Friday, November 13

Changing Behavior: Consumer Confidence


In coming out of what it defines as the Great Recession of 2008/2009, The Futures Company is setting its sights on a dramatic shift in consumer conscience and confidence beginning to take hold in 2010.

Specifically, The Futures Company sees consumers moving beyond the heightened sense of anxiety and economizing frugality that convinced them (and their employers) to operate from a sense of self-preservation and scarcity. However, in the new post-recession world, The Futures Company does not see consumers returning to an era of accumulation and indulgence. Instead, they make the case for an evolutionary step forward in thinking.

A Darwinian Gale Has Reshaped Consumer Thinking

In its recently published white paper, The Futures Company articulates attempts to identify the crucial characteristics of the marketplace to come, one that will be shaped by a new consumer confidence that would have a direct impact on how marketers, advertisers, public relations practitioners, and social media professionals might proceed. These characteristics include...

• Responsibility. Consumers will be much more responsible when making purchasing decisions, giving more consideration for what they purchase before they purchase it.

• Vigilance. Consumers will be much more watchful about their exposure and position, with every aspect of their spending being questioned and placing increased pressure on communicators to ally with their concerns.

• Resourceful. Consumers will be more resourceful, with an emphasis on the management and conservation of resources that they consider most important to them.

• Prioritization. Consumers will be much more likely to prioritize their purchasing decisions in the marketplace. While this won't change their aspirations, they will think of purchasing decisions as trade offs.

• Network Oriented. With increasing regularity, consumers will forge personal networks of support that they consider essential in a world of uncertainty. The net result will shift the pre-gale presumption of global convergence toward a post-gale world of local "exceptionalism."

Preliminary Conclusions About A Darwinian Gale

There is certainly some basis for the conclusions drawn by The Futures Company. In particular, they are right that marketers have grown too comfortable in an era of indulgence, where they knew what consumers wanted and delivered it to them with an excitement and intensity that compelled people to buy, even if it meant overextending their credit to do so.

They are right that the marketplace is in transition, but some of their glimpses into the future might be slightly offset by other trends that seemed to be dismissed. While there is no doubt consumers will invest considerably more time in defining value, there is an equally likely chance that this definition of value will be based on perception as opposed to reality.

While the current trend certainly suggests a shift toward populist behavior, due largely to an increased reliance on the Internet, we anticipate a pendulum swing back toward the center in regard to popularity defining value over objective thinkers defining value. It almost has to occur as communication continues to increase exponentially and public relations sets its sights on social media, leading to an increased infusion of biased communication in an effort to gain a perception of being valuable.

Much like yellow journalism ushered in objective journalism before many media outlets gave up on the concept in order to cater to stories that affirmed the beliefs of their readers and viewers, someone — either media or other parties — will have to become trusted advisers without individual or organizational agendas.

The other weakness in the white paper is the concept of moving away from globalization without considering the new geography of the Web. While local markets are an increasingly important part of the marketing equation, the white paper seems to de-emphasize the importance of the Internet's ability to create entirely new environments. People aren't only from their geographical locations but also from new destinations like online communities and certain social networks that do not recognize geography as a defining trait among members.

We also found a significant challenge in this world view. Given that consumers have learned that the work is riskier than they once believed, the construct still shows consumer thinking to be based largely on a fear mindset, which in itself has negative consequences, especially as the blame for an air of indulgence is being placed on the mantle of a free market system.

If you can get past some of these challenges, there are glimmers of realities to be optimistic about. The best of which stems from the concept that there is indeed an increased opportunity for companies, and communicators, to turn resourcefulness and innovation into tangible benefits that add real value to the world, which enhances optimism and consumer confidence (much like Steve Jobs did despite the 2001 recession). It is the most accurate assessment in the entire paper.

And from that perspective alone, A Darwin Gale might be worth checking out. Just keep in mind, as the authors freely admit, the future is not fixed.

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