My 16-year-old son Aamir is not only taking a world history class—he’s living it. This has heightened his awareness of events in the Middle East. He’s watching the old order pass away: the ouster of a 30-year ruler in Egypt, a challenge to the monarchy in Bahrain that has existed since the 18th century, and the struggle to end the 41-year-old dictatorship in Libya. Like the rest of us, he’s experiencing a world in transition, where autocratic rulers are being replaced by something else—but we’re not quite sure what.
Along with others in younger generations, Aamir’s world view is scarcity rather than abundance. This week, he started making his own lunch to take to school—rather than buying it there. When I noticed and asked him about it, he told me, “Gas prices are going up and will continue to in the foreseeable future and lots of things will get more expensive. This is one place where we can save some money.”
Of course this was thoughtful—but it also reflects a larger trend. Consumers are more aware of the world around them and concerned about the future. And it’s changing their behavior.
As marketers and business owners, we need to be mindful of how this will affect the perception of our brands and how consumers interact with them. Here are three questions you should be asking.
How can I make sure my value equation remains relevant? The airlines are a perfect example—and on my mind because I spend a lot of time in planes every week. Over the past year, airlines have raised their ticket prices over four times. And they’ll likely have to increase these again soon, since fuel costs have doubled from a year ago. This will color my perception of their value equation. Will I be willing to pay $2,000 to ride in an older plane where I can get a seat assignment—or would I rather pay $1,000 to fly on Southwest, which has newer planes and more amusing flight staff but a cattle-call seating process? What can United Airlines, my preferred airline do to ensure that I stay loyal to them?
Am I creating more innovation to remain top of mind? Of course this needs to be innovation that gives consumers something they really want—rather than something we would give them anyway or we think they should want. They are sophisticated enough to know the difference. Relevant innovation is a critical driver of preference. This will be more important as consumer get choosier.
Am I approaching consumers with empathy? Food prices are going up along with gas. And most people’s income is not rising fast enough to keep up with this. As a result, consumers will experience deterioration in their lifestyles. If your communications show that you understand and have empathy for their situation, this can be an opportunity to build stronger brand ritual behavior with your customers.
Get in their shoes. They are uncomfortable. Brands that can empathize, understand and respond in a meaningful and relevant manner will continue to stay as part of their lives and possibly move up to become part of their brand ritual.
Make your brand be one of them.