The irrational, enduring magic of retail shoe therapy. There is something about shoes and emotional lifting up! This witty poster in a Singapore mall captures the magical effect shoes can have on prospects, and hence their irresistible, even irrational appeal. This speaks to every fan of shoe retail therapy—“Shoes make me happy. I’m superficial. Whatever.”
Overcoming consumer anxiety is about emotional lifting up as much as it is about rational paring down. Hunker down, but with your high heels on?
Photo Credit: Shaziya Khan
Stay Hungry Stay Foolish is a recent book published in India about business school graduates who followed their hearts and dove into entrepreneurial ventures (the phrase was popularized in a Stanford commencement speech Steve Jobs made several years ago, quoting an issue of The Whole Earth Catalog from the 1970s). Some of these entrepreneurs left a cushioned corporate career, some were fulfilling a childhood dream, a few were redefining retirement as a second inning.
The stories are diverse and rich. And while the endings are happy, there are many anxious moments along the way. But it was also anxiety that helped push these people along. This is also a prevalent theme in “layoff lit,” a trend we recently posted about.
Photo Credit: www.stayhungrybook.com
Looking back on a year of AnxietyIndex posts, the thing that jumps out is that the best bits on the blog touched on the persistence of the human spirit. It’s really surprisingly boundless in scope—and anxious times are when we realize just how high and how deep it is.
A slew of the commercials posted on AnxietyIndex were especially sensitive and sensitized to this idea. For instance, the Coca-Cola spot from China in which Liu Xiang’s father encourages his son (the hurdle-jumping champion beset by injury) to face momentary failure as, well, just another hurdle. There are many more in that vein.
The ultimate takeaway? We all must rise before we can shine, a notion that marketers around the world have tapped into to inspire and buck up consumers’ spirits.
Photo Credit: Shaziya Khan
Despite prevalent anxiety in India, its consumers are the most optimistic in the world, according to a Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence survey conducted earlier this fall. India’s score was 120, far higher than the global average of 86. (Indonesia and Norway were also in the top three, the U.S. fell just below the average, and Japan, Latvia, Portugal and South Korea scored as the least confident countries.)
While the past few months have been tough—largely because of rising food prices and worries about job security—they have not dimmed India’s fundamentally upbeat attitude. FMCG brands know that, and their stimulus into the market by way of ad spend tells the story of confidence amid anxiety.
Most of India’s biggest FMCG companies have substantially increased
expenditure over the last two quarters, contributing to continued sales growth in this rapidly developing market. According to the BL Research Bureau, the country’s biggest consumer packaged goods manufacturer, Hindustan Unilever, boosted its year-on-year advertising and promotional spend by as much as 31 percent in the six months to September, to 1,132 crore rupees ($241 million).
Its rivals also increased advertising and promotion spending substantially: Dabur by 47 percent, to 234 crore rupees; Marico by 40 percent, to 176 crore rupees; Godrej by a whopping 61 percent, albeit to just 94 crore rupees; and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer by 57 percent, to 156 crore rupees. All four companies saw sales rise substantially as well.
Brands are racing to reach confident consumers in a country whose economy is expanding despite the global downturn—India’s GDP is forecast to grow by 5.8 percent for the fiscal year ending in March.
One homemaker tells a story that echoes the situation across many homes: After a decade or so of competently managing the household budget, she recently felt compelled to ask her husband for a raise in her “monthly,” colloquial shorthand for the monthly budget she gets to run the household. For the first time in years she had fallen short, due to the rising prices of staple foods. The cost of sugar, for instance, has more than doubled, and the story is the same for potatoes, tomatoes and so forth, as we’ve noted.
Apart from asking for a raise, the homemaker is solving the problem in other ways. This might mean changing suppliers after years of loyalty; instead of going to the neighborhood mom-and-pop store at her convenience, she travels farther, at a specific time, to the outskirts of the city to buy her weekly veggies from the wholesaler.
Brands can help these homemakers with timely solutions: super-saver packs, tips and recipes for stretching the budget, promotional wholesale-price days. In these “doubling price of sugar” times, brands must help homemakers sweeten the pill.
Photo credit: paulancheta
TV viewing at home is the experience of the recession. That’s because participation in alternatives has dropped: Family coffee dates—late-night trips to coffee shops with the whole family, a weekly/fortnightly tradition in Indian metros—are down, as are visits to restaurants. Shopping trips for fancy stuff have been reduced. So people are spending more time sitting down to watch TV or films at home, and weekend viewing has become more prevalent than normal.
People are now making the home theater experience a little special—often the whole family will sit together with steaming cups of coffee or homemade dessert. And folks don’t mind splurging on little treats to enjoy while they watch: chips, colas, coffee, special teas, etc. So this is a great time for beverage, snack and biscuit brands to align themselves with this cocooning trend and promote in-home consumption as a way to make TV watching a more comfortable and enjoyable experience. (In India, snacking is usually done out of home in street cafes, college canteens, etc.) A new commercial from popcorn brand ACTII, for example, says TV was invented for taking a break and enjoying popcorn.
The other day, a client was noting that the parking lot was full on a recent Sunday at Orbit, a popular mall in Mumbai. “What recession?!” was his rhetorical point. All the malls in Mumbai seem as packed as ever, especially on weekends, when families sometimes spend a whole day at the mall.
Epiphany struck the other day while buying a pair of jeans at a local mall called High Street Phoenix. The answer came from an unlikely place: Normally when one buys jeans, it takes at least an hour for the shop to custom-fix the length. It’s been like that for years. But nowadays, you can get your jeans adjusted in just 10 minutes. Small pleasures due to smaller crowds.
Brands can take a fresh look at opportunities for small pleasures hidden in the recession.
Photo credit: bluryee
Here’s a nugget of positivity from a family living through rough times: When their business went bust, they had to cut back in many areas and their standard of living went from “hero to zero,” to borrow a phrase. Through it all, however, they took special care to keep up appearances: The lady of the house made sure they were unfailingly well-dressed—smart, spotless, on trend.
This mattered for their self-esteem, and also for keeping face. Given that financial difficulties are rarely discussed or disclosed in India, their friends and neighbors never knew just how bad it had gotten. Later their friends told them that they were never quite sure whether or not they were in dire straits. With most of their financial woes now well behind them, the family remains convinced that no matter what, it’s worth the effort to dress well.
This insight can be powerfully leveraged to foster emotional connections in many categories that play transformational roles in people’s lives. This is especially important for brands in categories like grooming (Lakme, Elle 18, Lifestyle, West Side, Pantaloon) and banks that issue business and personal loans (Standard Chartered, State Bank of India). Other “value” brands, like Big Bazaar (a department store that has its own line of clothes) and Nirma & Wheel (a bargain detergent), while highly relevant given their low price positioning, can use this idea to build higher esteem with consumers during rough times.
Photo credit: Jaynie Bell
Winter in a strange land is a great analogy for the tough, anxious times we’re contending with. In a foreign country, surrounded by unfamiliar choices, it’s natural to gravitate to brands that one feels close to and comfortable with.
Brands at an emotional level hold important meaning beyond the transactional. They can provide a sense of comfort, of identity, of ownership. So it’s imperative to actively nurture consumers and create opportunities for a relational bond.
Take browsing, for example. Universally, people who hang around shops without buying are glared upon by salesmen, security guards and even store managers when in fact they should be welcomed with open arms, red carpets, even a complimentary drink. Imbuing browsers with a sense of comfort and welcome can create a deep relational bond. Bookshops like Crossword in India are on the right track. Bright armchairs abound, and leisurely reading is condoned.
It’s all about creating the so-called “third place”—a spot that’s neither home nor work where consumers can feel comfortable hanging out. Brands can become the third place, especially if we embrace this idea in its broadest sense, physically (as cafes, bookshops, etc.) as well as virtually (Web sites, blogs) and emotionally (as radio, SMS, music, beauty advice, etc.). In a world of shrill messages and chaotic choices, brands that nurture the relational will win.