Consumers Are Tired of Hearing About the Recession

Graceann Bennett and Manila Austin Explain Why Marketers Should Tap Into Consumer Optimism

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Graceann Bennett
Graceann Bennett
Manila Austin
Manila Austin
The recession, while not officially declared over, is over in the minds of many consumers. For marketers, this means it's time to pay more attention to what the consumer is saying and not what the media is reporting.

For while the media feeds the country a steady diet of anxiety-inducing news of record job losses, mortgage defaults, out-of-control credit-card debt, the collapse and corruptions of financial institutions, and a host of other economic doom-and-gloom scenarios, consumers surprisingly are moving forward.

Rather than continue to beat a drumbeat of saving, sacrifice and survival, marketers must tap into the newfound self-reliance and positivity today's post-recession consumer is expressing. What we're hearing from the nearly 2,000 Americans we talked to is that they are rising to the occasion, changing their values and spending habits, and feeling pretty good about their newfound mindfulness.

Americans are fully aware of our new, not so great, economic reality. They get it. Now, can we just move on and stop using the economy as the lens through which we evaluate and frame everything?

Based on what we've learned about this new post-recession consumer consciousness, marketers must employ new strategies and tap into some age-old strategies to connect. Below are a few things for marketers to keep in mind:


1. TAP INTO AMERICAN'S STRENGTH; DON'T EXPLOIT THEIR FEARS

The biggest thing for marketers to keep in mind is the sense of optimism and positive self-reliance that this economic crisis has awakened in consumers on a personal level. While many Americans think our society, government and financial institutions are pretty messed up, they are feeling optimistic about themselves and are being resourceful and mindful in how they re-imagine their lives, values and spending habits. Tapping into the personal and the positive is a powerful place for marketers to spend their time and effort.


2. BEWARE OF THE PRICE TRAP -- IT'S A SHORT-TERM FIX

Marketers all seem to be scrambling for ways to talk about price and value. We have Wendy's "Economics" deal, McDonald's with their Appetite Stimulus Plan and almost every car manufacturer having some sort of price/value message. One danger of marketers presenting their brands as perfectly positioned for these recessionary times is that this strategy could backfire when consumers feel the economic pressure lifting. They may want to ditch some of the brands that got them through these tough times as a way to distance themselves from the feelings of deprivation that brand has come to represent.


3. TELL ALL. THE BRAND WITH THE BETTER INFORMATION WINS

Hungry for details and generally distrustful of everyone, today's consumer is spending 47% more time researching items before buying. They want transparent information that tells it like it is -- nothing sugar-coated or overly spun. Consumers are now trying to open their eyes to reality and make better decisions. They want marketers to give them the straight information so they can make sound decisions and will reward brands that are truly candid.


4. SURRENDER TO THE COMPLEXITY; FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIP INSTEAD

Today's consumers are making conscious tradeoffs to support those aspects of their lives that are personally meaningful or make them feel good about themselves. So even though more than 90% say they are using coupons or shopping at discount stores, a full 73% indicate they are opting to purchase fewer but higher quality items. Americans today are complex, in charge and distrustful; yet they are investing in product and experiences they truly value (bringing bag lunches to work in order to splurge on Starbucks or dinner out, for example). Today, it is more important than ever for brands to be authentic and true to their values rather than spending time trying to crack the code on consumers' complex behavior. If consumers can feel a brand's relevance then they will gravitate toward it (and be more receptive to relationship-and-loyalty marketing efforts).


5. BROADEN YOUR COMPETITIVE SET. TODAY EVERYTHING IS GAME

One blind spot marketers may face is the macro, big-picture way consumers are evaluating purchase decisions. Gone are the days when a brand's competition could be defined by a narrow product category, for today's consumers are looking across categories holistically to cut spending and to create a sustainable lifestyle. In some cases this may mean getting a few more years out of a 10-year-old car to afford cable and high-speed Internet. For others it may mean putting off big vacations to keep bi-weekly pedicure appointments. The point is that consumer choices cross categories in unique and personal ways. Marketers need to match consumers' mind-sets to understand who they are actually competing with, messaging should reflect the kinds of cross-category tradeoffs people are making, and brands need to make sense within the broad framework of consumers' lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Graceann Bennett is director of strategic planning at Ogilvy & Mather. Manila Austin, Ph.D., is director of research at Communispace. Together they have just completed a study on the post-recession consumer.
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