Editor's Notes: Say the Right Thing
You've been hearing a great deal about doing the right thing, from reducing your impact on the environment to making it easy for customers and prospects to better control their relationships with your firm, and so on. If your company has been following this ideal, then you know the beginning to right actions is right thoughts, which also lead to right words. And at the present, the right words are what Americans crave—from businesses as well as politicians.
For example, an early October poll from Opinion Research Corp. found that 46 percent of consumers surveyed felt their financial institutions were not communicating enough with them regarding the safety of their assets. With 55 percent believing that the crisis in the financial markets would have a negative effect on them personally, that's a dangerous silence—especially when banks practically have knocked down consumers' doors with credit offers for the past few years.
Americans have experienced shock wave after shock wave of bad news in 2008 and are living with the daily anxiety of not knowing how deep this economic crisis goes. J. Walker Smith, Ph.D, president of consumer research firm Yankelovich, recently told me that until we can be certain the bottom has come for our economic situation, uncertainty will rule. Uncertainty, as we all know from history, results in paralysis and conservation.
In addition, what makes this recession different from others is it comes at a point when people are waking up to the realization that their consumption behaviors might have played a part in bringing on this slowdown. That will affect how people respond to the need for change. "I think we will see this time more of a turn towards ‘responsible' consumption, which is to say that people are thinking more nowadays about the impact their purchases have on things around them," explained Smith.
Keeping these factors in mind, marketers must match their language and offers to fit the current consumer mind-set. For one, anything marketers can do to make their offers less risky will be a smart move, as will be demonstrating the solidity of their companies. The key themes right now are responsibility, necessity, trade-offs, investment in the future and, to some degree, fantasy that's affordable.
After such a wave of unchecked consumption, it's going to sting us all a little to cut back. And many of us will help make the medicine go down easier by finding virtue in doing without. At the same time, we certainly will appreciate those companies that help us find ways to do more with less.