Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What Do We Do Now?

These days everyone is facing the same question. Times are tough, and it's not easy to know what to do. The natural impulse, of course, is to hold on to every dime you or your company may have and scale back to "weather the storm." In moderation, this isn't a bad idea. Usually there are opportunities to reorganize, optimize efficiency, and cut back your fixed costs--to a degree. But then what? Sitting on your hands and waiting for the clouds to pass can leave you in an even more dire situation when the economic momentum shifts.

After this downturn turns back around and the dust settles the real winners will be the companies that addressed the big picture behind "what do we do now?" Consumers will start buying again, and when they do, they won't be thrilled to see that you've managed to maintain or marginally increase your price points. They won't be relieved to see that the same offerings are still available and that you didn't go out of business. They will be looking for the companies who acknowledge what we have all been through and who connect this knowledge to meaningful products and services that fit their lives.

"Lifestyle" is a word that often gets tossed around the conference table. Marketing and advertising types mull which colors, materials, and packaging will relate to the consumer's lifestyle. Campaigns are born and revised endlessly to achieve great "test-through" with focus groups. If only those few dozen people were enough to support your business, you'd be in great shape! The reality is, companies need to connect with today's consumers on a personal level with obvious and honest comprehension of their needs. What you have offered them for the past decade will not be the right answer for the next decade. And the right answers are just waiting to be found.

What kind of products will relate to consumers who have endured the "economic crisis?" Likely, they'll be much less interested in personalization and customization and more drawn to perceived quality and functionality. Value will not be defined by how closely the product reflects their personal taste and aesthetic, but rather the core needs that reflect how they live an average day. Products that acknowledge and validate the way they clean, cook, drive, and communicate. The experiences that make up a day are constantly evolving. The most successful companies will take the opportunity that this down-time offers to re-evaluate their perceptions of how their product or service supports and enhances today's experiences.

It may seem counter-intuitive to describe a recession as an opportunistic time, but it will be easy to spot the winners when the dust settles. There will be new products and services, developed wisely and economically, that step in and fill the void created by the recession. Those companies will be the ones collecting when consumers suddenly decide to spend, and everyone else will be racing to catch up.

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