previous patterns, in terms of visit frequency and expenditure per purchase.

If supply and demand issues cause significant increases in coffee prices, it will be interesting to see whether this category represents a good case study… as to where the tipping point of spending control might be, post-recession. It might be smart to watch revenue reports from companies like Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and Seattle’s Best… just to see whether their income reflects a consumer whose love of coffee is resilient enough to survive a more expensive indulgence, or whether some folks might be inclined to draw the line on that expenditure, either through fewer visits, or lower-priced options once they arrive.

Sidebar: Starbucks seems to be getting a lot of press about their new “Trenta” option. (See this story from the Dallas Morning News for one example of the coverage.) But I’m not sure whether this super-sized cup of coffee was invented out of consumer demand (is this a response to something consumers have asked for), or just someone’s big idea of a big idea.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Very often, yesterday's "upper demo" is today's affluent consumer

In the Audience DNA workshops we deliver, we often refer to folks in their sixties as “New Age Seniors.” The reason: Life expectancies are longer, people are staying healthy longer, and there is more wealth available to this cohort than there was just a few decades ago. A story from today’s Marketing Daily seems to concur.

Citing data from Scarborough Research, the article illustrates some of the financial strength and purchasing power of older consumers. Click here to see it.

Implications: Significant wealth has followed the boomer generation as it ages. Are you following the money? And have you made adjustments to your product, service or messaging so as to make them even more appealing to this cohort?

I think of this generation as a group that is growing older, but at time, refuses to grow up. They might be listening to jazz and visiting symphony hall, but they’re also still listening to country and rock and roll. They’re showing up at Chuck E. Cheese’s… with the grand kids. They’re wearing no-lines so their bi-focals are less apparent. And while they’re still more than physically capable of playing a variety of sports… their knees and elbows might hurt afterwards.

Again… how does your product or service fit comfortably into the life stage of this consumer? Are your displays within convenient reach? Does the font size on your menu or packaging make for a comfortable read? Does your venue help create memories for a grandparent outing? You’ll win with this crowd the same way you will with any other generational cohort: Empathize with their needs and the satisfy benefits they seek.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

A novel idea: The customer is NOT always right

I’m cleaning out my email in-box, and catching-up on some story ideas that were good but not urgent over the past week. One of the items that caught my eye was this story from the New York Times, explaining that some New York restaurants have taken a hard line on allowing almost any customer input.

Their position, if I may paraphrase, is that “we’re not for everyone; if you don’t like the way we cook the food (without your input), then we’re not a good fit for you and you should go somewhere else.” Click here to see the story for yourself.

Implications: Gutsy move, right? And maybe, just maybe… brilliant.

While riding with a colleague to dinner one night, we passed through the retail neighborhood that almost every city and suburb is familiar with. It had an Office Depot, a Bed Bath and Beyond, Michael’s craft store, a Barnes & Noble, and of course, a Starbucks and an Applebee’s (among other recognizable national franchise joints).

My friend turned and said, “Welcome… to Generica.” It was the perfect, succinct observation, and delivered dead-pan at just the right time.

Do you ever water-down the charm of your company, product or service for the sake of appealing to more people? Does doing so run the risk of making you less appealing to your core? In a world where consumers are so often researched down to their lowest common denominators, perhaps a restaurant that isn’t right for everyone… is just what their most valuable customers are after.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Will changes in the mortgage industry alter the American dream?

Many homeowners have taken advantage of long-term loans to purchase their dream home. But in the aftermath of the mortgage and real estate meltdown, some pundits suggest that, eventually, the classic 30-year fixed mortgage could be in jeopardy. For an explanation as to why, see this recent story from the New York Times (click to link).

Long-term mortgages aside, there are other issues that could impact home ownership in the coming years—especially for first-time homebuyers—such as new fees, qualification criteria, and more. To look deeper into those issues, see this story from yesterday’s “Smart Money” section of the Wall Street Journal (click to link).

Implications: I’ll remind the reader that I do not consider myself a futurist or forecaster. But enough things are lining-up here that it might be smart to consider the consequences of a market where home ownership is less widespread—or at least less affordable—than it is now. In a cash-pinched economy, the government is looking for cost savings just like everyone else… and housing subsidies could be an attractive target for the budget ax.

If you sell home furnishings, appliances, home improvement, home entertainment… how will your world evolve, if these changes come to pass? These possibilities might be hard to think about right now. But they’ll be much more difficult to deal with if they start to happen when you’re not paying attention.

If there are more renters, will they all choose apartment/townhome living? Will home furnishings necessarily get smaller? Or will a cottage industry of traditional-home rentals emerge… putting people into the same types of homes, but now as renters rather than owners? What will the tax implications be for homeowners that pay no mortgage interest?

However the market changes, there will be companies ready to profit. Here’s hoping you are among them!

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gas pains

Whether you’ve read the story that appeared in today’s USA Today about increasing interest in Hybrid vehicles, or this story from MSN that aired on the Today Show about the impact of oil on the price of everything (pre-roll required): The price of gas has resumed its influence on consumer behavior and sentiment.

Implications: From the size of the cars that might be on consumers’ consideration lists, to the number of stops they’re willing to make in order to grab everything on their shopping list… the price of gas affects more than just gas purchases. It impacts the price of the sofa, groceries, and even delivery pizza.

Lots of things are likely to go up, if fuel prices continue to rise. As a natural response, consumers are likely to cut back to compensate for this assault on their budget. But the question becomes, where, when, and how deep will they cut?

The answer depends on the value any company, product or service adds to the consumer’s life. (And again, I’m not talking about the price that is paid… but the benefit that is received in return.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Where are you most vulnerable?

Today’s Marketing Daily includes a story about the importance of staying true to your core. The piece features Alex Hiam, author of Marketing for Dummies and an instructor at the University of Massachusetts business school. Hiam suggests that while companies must constantly innovate and add new product offerings, they ignore their core product at their own peril. (Click here to read the piece.)

Implications: What is the core value proposition of your company, product, or service? That thing you do better than anyone… that thing you are famous for? Have you abandoned that core competence, distracted by add-ons or new product launches?

Innovation happens at the edges, to be sure. But a core product or service can be your point of greatest vulnerability, if you fail to protect it well.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More couples said "I don't" to expensive weddings last year

According to a story from today’s Marketing Daily, the average expenditure per wedding was down last year. The article cites research from The Knot. (Click here to read the piece.)

Implications: This story leaves me with more questions than answers. Is the cost-efficiency driver a long-term consumer trend? Or was it just a short-term response to the recession?

My hunch is there’s a little of both. Economic strife is often accompanied by a shift in purchasing priorities. Like spending less when you can… to be sure. But when it comes to some purchases, people sometimes spend a little more, to buy things that will last.

Are weddings impacted by this phenomenon? No… I’m not being a cynic or suggesting that marriages don’t last. I’m just suggesting that weddings themselves are one-time events… and weddings don’t last. I’ve personally observed more than one couple whose weddings we have been involved with in the past year… and frequently heard the attitude, “Let’s put the money into the house,” or, “If we save on the reception, we can start off our marriage with a stronger financial footing.”

Are you seeing this in your business? If you’re a wedding services provider (hotel, officiate, photographer, baker, jeweler or wedding party band), this could impact you. But it could affect you, too, if you sell furniture, home improvements, investments or cars.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Unemployment rate falls to 8.9%

Because a sustainable recovery depends on consumers having jobs and paychecks, it’s good to end the week with some good news about unemployment. Depending on your preference, here’s the story from the New York Times… and here’s the way it was reported by the Washington Post.

Implications: We still have a long way to go before describing the economy as “robust,” but based on what we’ve been through, this is good news.

As employment gains, pocketbooks open. Have you sidelined any products, services or offers in response to the recession… which might be good to reconsider now, in the face of increased optimism?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ready for the return of the minivan?

The other day, my wife and I met some old friends at a coffee shop. One of the young moms mentioned that they were thinking about replacing their Honda Odyssey with a newer minivan. Another mom in the group scoffed: “You’re thinking about another MINIVAN,” as if doing so was akin to infecting oneself with an incurable disease.

The Honda owner did not over-react to the negative response. She just asked, calmly, “Are you still driving the Tahoe?” “Yes,” her counterpart replied. “You live in a suburb,” said the van owner, “when was the last time you actually put that thing into four wheel drive?”

The Tahoe mom went silent. And it occurred to me that I had just witnessed another example of how consumers are gravitating to the authentic, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It reminded me of a story I saw in the New York Times on just this topic a couple of months ago. Click here to see that story.

Implications: Big SUV’s will still be around years from now. But they are likely to be driven by people who have a demonstrated need for an SUV (because of a sport they are involved with or a utility that requires such a vehicle), rather than being driven by those who simply find it fashionable.

Minivans, at one time, were fashionable, too (when they were new, and the decade after). But eventually, society deemed it the vehicle of stereotypical soccer-moms (“Eeewwww”), and the functional people-haulers of the 80’s and 90’s were replaced buy the more sporty, stylish, SUV. Same soccer-moms, different truck.

In many ways, the Great Recession made people a little more realistic, and content to be who they are. We sought-out the authentic; if you’re a family with small kids, that might mean adding a minivan to your family fleet. Even here in Minnesota where I live, the streets are plowed within hours of every snowstorm. If the minivan or a cross-over can better defend the family against expensive gasoline, fewer might stick with the bulky SUV merely for fashion’s sake.

Did the recession bring your customers down to earth? What are they doing differently now? How has your company, product or service adapted to these changing priorities? How has your marketing responded to this consumer trend?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From aggravated to aggregated: This platform helps keep your status updates targeted and relevant

I’ve long restricted my LinkedIn profile to my professional life… and then chat-up my personal interests on Facebook, which I reserved for personal relationships. (I don’t think my colleagues and business associates want to see my vacation photos, and my friends aren’t all that interested in the latest qualitative research discovery I’ve made!)

Some people have more than one Facebook account—one for their personal life, and one for their professional endeavors—and the same goes for their presence on LinkedIn and other social sites.

In another story from this week, a company called Whoopaa helps users separate work from pleasure in more convenient way… aggregating information into categories and helping users “post” to the pertinent social, professional, or family connections in their life. Click here to see the story.

Implications: It is amazing how far the consumer trend toward personal archiving has come. We’re being bombarded with so many messages—even from our friends—that we must use artificial aids to sort them into categories of interest.

If your company, product, or service were going to be sorted into a compartment of the consumer’s life, where would they put you? If they were inclined to recommend you, would they tell their family, friends, co-workers… or all of the above?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

This business is really in the toilet

This week’s newsletter featured a Dutch company that has made a business out of offering bathroom facilities. Click here to see the story.

Implications: Sometimes, the most amazing business ideas are those hiding in plain sight.

Next time I travel, I’m going to count the number of businesses who display a sign that says, “Restrooms not for public use,” or similar.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Just as there were many different recessions, there are many different recoveries

As far-reaching as the recession was, it was not a singular event that treated everyone the same. The Great Recession was a very personal event, depending on the employment, housing, revolving credit and other financial dynamics of an individual or their family.

A story in today’s New York Times suggests that like the recession, the recovery will be a highly personalized matter, at least with regard to credit card use. Click here to read the full story.

Implications: I know people who regularly use their credit cards for necessities, but only because they like to rack-up frequent-flier points or other rewards. I know people who use cash, even for a major purchase. So blanket conclusions can be a dangerous thing.

But the fact is, a tremendous number of consumers have been trying to de-lever over the past few years. While some are again warming-up to the idea of using a credit card or financing a major purchase, it appears unlikely that we, as a society, will go whole-hog on another spending spree like the one that preceded the recession.

On the other hand, there are consumers who are using credit instruments every day, not out of want, but out of need.

In your business, does a “qualified customer” look the same in 2011 as they looked in 2006? What, if anything, has changed?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

For restaurant recovery, is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

A headline in today’s Marketing Daily asserts that a 4% lift is seen for breakfast sales this year. Reading deeper, the 4% figure is a projection from Mintel. Click here to read the story, which asserts that breakfasts will be an important driver of restaurant growth and healthy options will be an important driver of breakfasts.

Implications: I have a few questions, here. Hasn’t breakfast been a traditionally challenging day part for a huge number of restaurants? (Breakfast places aside, of course.) If breakfast was the weakest link, doesn’t that just naturally make it a relatively easy place to increase sales (especially in terms of percentages)?

As a late-stage boomer, I can understand the need for healthier entrees, as expressed by a significant number of survey participants. But time starvation continues to play an important role in how consumers prioritize their workday food purchases. According to their own study, a platter meal is favored on weekend mornings… but the breakfast sandwich (a grab-and-go option) is the preferred breakfast meal on weekdays. (Can you make it healthy… in a hurry?)

The Mintel study—or any research that leads you to understand who your target consumer really is and what they really want—is a very useful tool. But be careful how you use those tools. Research seldom points to a single conclusion. More often, it asks you to consider a range of possibilities.

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.

Moving from comfort food to experiential cuisine

JoAnne Naganawa, friend and fellow trend-watcher from Seattle, just passed along a story she found in Fast Casual magazine—an industry trade publication—suggesting that consumers are moving out of their “comfort zone” when it comes to dining out. (Click here to see the story.)

Implications: When people go into shock—literally—their body is coiling-in to only the essential activities, like breathing, pumping blood, etc. The Great Recession could be thought of as a similarly traumatic event, which caused people—in terms of finances and consumption—to coil-in to only the most essential of behaviors.

To a restaurant, that might mean down-grading from upscale to fast casual, or from fast casual to fast food, or from fast food dining to a variety of supermarket options (like grab-and-go, deli, or heat-to-complete entrees). And when we did dine out-of-home, we were more inclined to order those things that would be predictably satisfying. The Great Recession was a time to serve foods known to satisfy, rather than the exotic or adventurous.

The times, they are a changing. (Again.) This consumer trend was almost predictable, as pent-up demand is no less an issue for out-of-home dining than it is for automobiles or home furnishings. As people once again “go out,” they are seeking an entrée or experience (or both) that they cannot achieve at home. Is your restaurant serving that meal? Is your store delivering that experience?

Mike Anderson, for the Elm Street Economics consumer trends blog. A service of The Center for Sales Strategy, Inc.