Cautionary tale for marketers: Consumers have learned to watch their spending

As the global economy struggles through a long and bitter economic downturn, some of the world’s most important marketing officers are indicating that it won’t be business as usual even after the Great Recession ends. Consumers are undergoing a fundamental and permanent change in their attitudes, and marketers will have to adjust their strategies to account for the shift.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey by Accenture, the global consulting firm. Accenture surveyed 400 senior marketing executives of North American, European and Asian companies with more than $1 billion in sales.

These companies have been hit hard by the downturn. Two-thirds of the responding companies saw their revenue either remain flat or decline in 2009. Market share took a similar hit, with two-thirds either losing share or failing to gain.

But the road ahead isn’t looking any easier. According to the survey, marketing executives believe consumers will come out of the downturn in a more demanding frame of mind, with these expectations leading the way:

• More value for their money (72 percent)

• Higher expectations for product quality (71 percent)

• Heightened price sensitivity (69 percent)

• Higher expectations for customer service (68 percent)

So, consumers are going to expect better value, better quality, better prices and better service. They’ve learned what it’s like to watch their spending, and they’re going to be more careful going forward about getting their money’s worth. Companies that can deliver on those key expectations will have an advantage in the post-recession world.

Recognizing this, the marketing executives identified three key areas to focus on: customer analytics; innovation; and customer engagement. Know the customer; create products and services that meet the customer’s needs; and effectively engage with customers to create positive experiences and build loyalty.

Taken together, these insights seem to portend a back-to-basics approach. And perhaps that’s the lesson of the repeated boom-and-bust cycle we’ve been through for more than a decade now. We’ve learned that people can’t live beyond their means forever; that borrowed money has to be paid back; and that job insecurity makes people cling tightly to their wallets.

On the corporate level, companies that sell quality products at a fair price, backed with service, will thrive. Your grandpa could have told you that, and without surveying 400 marketing executives. But it seems that we need to re-learn the simple lessons every so often.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/16/2010 - 09:08 am.

    When money is so tight for so many people, buying routine household items, even small appliances feels a like a greater sacrifice and, therefore, is likely to approached with the attitude that buying something that will last for a few (or even many) years and can be repaired at reasonable cost if it breaks down will be far more attractive than the cheap, shiny, throw it away because it can’t be repaired, lasts a year or less, items so common at certain retailers, frequented because they promised (but didn’t even deliver) the lowest prices.

    Perhaps the era of quality at a REASONABLE price is now finally and wisely returning and the realization that cheap usually means very poor quality has finally dawned on the public.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 08/16/2010 - 10:02 am.

    I don’t know if anyone has studied this, but there’s also a certain pleasure in a well-constructed, quality item. My grandmother had an old oscillating metal fan. It was made of heavy gauge metal; the parts fit together well and it just had an overall feeling of solidity.

    I’m guessing she bought it sometime in the 1940s, and it was still in use when I was a kid in the ’60s and ’70s.

    There was something impressive and memorable about that fan that you wouldn’t find in a cheap fan made by slave labor in China and sold at Wal-Mart.

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