Since the global economic downturn, I started receiving this weekly newsletter from Yankelovich and the Henley Centre called "Looking Up." Below is an excerpt from this week's edition.
My take on this: This is the time for strong and brave brands and companies to step up. Because consumers have adjusted, and are ready to start anew.
Leo Burnett, the ad man, started the agency during the Great Depression when everybody said he'd be lucky selling apples on the street. To prove his detractors wrong, he always kept a bowl of apples out to give to visitors and clients. Today, Leo Burnett is one of the strongest, most creative agency networks worldwide. And in each Leo Burnett office, you will still find those bowls of apples being given away as a testament to its great founder.
from Looking Up 3/17/09 by the Yankelovich and the Henley Centre
courtesy of Leo Burnett Information Resources
Marketing Imperative: Jump back into the mix with marketing that captures the new spirit of revival and optimism that is evident in the marketplace. Do not wait for a full-blown revival, for that will be too late. Now is the time to move, and by moving now, the early signs of improvement will be reinforced and strengthened. Consumers are primed for a new beginning. Give them a way to find that with your brands.
The shock that overwhelmed consumers as the economy tumbled over the past several months has now given way to outrage and indignation. Bernie Madoff’s guilty plea and subsequent revocation of bail was greeted with vigorous, widespread displays of exultation and satisfaction. A furious response resulted upon the announcement that AIG was planning to distribute $165 million in bonuses to employees of the very business group that bankrupted the company, which then took $170 billion of bailout funds from the Federal government to save it. The situation prompted both President Obama and New York Attorney General Cuomo to look into ways to stop the bonuses from being paid. Public support for additional bailouts continues to fall as people become more skeptical that such monies are helping the economy and as resentment grows over rescuing irresponsible businesses with taxpayer dollars.
Consumers are beginning to find their bearings again. They are no longer reeling. They are primed to take action. They are ready to move ahead. And the conditions are right for this reenergized determination to take hold and make a difference. Marketers must tap into this new-found energy and enthusiasm, in at least the following three ways.
- Keep your brands consistent with the new sense of risk that consumers are bringing to the marketplace. Broadly speaking, there have been three eras of risk perception since the Great Depression. The first was an era of planning in which risk was viewed as real and plans were made to deal with it. This ended with the economic revival of the mid-1980s that corresponded to the start of the last great bull-market run and the so-called “great moderation” in which the economy was relatively stable and growing. This period was an era of indulgence in which risk was thought to be a thing of the past and thus could be ignored (or managed by “laying it off”). The recent downturn, in both its speed and severity, has brought risk back to the forefront. What’s ahead is an era of consequences in whichconsumers will take more explicit account of the consequences of their decisions as they make choices in the marketplace. Thus, responsibility and accountability will be more important elements of the consumer decision calculus. Building these factors into brand propositions will give consumers confidence that your brands matter in this new era and are the kinds of relationships that they want to have as they reengage with the marketplace.
- Focus on innovations that will excite consumer passions despite any residual caution and reserve. The old reasons to buy have been discredited by the downturn. The ambition of “trading up”—the central dynamic of the past decade-plus—no long seems compelling. It was largely fueled by debt and expectations of constantly rising wealth, both of which are now seen to be wrong. And it does not fit a responsible way of consuming to have over-reaching material ambitions. So the old reasons no longer work. New reasons will have to be provided, and these will be part and parcel of a more strongly innovative presence in the marketplace. Key platforms for innovation include sustainability, community and civic renewal, health and well-being, and new kinds of service, all of which have been discussed in previous issues of Looking Up. The time has come for putting more effort behind these kinds of innovations.
- Practice optimism. At the moment that things are showing signs of life, it is unwise to have a downbeat presence in the marketplace or to disappear from the marketplace entirely. Consumers want to interact with brands that mirror these hopeful signs. They want an ally to show them a way forward. They want brands that will inspire them and energize them. People want to believe again, even if they don’t want to go back to the way things were. This kind of optimistic approach is what will make your brands speak to consumers in ways that resonate and motivate.