5 rules for marketers as we move away from Greed to Fear

I was at a seminar last week organised by the Financial Services Forum where I was lucky enough to hear Lucian Camp talk about his take on the current crisis and how it challenges advertising and commuication. I agree with him that something fundamental has changed and we are moving away from a predominant focus on “Greed” to needs around “fear”.

However I don’t particularly like the concept of Greed and Fear since I have rarely heard consumers talk about these words directly. I prefer to think of it as “gain” and “protect”. Over the past 20 years the prevailing mood has been “gain” – gaining goods, houses, wealth, quality of life, happiness, health. This doesn’t mean we have achieved any of these things but we have experienced the advertising of aspiration.

We have now been shocked into a different mode – that of “protection”. We have all been given pause for thought on whether our jobs, our homes, our families, even the system we rely on, are secure and around for the long term. Products and messages that talk about protecting and sustaining what one has now are more in the current zeitgeist. These messages are also more in tune with the global sustainability issues that we are all facing.

Here are 5 rules for marketers to think of as we ride this trend:

1. Invest more time in understanding consumers worries, frustrations and concerns. I’ve often seen research spend too much time focusing on what people want, with almost an embarrassment to talk about problems that are more negative. Spend time wallowing in these fears with your consumer. From this new insights will come which might not be positive but will resonate strongly in today’s market.

2. Don’t be afraid to link your brand to these concerns in communication. One of the challenges that many of us will need to battle with is that if your career is less thn 15 years old then you’ve only ever worked in the good times. My generation of marketers have only been used to dealing with positive messaging – I think we are a bit afraid of the brand equity we build by talking about negative situations. The best brands will go with the consumer, build equity of “understanding” and “on your side” by reflecting consumer needs hence Rule#1.

3. Move your product development to focus on protection and design products which are sustainable and thrifty. I blogged a while ago about my adventures trying to fix my toaster. Products which help consumers protect what they have whilst having features which are thrifty and sustainable will better meet these needs. Products such as LCD TVs with “eco settings”, Ariel and its turn down to 30 campaign, or printers from HP which have much lower running costs are all examples.

4. Big brands have a great opportunity to gain market share. Small brands need to be faster and closer to their niche. In this environment there will be a natural move to bigger, less risky brands. The big brands that invest through this period will prosper. Those that don’t run the risk that consumers write them off as having failed during the downturn (even if they haven’t). Small brands need to be faster with new concepts and products and more focused than ever on their niches. Luckily more and more niches are appearing and new channels allow greater ability to connect with these groups.

5. (Small) Moments of pleasure matter more than ever. The protection agenda, and the recent crisis, for all the media’s efforts to persaude us otherwise, doesn’t mean a return to mud huts and sack cloth and ashes. However I suspect the embullience of the past cycle will be more muted for a long time. And that means that moments of pleasure and escape will mean even more to people. We are seeing this with consumer spending moving into cinema tickets, chocolate, staycations, and eating well at home, small moments of often thrifty pleasure.

As always please feel free to comment and share your views. I will try and reply to all comments so please leave one if you have a thought.

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I’ve been thinking about Trust again as I pick up my book writing after a summer break.

I want to return to a theme that I discussed in a speech that I made to the Financial Services Forum conference earlier this year. You can download the text of the speech from my website. If you read my earlier blog on Banking and Common Good there are some key themes that emerge if banking is to regain our trust as consumers. As I outlined in that blog I believe we are a turning point but there is significant regression to the mean and that the old status quo is most likely to return. I read with interest in the weekend’s FT about the prediction of a bumper bonus season for the investment bankers.

As “masters of the markets” financial services can contribute market based solutions to the biggest problems. The issues facing us today as a globalised society are bewildering: climate change, peak oil, water crisis, natural resource depletion, all underwritten by uneven wealth distribution, poverty, crime, conflict,increasing urbanisation. These issues are moving more quickly and in a more interrelated way than ever before. The European Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme and the futures markets for protection of Amazon land, are all examples of financial markets contributing solutions.

Contribute proactively to a move away from an age of naked consumerism to something that priortises inidividual well-being and community cohesion. Imagine a world where a conversation in the bank, with a bank manager, could assess whether a credit card to fund that new purchase, or a stretching mortgage to buy that bigger house, were needed putting individual happiness at the heart of the discussion.

After all is said and done what we trust are organisations that have values communicated through their actions, run by accessible and open people, businesses that value their loyalty, and seek to create profit by creating products which meet consumer needs transparently. We will trust brands that communicate openly and positively about the many benefits they provide. Brands can move from basic levels of trust when their businesses start to play for higher goals.

What do you think? As always please feel free to share, retweet, comment and get involved.




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I’ve worked in banks for the past 7 years of my career. I met some really good people, made some friends, and learnt alot along the way. I’ve got some insight into what makes banks and bankers tick and this has recently been on my mind given a few conversations I’ve had with people “on the inside”.
I’d like to spend this blog proposing a new model of value creation for banking and bankers based on the concept of the “Common Good”. With the “common good”, being defined as a positive effect on a wide constituency of stakeholders, and the system we call “society” as a whole.

As we all know we (the people) own much of Northern Rock, RBS and Lloyds and have had to support with financial investments in market structures, liquidity and insurance virtually all other financial services companies. Now I can tell you, and it should come as no surprise, that all the banks that have received state support are desperate to get the government, i.e. our representatives, out of their affairs. This is the major focus of RBS and Lloyds and what will allow this to happen is moving back into profit fast, stablising balance sheets and stopping all unprofitable activity. This agenda is consuming their management teams. These activities are being supported by governments that, quite rightly, don’t want to run or be involved with commercial enterprises and want to show a return for the investment of our money as soon as possible.

The leaders of these organisations are talented and well incentivised and will succeed. They will get back to being independent commercial enterprises that play the markets, deliver profits, (often super-normal) and pay big bonuses to their staff, sooner than we think. They will pay dividends and look to make stock market returns by placating the analysts thirst for short term results. And these potential outcomes, a return to the “status quo” with a little more risk management and some structural reform, would be a far better state than we are now in.
But shouldn’t we play for more? Shouldn’t we, since its our money on the line, demand greater change? One scenario would be we demand an approach where there is a more balanced set of objectives for our banks, objectives which build “the common good”, as well as profit and return. This in my mind is the big opportunity out of the crisis.
We have lived through an almost unimaginable collapse in our global banking system. But it seems to me that we are regressing back to the norm – going back to the status quo. Given each taxpayer has had to stump up somewhere from £2,500 to £15,000 to bail out the banks through this crisis (depending on what source you read!) – what do we want to do with this investment? Whether we like it or not these institutions were too big too fail. And this, I think, is not just the result of their commercial size and success, it says more about the role, and potential role, they play in our society. Banks, for good or ill, are a big part of making our society, the system in which we live, work.
State intervention in the banking system was right and no doubt protected us from a catastrophic economic situation. We, the taxpayer and our government, are now involved in these enterprises and this gives us the right to demand a change. Do we want to return to the type of banking and market dominance that led to the collapse? This is the likely scenario unless we start to engage in intelligent, informed dialogue about what new form of contribution we want from these institutions.

My opinion is that it isn’t enough for banks just to pay off government aid, buy us off (hopefully with a return), and go back to what they were doing before with even more less-than-effective regulation. All stakeholders (and that includes us) need to get involved to understand how banks can play for a different set of aims which include contributing to the common good.

A bank operating for the common good could:
  • make a profit, but not seek to drive super-profit
  • seek to grow their value, and that of their shares, by long term investments in businesses and people, not short term quarter by quarter spinning and lurching
  • stay away from the complex, synthetic, products which make a lot of money but are often so far removed from any underlying creation of a value to society
  • realise that they are a part of the fabric of our nations, not just a commercial entity, and that with this comes responsibility to serve and work with a wide range of consumers
  • don’t hide behind or pander to the “consumer” – for example if someone doesn’t understand credit don’t give it to them
  • seek to get seriously involved in supporting community cohesion and the broader issues in society – millions are financially excluded, maybe there isn’t much money to be made, but working with these consumers responsibly would provide a social good
  • back businesses and become a facilitator of solutions to keep businesses going rather than too often making arbitrary decisions, of the “computer says no” type that mean good but cashflow challenged businesses goes under
  • see the opportunity for their people and places to become centres of the community – why wouldn’t the local bank manager go to local schools and talk about money and how it should be managed or invite local people into the bank to discuss community funding of projects. (Interesting to see what the Campaign for Community Banking is lobbying for – shared branches for example, recently rejected by HSBC)
  • create an environment where staff could really be proud of what they do, and one where debate and challenge, not to the specific issue or product, but on a broader more fundamental level is encouraged and actioned

And in return we would need to cut the banks a break. We will need to understand that the fixing of the system is hard, it will have ups and downs, successes and failures. There will continue to be excesses as the old status quo evolves to something different. The market will need to allow management teams to deliver lower absolute profitability, without the ruthless short term focus; and develop new measures for contribution of the business both financial and societal. The media will need to focus less on the reaction to short term issues and seek to represent and support the longer term goals of delivering a “common good” through intelligent and informed debate.

And there are some potential new practises emerging:

Barclaycard is launching a new online account management system which allows spend analysis by category in order to give their customers better information.

Tesco Personal Finance are talking (but only talking at the moment) about building a bank rewarding loyalty.

There is talk of a “Post Bank” being launched using the infrastructure of the Northern Rock (see this article). And other local community banks are also being discussed.

I am sure many, even some old colleagues, will read this and think it is all pie in the sky thinking. But if we allow the system to return to the old status quo, albeit with some structural or regulatory modifications, then I think we will have squandered an opportunity of a lifetime to forge something new and better for the banks, the bankers, our society and for us as consumers.

What do you think? Please leave a comment, thought, disagreement or agreement below or drop me an email at: justin@basini.com

As always please feel free to share, Retweet, Digg or bookmark! I really appreciate it.

Thanks for reading (and thinking),





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