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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Occupancy rates on the rise in some cities/regions

An article in today’s USA Today indicates that occupancy rates are increasing in some areas, partially driven by rental demand.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:    During the housing meltdown the foreclosures that followed, a significant number of folks moved-in with their parents, their adult children, or other extended family and friends to “ride-out” their housing transition.  This article might indicate that some of those families are getting back out on their own, and into their own dwelling.  It might also indicate that more homes that have been sitting empty in real estate purgatory over the past few years are finally being brought to market.  (For example, one of the homes my wife and I looked at more than two years ago was released for sale by the mortgage holder just a couple of months ago.)

This news bodes well for home furnishings stores, home improvement providers, and more.

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

UPDATE: Back to School forecasts

A few days ago (7/21/11) we offered a post about the Back to School shopping, as pundits begin their annual speculation about the revenue potential of this selling season. 

Yesterday’s Advertising Age had another story on the topic, this one suggesting that more parents will delay BTS shopping until the last moment… or even finish some of their shopping after school has started.  (Click here to see the story.)

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


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Still from different planets: Purchase priorities differ by gender

Today’s Research Brief shares a study by NPD Group explaining the different criteria women and men might have when shopping for consumer electronics.  (Click here to see the story.)

Implications:    Gender is just one way to define your target audience, and just one dynamic that might influence the benefits sought when someone buys the product or service you sell.  Generally speaking, other attributes to consider are socio-economic status, geography, household composition, life stage, race, ethnicity, occupation, experience purchasing in the category, and more.

The better you understand your target consumer, the more likely your message will hit it.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The start of "the recovery" turns two

I enjoyed the headline of this though-provoking post from Engage:  Affluent (a Marketing Daily blog).  It reminds us that the end of “the Great Recession” was fully two years ago, and that the recovery has now been underway for more than 24 months.  (Click here to see the story.)

Implications:    Over the past two months, I’ve had the chance to talk with consumers in New York, Minnesota, Florida, and Missouri.  A few suggest the economy is getting much, much better.  But many suggest that they’re not personally feeling the recovery yet.

How are your customers feeling about that question? 

Deciding when the recession has ended and whether the recovery is underway is a very personal issue, likely to happen one consumer at a time.  If they have reconciled their debt and have stable household incomes, perhaps the recovery is underway.  But if they are not sure how stable their employment is and they’re still digging-out from the recessionary storm, it’s plausible that they would think the recession continues.

In my opinion—as I’ve said before—your recession is over when your customers talk and act as if it is over. 

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

Predictions start rolling in about Back to School season

A couple of stories hit my desk today on the topic of Back to School.  One, from Marketing Daily—and citing research from NPD Group—suggests that consumers will hold the line (click to link).  Another, which I discovered through Len Stein’s newsletter, explores the tendencies and shopping patterns of young men, women, and various ethnic and race groups (click to link).  That piece was published by YPulse.

Implications:    A lot of people are watching—and counting on—the back to school season as the first major shopping rush of 2011.  How are your customers thinking about BTS?  Are they towing the line, or are they going to see this season as a time to catch-up on their kids’ outdated wardrobe after three or so years of restraint? 

Watch, also, for the electronics people spend on this season.  From smartphones to iPads, a lot of people who are “cutting back” will mysteriously find the money to buy devises that didn’t event exist just a few short years ago.

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

Patient, heal thyself

In greater numbers, healthcare consumers are adding additional therapies to whatever the doctor ordered… according to a study from Consumer Reports that I found through today’s STLToday.com in St. Louis.  Click here to see that story.

Implications:    From fitness programs to organic foods to meditation and yoga—and yes, even homeopathic remedies—consumers have been assuming greater control over their healthcare future.  Part of this might have to do with a lack of direction for healthcare in the political arena, and some of it may have to do with the fact that Baby Boomers are moving toward their golden years very quickly.  It could be that insurance (or lack thereof) plays a role... and there may be many other influences.

What kinds of products or services do you offer… that are “good, and good for you?”  You don’t have to sell healthcare, specifically, to profit from this trend.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

June sees an increase in new home construction

Whether through consumers speculating about the stability of their future, or homebuilders speculating on theirs… new housing starts jumped in June according to this story in today’s USA Today (click to link).

Implications:    Pardon me if I take this opportunity to amplify any news that seems somewhat optimistic.  New homes lead to construction jobs, as well as the sales of home furnishings, d├ęcor, appliances, and more.

Generally speaking, people who build or buy homes have reason to be confident in the future.

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

The big "If"

Recently, I read yet another story suggesting that consumers were coiling-back into their more cautious spending stance.  This time, the article came from the Lempert Report (click here to see it), and it blamed the behavior on uncertain economic prospects.

Implications:    Over the past few months, I've had the chance to interview several consumers about how they're feeling right now.  My questions have been general, and the responses have been varied.  Here in my state (Minnesota), folks are talking about how the budget battle that shut-down our state government became hostile enough to make national headlines... and how it's a scenario being played out in different ways from California to Florida.  Indeed, it is happening at the federal level, too, as both parties argue their points for the budget-slash-debt ceiling-slash-tax bill.  Folks are unsure about the number and type of military conflicts the U.S. is currently involved with.  They're not confident about gas prices, jobs, or the future of healthcare.  And the big “If,” of course, is whether the recovery will prevail or whether the recession will again rear its ugly face.

Access to certainty is particularly valued in uncertain times.  Is there anything about your product or service—or the way you sell it—that can be made less mysterious, more transparent… more certain?

That one thing will get you mileage with consumers who are not so sure right now.  

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just cause: Are your charitable tie-ins plausible?

According to findings from MSLGroup, only 37% of consumers have made a purchase in response to a company’s cause marketing efforts.  That’s according to an overview of the study offered in today’s Marketing Daily (click here to see it).

Implications:    The problem is not “Cause Marketing.”  The challenge is choosing a cause that has some kind of an authentic relationship to you, your company, and your consumers... and then helping that cause in a way that is verifiable.  

Companies who claim to be environmentally friendly are guilty of “green-washing.”  But likewise, any other cause-related marketing effort is likely to be met with skepticism (or worse) unless there is a bona fide, demonstrable benefit to the stated group or charity. 

Can you write a “deeds dossier” which explains, precisely, how you are helping advance the interests of any cause, charity or non-profit group you claim to support?  If you can, you should.  If you can’t, you should suspend those claims until you can.  (Before somebody calls you out on it.)

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

The art of upselling a customer (or many customers)

Lots of companies are tuning-in to very specific consumer buying patterns, and taking steps to increase their volume just slightly, according to a story in today’s New York Times.  Click here to see the story.
  
Implications:    Watching your customer’s behavior, and then nudging them to buy more—of products you know they typically buy—is just very smart marketing.

Are you researching, packaging and presenting your products or services in a way that recognizes a customer’s usual buying habit… and then encourages them to purchase more without taking them out of their comfort zone?

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

Politics aside, many people seem ready to put politicians aside

This morning, the New York Times had an interesting piece on some less-than-scientific research they conducted over the weekend, having to do with the debate over raising the debt ceiling.  Click here to read the story.  Its only conclusion:  Washington is not getting anything done.  And folks are not blaming the White House or Congress… they seem to be blaming both.

Implications:    Right now, it might be easy to start thinking that many consumers—aka “voters”—are thinking that either major party is too extreme in their approach to finances. 

Will that cause one or both major parties to move more toward the middle?  Will the chasm represent an opening for candidates that either defy their current party’s thinking, or who come from an independent alternative?

Speaking as a trend watcher—not as an advocate for either party—one gets the feeling that patience is running out.  Especially for those politicians who might be seen as more loyal to their party than to the people (again, aka “voters”).  Absent some progress on the debt ceiling, the deficit and jobs, the next election could look a lot like the last… but with neither party coming out as the clear winner.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Smartphones described as "alter egos"

There were some fascinating observations—and stats—about smartphone usage in today’s Research Brief.  Click here to see it.

Implications:    As these devices—and their apps and the mobile web—become such an inextricable part of our lives, it’s important to think about how your company, product or service is presented and accessed through this popular channel.  Is your app or site easy to find and use?

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

Friday, July 8, 2011

Conflicting reports? Take a report from your customers.

While the jobs report this morning was frustrating (see immediately below) and some studies point to falling consumer confidence (click here to see one example from Prosper Technologies), not every postage stamps, plastic has impacted money.

As recently as yesterday, there was a piece in Marketing Daily about improved June sales numbers, attributed to consumer’s happiness and willingness to spend in the wake of falling gas prices (click to link).

Implications:    So we come full circle.  The essence of Elm Street Economics is to pay less attention to what’s going on with Wall Street or Washington, and focus more on what’s going on with the your most important customers and prospects. 

How is the consumer confidence of your clientele?  How can you help make it stronger?  In what ways might you present your company, product or service as a reliable choice in uncertain times?

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


UPDATE: Labor market added 18,000 jobs last month


Occasionally, I’ll offer a post at this site about the stability of the job market… knowing that household incomes have a direct correlation to consumer confidence (click here to see the “Employment” category).  This morning, a release from the Washington Post indicates that companies in the U.S. added roughly 18,000 new jobs last month, a hiring pace that most pundits are referring to as very disappointing.  Click here to see the story.  The number equates to a 9.2% unemployment rate, an increase of 0.1% over the previous quarter.

Implications:    We are thus reminded that there are two different realities.  The mathematical reality is that the recession officially ended nearly two years ago.  The street-level reality is that the recession is over when your consumer says it is over, and when your revenue line makes it feel like a rebound is underway.

Of course, job availability and household incomes vary widely by region and career category.  How is employment looking in your region?  Are some sectors of the workforce recovering more quickly than others?  Should you be thinking about adjusting your targeting, slightly, to cater to a part of the workforce which is more likely to enjoy a stable income?  Does your messaging focus on things like dollar-for-dollar value, long-lasting quality, or the fulfilling benefit that people are often looking for during times like these?

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

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cash shows signs of obsolescence


A story in today’s New York Times serves as a reminder that just as email impacted postage stamps, plastic has impacted money.  The number ofone, five and ten dollar bills being printed is on the decline.   (See the story by clicking here.)    

Implications:    I’m wondering how long plastic will prevail as the king of payments, and how much of an impact electronic payments might have—especially the emerging use of smartphones to “swipe” a payment—on the declining use of cash.

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

UPDATE: State and local governments struggle to make ends meet


Today’s New York Times features a story about communities that have closed their local pools (click here to see the story).   I thought this was a good example of the posting we offered yesterday (see immediately below) about private opportunity amidst public cutbacks.

Implications:    Do you run a waterpark, a hotel that includes a pool, or a local campground with a swimmer-friendly lake?  I hope you’re seizing this opportunity to be the provider of choice… now that some consumers are being forced to explore new alternatives.

Does it make sense to create some daily specials for local consumers?  

If you run a hardware store:  Could you create some signage promoting a "Pool is closed special" on lawn sprinklers?

What other government-funded services have been cut in  your community... that could represent an opportunity for your company, product or service?  

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

State and local governments struggle to make ends meet

Tuesday’s New York Times presented an extensive article about the effects of financial cutbacks in local governments.  The story focused on Wilmington, Delaware, but acknowledges that similar difficulties are being felt in cities and states throughout the U.S.  Click here to see the NY Times story.

Implications:  The aftershocks of the Great Recession will be many.  As federal stimulus programs dry up and tax revenues continue their somber pace, state and local governments will continue to try cut spending.  But at what point does cost-cutting hit muscle and bone, instead of just trimming fat?  And how can local and regional governments continue to spend money that they do not have?

Get ready for a very contentious election cycle.  (And I say that as someone who is writing from Minnesota, a state whose government is currently shut-down for lack of a civilized agreement on the budget.)

One question I might be asking about all this:  “Is there a way my company, product or service can provide alternatives to services that were once provided by a government agency?”  I’m thinking about private campgrounds that might fill the void of closed or declining state parks, or home health care companies that might supplement services once provided by previously government-sanctioned services… or other private-sector alternatives.

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

One shift that seems to be sticking: Store brands


Even though the recovery is underway, consumers continue to choose private-label (store branded) products at grocery, according to this story from Marketing Daily (click here to see it).

Implications:  Little comment is needed here, except to acknowledge that people don’t buy brands for the brands’ sake.  They choose a product or service they believe will deliver the benefit they seek better than other alternatives.  Absent that distinct selling proposition, the consumer has little choice but to use price as the main criteria in their decision-making process. 

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

Upstarts give traditional banks a run for their money with digital


A story from Marketing Daily looks at a recent report about the progress of banks in the digital space... and finds that innovation in online services is coming from some non-traditional financial services companies.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:  This article/research suggests that having “a blank slate” to work with is a luxury unique to start-ups.

Do you agree with that assertion?  Is your experience in you category of business an asset, or a liability?  Does your legacy in an industry prevent you from creating a start-up approach to a new business initiative?  It’s a worthwhile conversation to have with the leadership and ownership of your organization.

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Restaurant chain realizes that many consumers want price certainty


Ever catch yourself bracing for the cost of an automotive repair with this kind of question:  “Okay, what’s the max this could cost me?” 

Apparently, the Darden restaurant group is convinced that consumers feel the same way about dining out:  They want to know what the maximum cost might be.  And they’re adjusting the promotional pricing of their Olive Garden chain accordingly.  That’s according to this article from Nation’s Restaurant News following the company’s most recent shareholder call.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:  Consumers appreciate certainty in an uncertain world.  Rather than promoting prices “as low as” for your place of business, might you be better off explaining that “you won’t pay more than ____________” for a specific product or service package that you sell?

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

Nutrition disclosure from a local supermarket

Following-up on the story about food ingredient transparency from earlier today (see below), I’ll share this recent Minneapolis Star Tribune story explaining how one grocer is attempting to provide greater disclosure to consumers about the nutritional value of the products on the shelf.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:  There has been so much coverage about health issues and obesity over the past few years that I’m no longer sure whether it is a bona fide consumer concern, or journalistic hyperbole.  This supermarket chain might represent a chance to see whether consumers are really interested in knowing about the ingredients of some foods, and whether they’ll change their behaviors as a result of having that knowledge.

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

What do you have to hide?

A recent story from the Lempert Report explains that Safeway has decided to place it’s nutritional label on the front of the package for its store brand goods.  The company thinks that doing so will generate greater health confidence from consumers, by offering greater transparency with regard to the contents of a products’ ingredients.  Click here to see the Supermarket Guru story. 

Implications:  This move should tell us—or at least, tell Safeway—just how much consumers care, are aware, or compare different food products.  But the move alone should generate goodwill from folks who are focused on their Self-Health and Well-Being.

What are you trying to hide, as a company, product or service?  If the answer is, “nothing,” you might ask whether putting your back-story on display for everyone to see… as having nothing to hide is akin to having something to brag about!

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

Saturday, July 2, 2011

UPDATE: Smartphone growth


Thirty-eight percent of consumers now own a smartphone, according to this story from Marketing Daily (citing research from Nielsen).  More people now by smart phones than traditional cell phones at most local wireless stores.  Click here to see the story.

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

Colorful... but confusing?


Another story in the New York Times this week showcased how paint manufacturers are using descriptive storylines—rather than color names—to get customers excited about paint.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:   Because my background includes copywriting and campaign creative, I can appreciate the desire to make a product stand out.  But because I am also one of those people who has a hard time telling the difference between beige and taupe—it’s all tan to me—I’m wondering if abandoning the actual color name is a great idea!

This story was a good reminder that messaging should not overwhelmingly be designed to help a company stand out in its’ industry; the first priority of messaging should be to fit-in with the target consumer. 

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

Friday, July 1, 2011

Most don't anticipate a raise


Before I head out for the weekend, I’m cleaning up the various newsletters that did not seem urgent to share, but were worth referring to before I filed them.  One such note came from a recent issue of Research Brief.  It cites BIGresearch in suggesting that many folks don’t anticipate a raise this year, and will adjust to rising prices by changing their purchase behaviors.  Click here to see the briefing.

Implications:  The workforce—also known as consumers—seems to have adjusted its expectations on a variety of levels.  They are more realistic—pragmatic is a good word—and more careful managers of their household incomes.

I don’t think that necessarily means everyone is looking for a low price.  But I do think most folks continue to scrutinize every purchase… asking themselves whether the value and benefit they have received will match or exceed the payment or sacrifice they have made.

Have a great weekend.

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

Women worldwide are more empowered (and stressed)

According to a story from Marketing Daily, women are feeling more empowered, but feeling the stress that comes with that responsibility.  The article was based on research from Nielsen (click here to see the story). 

Implications:  I caught myself thinking back to the 1970’s, when American women headed for the workplace in droves, really for the first time since WWII.  The demands of a new career were in addition to—not instead of—the demands they felt at home... having the affect of creating multiple pressure-points on working women.

That shift was the beginning of a wave that continues to move across the world. 

This story also reminds me that women can benefit from a reliable, hard-working partner who is willing to share the burdens of work, home and family.  Not just a spouse or significant other; one of those partners could be your company, product or service.

Are you presenting yourself that way?  Could you?  Should you?

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

Restaurants recovering on the dinner menu

A story from Marketing Daily this week suggests that growth has occurred in the dinner day part for the past three full quarters.  Click here to see the article.

QSRs are doing better than other restaurant categories, according to the report.  And one driver behind the growth is the narrowing margin between the cost of eating at home or dining out… with grocery prices on the rise, of late.

Implications:  More than almost any other category, the pace of the overall restaurant recovery will probably match the employment recovery.  Until then, you can bet the restaurant will be extremely competitive.  But were you captivated by the idea that you might be competing… with grocery stores?

And why not.  Supermarkets have been picking a fight with the restaurant category for years… with frozen foods, heat-to-complete, grab-and-go, and now an ever more sophisticated line-up of deli foods.

If grocery prices continue to rise, does that mean restaurants should look at this period as an opportunity to reclaim share?  And what should grocery stores do to defend against that assault?

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

Affluent consumers feeling more optimistic


Citing research from Ipsos Mendelsohn, confidence among upscale consumers is on the rise, according to a briefing by Marketing Daily earlier this week.  Click here to see the story.

Implications:  I am seeing/hearing a campaign that starts out, “Okay, you’ve demonstrated great personal restraint as we’ve come through a tumultuous time… but now, it’s time to reward yourself…”

Does your product or service represent that kind of long-awaited, well-deserved reward?  Or… does your brand represent the kind of extreme value that lets the consumer fund that treat (with all the money they saved)?

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