Marketers, It's Time to Take Back Your Brand Relationships

Reclaim Consumers Who Have Changed Habits, Loyalties During Recession

By Published on .

Eric Spahr
Eric Spahr
The price of a tank of gas and the tanking economy are creating a powerful dynamic in consumers' lives. This change point -- an event that causes consumers to rethink and adjust their behaviors -- is disrupting brand loyalties and relationships in ways we haven't even begun to fully understand.

If you are one of those marketers who assumes everything will go back to normal once the price of gas stabilizes, you are in for a rude awakening. Because while you focus on weathering the recession, your customers are moving on, forming new habits and falling for new brands -- and they won't come back on their own.

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Massive change points like this often lead to new behaviors that generate an unexpected emotional benefits. Take, for example, commuters trying mass transit for the first time and discovering they have an extra hour each day to work on their laptops. Often it will take another change point, even a minor one, to cause them to revert to their old habits. A transit strike causes delays that overshadow their newfound productivity, and commuters head back to the HOV lane.

I'm not suggesting we find a way to spark a transit strike. But we must realize that the collection of these new behaviors will create sustained trends that change market landscapes. While the auto industry may not immediately convert production to all hybrid and electric cars, the fact that there is a waiting list to spend $100,000 on the electric Tesla Roadster indicates that alternative power vehicles won't go away when oil prices level off.

If consumers have abandoned your brand, there is still hope -- if you act now. Don't assume you understand the dynamics of your consumer's behavior. What led them to change their habits may not be what keeps them there. Car owners attracted to a motorcycle's fuel efficiency may not park their bikes in exchange for equally fuel-efficient cars.
Eric Spahr is VP-general manager of Brandstorm, a division of Northlich, Cincinnati.
Spend some time watching motorcyclists, and you will see a community -- the subtle wave bikers exchange on the road, the poker runs and cruises en-mass on Sunday afternoons. They have become a group forged by the choice to ride on two wheels instead of four. It may take a similar community, and not just low gas prices, to get them back in their Pontiacs.

Don't overlook innovation as its own change point. Consider the case of a busy mom I know who cuts costs by eliminating Capri Suns from her kids' lunches and giving them juice in reusable sports bottles instead. She likes the added emotional benefit of doing something good for the environment while she saves money. She insists she won't revert to filling up the landfills with empty juice boxes even if gas prices go down. But develop a recyclable or, better yet, biodegradable juice box, and you might win her back.

Begin now to develop the innovation that will enhance your brand's equity by creating a new dimension in your relationship with wayward consumers. Better yet, begin yesterday.

You can throw out that media-consumption profile report on your desk, because as the economy has slowed, your consumer has rapidly developed new media relationships. We all know someone who has dropped a newspaper subscription in favor of online news and RSS feeds. In order to create a new brand relationship with your consumers, you have to be able to reach them in a relevant, compelling way, so it is critical to understand how and where you can communicate with your consumers in order to influence their behavior.

Brand relationships are changing right now, even as you read this. If you are not aggressively positioning your brand to take advantage of that, then you are missing a huge opportunity. Don't just sit there hoping the recession ends soon; get out there and win back your consumers.
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