Engaging Consumers in a Difficult Economy

Here we are, marketing and branding in Q4 of 2009, a bit thinner, nimbler and perhaps a bit wiser. As an industry we seem to have survived to see the sun rise on the other side of the economic meltdown. Recovery is a very good thing; however, we don’t think “sun rise” is the best metaphor for what marketers are about experience. We suggest that brand recovery is going to be more like an all out bar-brawl to capture wallet and mind-share of today’s evolved customer.

Consumers have been through serious financial chaos – plummeting property values, forced down-sizing & layoffs, buying only on sale, trading down on name brands for private label & off-brand alternatives, getting rid of fuel guzzling clunkers for smaller gas-sipping cars and brown-bagging last nights leftovers for lunch. Consumers are eager to shed the constraints of the past year and are now carefully assessing which brands to spend their household and discretionary funds with.

Spending for the American consumer means having a relationship with the brands they choose. But be warned, consumers, buyers and suppliers will be exploring new brand relationships now more than ever in the history of our economy. Consumers have fallen out of step with their pre-meltdown brand relationships and they’ll be shopping the market with eyes wide open and they will be enjoying the ride. It’s the power of choice the consumer holds in the brand relationship – it’s incumbent on brands to demonstrate their worth to the consumer.

The big question remains, are marketing’s advertising campaigns and social media tools enough to keep brands firmly entrenched with an awaking consumer base, which is now assessing a brave new recovering economy?  We wouldn’t bet the brand on it. People are social by nature; we crave contact, interaction and face-to-face engagement with other people. Brands that engage their base with targeted sampling, education, sponsorship, guerrilla and entertainment will score with the consumer. If there were ever a time and place to establish new or maintain valued brand relationships it’s now, out in the real world where consumers shop, dine and most importantly, experience and choose.

Brands that maintain consumer relationships by integrating advertising, social media and field marketing will successfully engage the consumer seeking out new brand relationships. Those brands that opt to stay the course with strategies that got them through the last year will fade away to be just another app on a phone, tweet on a screen or viral video on line and that won’t register at the register. With all of the amazing tools and interactivity that technology can deliver for brands it still falls far short of actually being there.

Marketing’s call to arms is to engage the consumer, face-to-face, where they work, shop and play, now. The return will be brand-enlightened consumers who will reward the engagement with loyal spending based on informed personal experience.