Tuesday, April 07, 2009

In us we trust...

I have been speaking all winter to groups about the longer-term consequences of this financial meltdown.  One of the largest outcomes maybe the decay of trust - in business especially, but also government, media, and other institutions. To that end it is interesting to contemplate whether we will trust less (become more self-reliant and insular), transfer our trust to others, or devolve back to old habits after the storm blows over.

This question poses a whopping marketing problem, particularly if we hope for consumer spending rebounding close to earlier levels.

Past downturns have also stoked anti-business feeling, which dissipated as growth returned. But the sheer scale of the failings that have come to light recently mean that suspicion and wariness will not vanish so easily this time around. In response, firms will need to be even more transparent in their dealings with customers, who will punish them severely if they fail to keep their promises. Bain, another consulting firm, says it has seen several firms appoint executives recently with a specific brief to ensure that price adjustments and service cuts do not damage loyal customers’ experience of brands.
Companies will also need to show they empathise with consumers’ new concerns. “There will need to be a move from passion to compassion in marketing,” reckons John Gerzema of Young & Rubicam, a marketing-services firm. Hyundai, a South Korean carmaker, has taken the hint. In January it said that for a 12-month period it would allow car buyers to return vehicles without incurring a penalty if they lose their jobs. On March 31st Ford and General Motors followed Hyundai’s example, saying they would make payments on car loans and leases for a limited period on behalf of buyers who are laid off.
Both the shift towards greater thrift and greater scepticism about brands will influence other consumer trends, too. Interest in things such as green products and healthy foods will continue to grow in a post-crisis world, but customers will be less willing to pay a premium for them, and will demand more value for money when they do.
The downturn will also accelerate the use of social media, such as blogs and social-networking sites, by consumers looking for intelligence on firms and their products. As trust in brands is eroded, people will place more value on recommendations from friends. Social media make it harder for brands to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes, but they also offer canny companies a powerful new channel through which to promote their wares and test new products and pricing strategies. [More]
Which leads me to our emerging "social media", such as Crop Comments.

Do you trust the information there more than you used to?  More than surveys of farmers or agronomist reports?  Will you be making marketing decisions based on the self-reports of activity or lack of it in the CC section?

Whether I think it does or not, I'm pretty sure reading the CC changes my thinking, even if only slightly.

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