Andrew Curry writes:

The shape of the post-recession consumer landscape is becoming clearer. Our latest wave of Henley Planning for Consumer Change [PCC] research, launched to clients at recent breakfast meetings, maps this. The headline is that risk is back on the agenda, and as a result, consumers have found ways of living with uncertainty; they are looking for greater control; and they are considering the consequences of their choices.

Some of these changes were already becoming visible before the recession. As our UK Managing Director Will Galgey pointed out, it has been an accelerator rather than a catalyst.

For our UK business, the launch represents a return to selling an annual trends report containing analysis and data, which we last did in 2001. We’ve been able to do this because of the expertise of some of our Chapel Hill colleagues – formerly Yankelovich – in managing published services.

Some of the data in PCC are familiar. Obviously financial worries are on the up. Confidence in corporations has fallen – the proportion agreeing that “I can trust the following [sectors] to be honest and fair” has fallen across all commercial sectors, with utilities falling even faster than banks. But the research suggests that people are less rattled by the recession than they were a year ago, even though the economy is weaker now than it was then.

This has had some costs. People now feel under more time pressure than at any time since the late ’90s, though not for exactly the same reasons. And people’s desire for more control isn’t matched by their ability to achieve more control in their lives. 

The biggest impact seems to be on consumers’ willingness to make connections between their immediate surroundings and the wider world. 50% of the sample, of 2,500, thought it “very or fairly desirable” that “we won’t be able to consume as many goods and services as we have in the past”. 32% think it not at all or not very desirable, while 18% aren’t sure.

Similarly, nearly 60% now think we are at fault as individuals for environmental change – and around the same numbers think that it is both their responsibility to do something about it, and that doing something will make a difference.

From all of this, the Planning for Consumer Change data suggests strongly that new consumer values are emerging around vigilance, optimism, self-reliance, resourcefulness, connectedness, and prioritisation. This is a more complex world for brands to navigate, although the smart ones are doing it already. The good news, though, is that this offers more strategic options (and more interesting options) than a race to the bottom on price.

But as Director Henry Tucker observed at the breakfast sessions, “You’re probably not going to be able to sell the same old products to the same old consumers”. They’re expecting something from you which is more helpful – and demonstrates that you’re in tune with their new values.

For more information about accessing Planning for Consumer Change, please contact our UK Marketing and PR Manager, Jennifer Childs. The ‘era of consequences’ icon, seen at the top of the post, was designed by Tom Warren.

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