By Paul Diamond, Manager Base Communications, Vistage International
“Business as usual” is undergoing a transformation brought on by changing consumer tastes and dramatic economic pressures. Companies now have to find new ways to appeal to consumers scarred by the recent economic crisis. These consumers spend less and save more; many are jobless, many lack trust in businesses, and many expect the government to provide a high level of service.
Business operations are under numerous other pressures, including constrained credit, economic uncertainty, threat of increased inflation, excessive consolidation in many industries, the rapid pace of innovation, rising commodity prices and a constant pressure to do things better, faster and cheaper.
The 7 trends detailed below are opportunities you can seize to give your customers more of what they want.
Trend 1: Short-Termism
The financial crisis that brought us to the brink of monetary end-times made consumers realize that governments, institutions and even brands don’t have a good sense of the future—and they certainly can’t control a quickly developing crisis. Consumers have become fearful of what might happen next, and they no longer trust that enterprises operate towards a stable, long-term future.
“People are thinking more about the here and now, and less about things that may or may not last a long time,” says noted trend analyst William Higham, author of The Next Big Thing—Spotting & Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit.
“This sentiment leads us to buy based on our immediate needs. It also makes us want to take greater responsibility for ourselves across a range of sectors, rather than relying on media, politicians, professionals or brands, who we feel have let us down. For example, we are increasingly self-diagnosing and self-treating; scheduling media at the times we want; and making our own playlists rather than buying new compilation albums.”
Additionally, people now understand that the pace of innovation rapidly outdates expensive technology purchases. The relative usefulness of smart phones, navigation systems, laptops, software, and televisions lasts no more than a year, sometime only months. When it comes to new technology purchases, consumers have learned to adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude.
Trend 2: Brand Aid
Companies are now building brand loyalty by helping their consumers navigate through today’s complexities and difficulties.
“These brands want to be seen as helping consumers through life,” said Higham.
Brand aid typically takes the form of advice, information or free services provided to the public. Examples include:
- Microsoft: Publishes a free online magazine, Home, offering unbiased Internet guidance
- Charmin: Offers free public restrooms for shoppers in New York’s Times Square during the holiday season
- Evy Baby: This diaper company places branded changing rooms in Turkish shopping malls
- American Express: Created openforum.com to help business owners find success
Higham thinks the trend will expand to an entirely new aid market: “Tomorrow’s consumers will pay a premium for brands that help them avoid activities that are either difficult, time consuming or unpleasant. This will be a particularly strong driver in the luxury sector, as definitions of luxury evolve from ostentation to experience and more recently convenience and privilege.”
Trend 3: Conscious Consumerism
You know those people who buy something only if it’s organic, eco-friendly or made locally? Soon most of us will make our purchases based on such highly selective, specific criteria.
“Companies should think about their consumers in terms of what, why and how they purchase,” says Higham. Impulse buying is waning, giving way to purchases that are driven by enduring core values. “With less money to spend, there will be a reduction in impulse purchasing and a growth in conscious consumption: where individuals limit purchases to products that matter to them. Brands will increasingly need to provide a meaningful reason for consumers to buy their products: from strong aesthetics to durability, heritage to sustainability. And they will need to target their products more specifically to particular attitudinal and needs segments.”
Trend 4: Simplification
One of the key trends of the 2000s was the growth of choice. But a backlash has begun, as more and more consumers suffer choice fatigue. “Consumers will increasingly seek, not unlimited choice, but an edited choice,” says Higham.
Simplification creates three distinct marketplace opportunities for nimble companies, including:
• Recommendation as a service: Recommendations and shortlists of options that give us the right choice rather than an abundance of choices will become increasingly popular. Additionally, products that reduce the need to make a choice will benefit from this trend.
• Single-occasion products: Certain single-occasion products such as birthday cakes, wedding gowns and event insurance have long been with us. Now companies are elevating daily activities into occasions that pair with their products. “You can buy bottles of wine made to be drunk with specific dishes like fish or chicken; or coffee brands that are made to be drunk at specific times of the day.” This pairing serves to simplify choice.
• Multi-use products: “If you own a single device that acts as phone, camera and music player, you don’t need to decide which of several single-use products to take with you when going out.” Multi-use products are marginalizing certain types of single-use products.
Trend 5: Mobile Purchasing
Cell phones are becoming virtual credit cards and mobile credit-card processing terminals. In Japan and Sweden, consumers have long been using cell phones to make purchases. “Mobile purchasing answers a real need in marketing—closing the deal conveniently,” says Philippe Cesson, Vistage speaker and president of Cesson 3.0, a social media and training company.
“Just as customers embraced online shopping for its convenience, they will also embrace mobile purchasing.” The U.S. has been slow to adopt the technology, but currently has four forms of mobile phone transaction in use, and these may become widely adopted, though who knows which technology will ultimately prevail. The four models for cell-phone transactions are:
• Swipe your phone: Customers can securely swipe their cell phone and use it just like a credit card, making for a quicker transaction. Businesses can use this technology to gain more sales and increased conversion. One provider, BlingNation, is spreading this technology via community banks, which provide local merchants with a phone-swipe terminal and checking-account customers with a small adhesive tag that sticks to the back of their phone. Swipe the tag over the terminal to make a purchase. The transactions are processed directly by a local bank which results in lower fees than merchants normally pay for credit card transactions. This system is currently being tested in two Colorado towns. It appears to be work well for high-volume, lowprice purchases.
• Accept payments with your phone: You can now buy a small card reader made by SquareUp that hooks to your iPhone, Android or Blackberry. When a customer wants to buy something from you, they simply swipe their credit card through this gadget connected to your phone, then they sign their name on your phone, and the transaction is complete. You can also email a receipt to the buyer. This solution works well for traditional businesses that want to sell items off-location at trade shows or festivals, and for consultants, one-person businesses, or artisans who want to accept payment by credit card but either can’t get a merchant account or don’t want one because of the fees. With this service you don’t need a merchant account and there are no contracts or monthly fees. The cost per transaction hasn’t been disclosed yet.
This service, which aims to be available in Q2 2010, is brought to you by the people who invented Twitter—expect it to be highly disruptive to traditional merchant accounts.
• Enter your phone number online: Customers shopping online can enter their cell phone number to check out and pay. They must reply to a text message sent by the site to complete the transaction. The customer then pays the charge on their monthly cell phone bill. Using a cell phone number is a lot quicker and easier than entering credit card and address info online, and it appeals to younger people and those who may not have a credit card. What’s the rub? The transaction fee is painful—as a merchant you must give 35 to 50 percent of the sale price to the mobile carrier that processes the transaction. These fees may drop in time.
• Transfer money via cell phone: You can now transfer cash via text message. Both the sender and recipient need to register for a free account with a provider such as
Obopay.com; once that’s set up, sending money costs 25–50 cents per transaction, and the money can go directly from and to bank accounts. For small business owners it’s an easy, inexpensive way to send or collect payment overseas. Wave goodbye to the fees, long forms and bank visits associated with wiring money.
These nascent mobile commerce platforms will likely battle it out, VHS-vs-Betamax style, while most of us will be on the sidelines with a wait-and-see attitude. Forward-thinking companies should dive in now, even if they risk adopting a platform that goes the way of Betamax.
“Payment by cell phone empowers merchants to conduct business everywhere and at anytime,” says Cesson. “One consequence of this technology is that it opens up every social interaction to potentially become a sales interaction.”
Trend 6: Collective Intelligence
“We are now creating a collective intelligence that will filter and respond to what’s worthwhile,” says futurist Ross Dawson.
What does collective intelligence mean for the average business owner? It’s the opportunity to distill the “wisdom of the crowd” in a quick, cost- effective manner and get solutions for your pressing business issues. Here are some examples:
• Crowdsourcing: When you broadcast a request for work you need done and people online willingly help, that’s “crowdsourcing.” For example, say you need to name a new product or want to rename your company. Go to the site namethis.com and post your request. Users of the site will offer names and vote on them. Once submissions are in, you pick the one you like best. It costs $99 to harness the crowd’s brain—significantly less than recruiting the services of a branding agency—and the money goes to the person who picked the best name. Here are 10 crowdsourcing sites explained.
• Freelancers on demand: “You can now access the best talent from around the globe to work on your projects,” says Dawson, who points to sites such as elance.com, odesk.com, freelancer.com and rentacoder.com. On these sites, companies can post job listings and freelancers worldwide can bid on them, usually in an auction-style format.
Caution: while this instant job bidding works well for small and non-complex tasks, it’s not always suitable for large or complicated jobs.
• “My Ideas”: Companies are now gathering the opinions, ideas and recommendations of their customers and then surfacing the most popular of those. Mystarbucksideas.com is an example of how to tap the wisdom of crowds to innovate and figure out what your customers want.
“We now have tools to quickly access the knowledge and views of a large number of people,” says Dawson. “Business leaders should think about how they can best use collective intelligence.”
Trend 7: Emotional Branding
“Companies will increasingly base their brand on emotion, to avoid basing it strictly on price,” says futurist and Vistage speaker David Houle. “Brands with strong emotional content will command the highest prices.”
Most successful brands establish a deep emotional connection with their customers, says Vistage speaker Ronald Strauss, author of Value Creation: The Power of Brand Equity. Smaller businesses, he says, think of their brand only in terms of marketing collateral, logos, letterhead, and colors. Many CEOs are not yet tuned in to the emotional aspects of branding.
“Giving your brand emotional content is not easy,” says Strauss. “You must first learn to think of your brand as an organizing lens for how you run your business. You then have to understand how your stakeholders look at your brand and how you create or destroy value as your business delivers, or fails to deliver, on its brand promise.”
Strauss offers these tips for small businesses to build an emotional-based brand:
- Acknowledge and recognize your customers. Have an ongoing relationship or loyalty program with your best customers. The program should make them want to tell their friends about what you do for them.
- Figure out how to best serve your customers by studying what they do to serve their customers. Help them serve their customers better.
- Infuse your brand with values that drive your products or services. People want to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and values such as quality, creativity, luxury, respect and integrity achieve this.
- At every touch your customer has with your company, treat them consistently well. This makes them feel important.
- Create satisfying experiences for your customers. People value sensory, pleasurable, intellectual, safe and consistent experiences. For products, these attributes are often achieved with packaging and design. For services, they are achieved by building trust, which comes from consistency of treatment.
The most common failure of brand to resonate emotionally, says Strauss, is when customers perceive indifference.
Courtesy of Vistage.