Monday, October 10

Creating A New Economy: Are Marketers Ready?

Watching economic indicators can be daunting at times. On the one hand, organizations like the ManpowerGroup are encouraging companies to start employing people. On the other hand, PNC reports that four out of five small businesses will reduce or maintain their employees over the next six months.

Job incentives will not turn the tide, they say. But the reasons for their decision go deeper than the surface argument of weak sales. There is some evidence to support that the economy is changing.

Wealthier countries in the world are beginning to question whether rising incomes equal happiness. It's an idea the Futures Company suggested two years ago. It came up yet again in a recent study conducted by Experian. People are looking for something different from the brands they once consumed, and it may point to a context that has been recently presented by Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab, author, and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review.

Building a 21st Century Economy from Umair Haque on Vimeo.

The future is more formative than many marketers might think. 

Most business measurements for success are linked to more customers, more leads, more sales. And yet, consumers seem to want less: less consumption, less brand status, and less sameness. The purchasing decisions they make tend to be more meaningful. And the mandatories (how they define basic necessities) seem to be more encompassing.

Is it any wonder that there is more divisiveness over what constitutes happiness, left and right, both with relatively equal economic demographics and both unhappy with the establishment. The key difference is security vs. freedom. But this identification has nothing to do with politics. It's a symptom of change.  

It hints at the shift of how companies might interact with the consumers they serve. Sometimes it surfaces in small ways, like pushback over policy changes or how people respond to quality over consumption. And other times in big ways, with companies volunteering to be attacked (as they attempt to make up for losses caused by questionable regulation) or others undone by their own taxpayer-funded extravagance, delivering a black eye to the entire industry. 

The marketers of the future will consider their customers stockholders. 

On some level, consumers are not much different than they were two decades ago. There are still segments that make decisions based on how they prioritize four considerations: the bottom line, immediate social impact, minute details, and cutting edge advancements. 

But what has changed is a greater need for acceptance and participation, possibly encouraged by the empowerment of social media and the Internet. People don't have to vote with their dollars outright; they can express their dissatisfaction publicly. And then, if the company expresses no desire to change, they vote with their wallets while lobbying for others to do so too. 

Many marketers are frightened by it. But they need not be so terrified. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of Kickstarter is that it taps into the change that is occurring in the marketplace. The people who participate are readily engaged with the people who have some smart and creative ideas.

This doesn't mean that the creator gives up any control of their project, although some do collaborate with backers. It simply means that they create an opportunity for consumers to share in their success, much like Donors Choose does for education. 

Status, brand, and big budgets all become secondary considerations to delivering a fulfilling and meaningful experience. Consumption is replaced by consideration. More messages are replaced by the right messages. Impulse shopping is replaced by purchaser fulfillment. 

It seems very unlikely that some companies will measure up in the decades ahead, especially if consumers become aware of a better choice. You can even see it in the most mundane of places. Facebook pages that have enticed the most likes are not the most talked about

So the questions are pretty simple for marketers. How do you align your company with the near future consumer? And if you cannot, then what will your company's exit strategy be in this decade?
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