Category Archives: Business Trends

200 Years of Growing Wealth and Health in the World

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Courtesy of Media Post

We knew it was coming, and the Jan. 1 front page of the New York Times didn’t let us forget: “Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65.”
Expect to see a full year of stories that begin with this announcement, some of which make no sense whatsoever. My hometown paper started one recent story with the following sentence: “Fueled by aging baby boomers, a growing number of Kentucky’s elderly residents are falling victim to physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation — with no end in sight.”

Can anyone make sense of this sentence for me? Are Boomers changing the face of elder abuse because they have suddenly become abused elders? Or are they fueling the problem as elder-abusing caregivers as their own parents pass age 90?

The sentence makes no sense, and simply reminds us that when the mainstream media focus on Boomers, they often make generalizations that are either wrong or irrelevant.

Boomers all Share the Same Stage of Life

What is important about Boomers in 2011?

In 2011, the average Boomer turns 54, and the generation that still spends more dollars on more products than any other is now firmly and completely embedded in middle age.

Not old age — middle age.

What matters about Boomers is not that they are old (even assuming that people feel old at 65), but that no one in this famously youth-obsessed generation can still pretend that she is young.

Before now, marketers had been in denial about how to reach these consumers, assuming either that Boomers can be taken for granted to follow ads targeting their younger peers, or that they won’t resent being treated like seniors. Now that Boomers are so clearly neither young enough to justify the former nor old enough to appreciate the latter, marketers need to find new words and ways to engage the 78 million consumers who are in their own unique stage of life. How to start?

Lifestage marketing

To speak directly to Boomers, you need to find words and images that acknowledge this unique stage of life between being young and old (at VibrantNation.com we sometimes call this stage “post-minivan but pre-retirement”). People who find themselves in the unique life stage between 45 and 70 won’t listen to messages written for either 35-year olds or 70-year olds.

There are some marketers who are doing this well. Here are a few examples I can think of.

Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. I’ve always admired Not Your Daughter’s Jeans for a brand name that says: “You aren’t defined by the same goals (or body) you had in your 20s, but you’re still cool enough to deserve good-looking jeans.” That’s an example of life stage marketing that acknowledges there is an important and lengthy stage between being a young mother and “mature.”
Depends. A brand that has been a tagline for jokes about old age showed how to engage Boomers this year with a campaign targeting people in their 50s who also experience temporary incontinence. A television ad targeting women showed a respected orchestra conductor who also experiences post-menopausal incontinence. Kimberly-Clark did a great job acknowledging that age-related health problems and finding yourself at the prime of life are not inconsistent conditions.

And, finally, in a tech gadget survey we conducted in anticipation of this month’s Consumer Electronic Show, 13% of Boomer women told us they own e-readers, suggesting that Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble should be paying particular attention to consumers whose life stage gives them the time, discretionary income, and interests to buy these new devices.

No matter what the media say, spend more time in 2011 thinking about the 54-year old Boomer than the 65-year old Boomer. You’ll gain more business with her, and you’ll be better positioned to serve Gen X when its first member turns 50.

Older, Smarter, Poorer

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Here’s an interesting look ahead at what Western Europe (and France in particular) will look like in 20 years, with implications for the US and other “developed countries”, courtesy of The McKinsey Quarterly:

“Over the next 20 years, powerful demographic, societal, and economic trends promise to reshape consumer behavior substantially in many of the world’s wealthier nations. The implications for business will be significant. To better understand how these trends will play out, McKinsey’s Consumer and Shopper Insights Center, with the support of the McKinsey Global Institute, examined the prospects of France and found that there, as in many of its European neighbors, the average household in 2030 will be older, better educated, and less wealthy than the average household today.

We found three long-term trends reaching a tipping point that will fundamentally transform the country: an aging population, societal shifts altering what households look like, and economic factors slowing the expansion of wealth. As these trends sweep across France and, to varying degrees, the rest of Europe, they will impose pressure on consumption growth and dramatically change the consumer landscape.”

To read the full article, CLICK HERE.

Seth Godin on the Tribes We Lead

Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.

We’d argue that one of the easiest and most effective waysto do that is thru Hosting Your Own Internet Radio Show. How else can you start a movement overnight? How else can you instantly start a conversation and connect people to it? What easier way to get people to listen and pass it onto others, in true viral fashion? All you have to do to form a tribe around your product or service is stand up on our soapbox and start speaking.

To see how easy, affordable and effective this can be visit www.OCTalkRadio.net.   [tweetmeme]

7 Consumer Trends that Define Business in the “New Normal”

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.

Critical Mass for Business-Year in Review

Having interviewed 100 local businesses and executives here in Orange County, the business coaches at Critical Mass for Business look back at what they’ve learned in 2009 and some of the “transferable insights” they’ve uncovered in their search for “how businesses can make better, more informed decisions”.  This Tuesday from 4-5pm PST, only on www.OCTalkRadio.net.

Did Business Schools Create This Problem?

bigstockphoto_Horrified_Businessman_2799199Business schools have created the crisis we’re in, says Dr. Peggy Cunningham, the new director of the School of Business Administration at Dalhousie University, Canada, in an interview published in Monday’s Globe and Mail. Having left a tenured position at Queen’s University, Cunningham wants to restructure the Dalhousie business school program around a core concept of responsible leadership.

In a Q&A with reporter Gordon Pitts, Cunningham lays out the problems as she sees them, and offers a new vision for future business leaders. Here are some nuggets from their conversation:

Business school have created monsters.

Too much focus on individual success and competition between companies makes people forget that they’re part of a larger social system to which they are accountable. As Cunningham says:

Business schools have to take a very hard look at themselves to see the kind of people we are graduating and take our responsibility very much to heart in terms of the models we use to graduate these people.

Wanting to get rich is fine, but it’s not sustainable as a sole motivation.
‘Greed is good’ may have been Gordon Gekko’s motto in the hit movie “Wall Street”, but Cunningham says, “If what it takes to make one person rich is to make two-thirds of the rest of the world poor, I don’t think that’s a sustainable model.”

Turning out more public administration grads is not necessarily the answer.

Citing the eight-year lag between the entrenchment of the Internet and the first legislation to protect online privacy, Cunningham is skeptical about the government’s ability to take the lead in new technologies. “Even though I might be very critical of business, business is going to be the engine that drives new technologies that will make business itself more sustainable.”

MBA programs everywhere have begun an era of introspection. Last week, the Wharton School announced that the keynote speaker for MBA commencement will be Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. More and more, business school programs are eager to point out that entrepreneurship can be about more than merely making money.