Trouble & Transformation

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Trouble, Trouble, Trouble, Trouble ….Our economic anxieties continue to weigh on our minds and our markets. The new jobless claim surge last week came as a bit of surprise to most, making it clear that the recovery has some real trouble spots.

The Travelers Insurance bone-burying-worried dog commercial is an endearing drama of how we stew over tough choices we must make. Those recurring intrusive thoughts just don’t go away. When real trouble hits, most of us can recite the wisdom of the Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. In making economic adjustments we’d do well to follow this path. But reciting is one thing, living through to number five is quite another.

Like it or not, when it comes to trouble, consumers and companies are often in it together. And most marketers aren’t very comfortable in this proverbial boat. No, we’re more practiced in providing “benefits” that answer our consuming needs.

But promising and providing benefits is just one side. At the core of any choice is not only benefit but also risk. And in troubling times risk becomes a much greater factor. In fact, research shows that benefit can be inversely related to risk. Simply: as perceived risks go up, perceived benefits go down. Psychology suggests that’s how the mind reconciles–it’s how we get to “acceptance.” So as we look forward to more favorable consumer markets, marketers would do well to think hard about solving some of the consumers’ ongoing anxieties.

So what we can do about this?



Deepen Understanding & Insight

Since this isn’t our normal lense, what can we learn when we shift our vantage point to one of consumer risk? What can we learn through our research? Our social data monitoring and mining? Our tracking studies? We need to look across all our sources. Dig deep.

Last year, right in the heart of the recession, the folks at Olson Zaltman and Associates did some wonderful depth work through ZMET©, their metaphor elicitation technique. The findings were at once sobering and hopeful. Sobering in the sense of the great economic loss and hardship so many of us are enduring. But also hopeful in that American’s inner resolve was being tested and revived. Despite the economic “raging storm” there was an acceptance (stage 5 again) that we must pull-together and “journey” to a better future. There was a sense that we’re in the middle of our story with some sincere hope and even traces of joy as we look forward. The key here is to really understand how our buying choices are seated in a larger human story.

Attend to Sense of Risk

How we attend to these emotions matter greatly. Prevailing theory from neuroscientists suggest that mirror neuronsbiologically explain our sympathetic response to the behavior of others. Confidence breeds confidence. Market research suggests as consumers we respond to brands that project a sense of direction and energy. Hyundai has done a fine job of projecting confidence and attending directly to the sense of risk. With the Hyundai’s Assurance program, customers can return their leased or purchased vehicle in the event of job loss. The candor works. Nice quiet confidence. Fidelity’s “Turn Here” campaign is a great example of tending to the need for a clear path forward in these confusing and risky times. Fidelity’s green arrow lays a clear path forward, helping consumers overcome the paradox of choice. Very reassuring.

Trouble & Transformation



Elevated risk is a very different context for consumer decision-making. As marketers we must rethink how we are relating to our consumer. This recession has changed the consumer in deep and likely permanent ways. Combine that with the dynamics of the 2.0 marketplace and one can see we must continue with the consumer on the transformational journey.

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