Friday, March 23

Making Decisions: Do Anything But Wait

Despite the potential for market recovery, 48 percent of American investors believe they will run out of money in their lifetime. Ten years ago, only 30 percent believed they would run out of money.

These statistics are among the findings from a survey commissioned by BNY Mellon Wealth Management. CEO Larry Hughes went as far to say that "bleak is the new black" among investors.

He could be right. The same survey, taken in February, shows that more than six in ten investors (61 percent) say Americans are pessimistic about the markets compared to the balance who are optimistic. The outcome of the anxiety has slowed investments in the private sector, with 59 percent saying they are waiting for conditions to improve before taking any real action in their investment strategy.

How psychology and external pressures play a role in communication. 

As many as four in ten investors said they are holding off on making investment decisions until after the upcoming presidential election. Their trepidation includes the potential for tax increases and interest rates. But in general, shaky employment numbers (with many people removed from the work force), fear over the growing debt, and ultra high gas and energy prices are all baring down.

Part of the problem goes beyond hard numbers. Some of it is tied to an unwillingness to accept what's temporary and resign themselves to complacency. People are more likely to wait during good times and bad times. They are less likely to wait when they are in periods of innovation or adoption.

Unless a company is innovating new products that demand attention, it is likely deciding between identifying the shrinking pool of optimists or attempting to adopt new programs or approaches designed to change the the behavior of the pessimists. Common problem-solution communication is one strategy.

For example, a car dealership might emphasize more energy efficient vehicles as an economic alternative. They might even increase the trade-in incentive for less fuel efficient vehicles. Rental companies might offer a free tank of gas, assuming it is built into the rental price. Resorts with higher drive-in traffic might create an incentive with gas vouchers. Educational institutions might be more aggressive in providing online courses that do not require students (and instructors) to commute.

Any of these programs are short term, but represent how companies need to remain responsive to environmental conditions as much as operational improvements and/or competitive pressures. Companies have to be more responsive in eliminating the pressure or increasing the product/service value to exceed the perceived cost of acquisition.

When external pressures become too high, even communication can't help. 

In terms of gas prices, some people are now predicting that they will eclipse $5 per gallon this year. If that happens, even consumers with fuel efficient cars will be impacted. But they are not alone. Businesses will be forced either to absorb high fuel costs or increase prices to compensate, leaving consumers to face both higher fuel prices and inflation.

The prospect seems daunting given that 9 percent of Americans are unemployed, more than one in five Americans are underemployed, and several million were written off from the ranks of the work force. On a macro scale, all of it is contributing to shrinking optimism and slowing down economic recovery.

In such instances, unless it is innovation driven, companies and communicators are best served looking for smaller scale successes, perhaps in regional or even local markets that are less impacted by a continued downturn. While some people might think this goes beyond the scope of a communicator, it really doesn't. Whether marketing or public relations, well-intentioned professionals ought to be able to provide keen insight from the various publics served by the company every day.

The worst thing to do, however, is resign to a wait-and-see attitude that might permeate the rest of the market. If you are merely defending what you have, then there is a good chance you might already be losing. The same can be true for some who are unemployed; waiting for the 'right opportunity' often carries more risk than seizing temporary opportunities.
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