This year has been a tough one. The economy is still in the dumps with little sign of recovering. Our political class cannot agree on anything. And people have taken to the streets to voice their frustrations. On a more positive note, Americans have taken control of their lives back. They started living within their means: more saving, less spending. They are pursuing non-traditional paths of development by creating social enterprises in their communities.
These social, economic and political forces shape the way we think, behave and consume brands. The more a brand is credibly in-tune with its social environment, the more love the brand gets from its consumers.
In 2011, brands such as Amex, Hyundai and Panera stayed relevant with customers by pursuing programs that are in-tune with the social environment. Amex launched Small Business Saturday to help small businesses. Hyundai extended its already strong warranty in cases of unemployment. Panera ran a pay-what-you-want program. On the other hand, brands such as Bank of America, Verizon and Netflix suffered after pursuing policies disconnected with the social environment. BOA started charging fees on debit cards. Netflix increased prices for its service. And Verizon demanded huge cuts to employee benefits.
Next year’s environment comes with plenty of opportunities and challenges for marketers. Here some of the key trends suggesting what we might expect and how they will impact marketing.
In the political front, the election is likely to dominate most of the conversation in the media. According to the Pew Center, the 2012 presidential election coverage accounted for 27% of all the news in the Dec 12-18 week. This number is only likely to increase in the following months. The nature of an election year means more uncertainty for consumers and a need for a brand to empower its base. In times of uncertainty, consumers want to control what they can still can.
While the economy has showed timid signs of recovery, we are still far from over the downturn. Consumers are going to continue being hyper conscious of value. This does not necessary mean low price. They are just going to buy smarter. Consumers are going to purchase fewer things that deliver more satisfaction to their lives.
Finally, on the social front, inequality on all dimensions (education, healthcare, job opportunities, etc.) is going to continue to create friction in our society. Brands have an opportunity to embrace a cultural ideology based on the ideals of equality, fairness, and kindness that are engrained in the American dream. The idea that if you work hard, you deserve a fair shot at success in America.
In summary, next year’s social environment is going to be as polarizing, challenging and full of opportunities as this year’s. Brands that listen and stay in tune with this environment have the opportunity not only to grow but also to become better citizens.