Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Everyone is searching to answer two fundamental questions: “What should I be doing now?” and “What comes next?”

Most marketers are dialed into what needs to get done to survive and grow in today’s tough economy. Table stakes include a focus on winning share, getting the value/pricing right, creating affordable brands and sticking to the basics. However, when this crisis ends, there will be a new next. The landscape will shift and consumer preferences will change. For some, “What comes next?” may be a question too far into the future to worry about today. But the spoils of tomorrow will go to the brands that take action to deepen emotional bonds with consumers today.

The brand characteristic that builds emotional bonds in today’s world is empathy. To get to empathy, you have to be great at listening, with the intent to fully understand the situation, feelings and motivations of consumers.

With our Publicis Groupe sister company MediaVest, we recently completed a study to get at what consumers really care about in regard to the current financial crisis across six countries in developed and emerging markets. Based on what we heard, I think there are five key areas where brands can demonstrate empathy and deepen emotional connections without compromising the battle of winning share today.

Preservation: Preservation means to keep the family rituals intact, to allow kids to be kids, to not let the family feel the impact of the crisis in a way that disrupts life. Moms are doing overtime to protect their kids and family from the financial crisis. Aldi is tapping into this emotion with a strong idea of “Don’t change your lifestyle, change your supermarket.” Aldi is seeing shoppers trade down into their stores and are smartly building the bonds now to keep them later.

Control: Being “in control” is now well beyond a functional idea and is packed with strong emotion. Let’s face it — there are plenty of things we cannot control. This gives the things we do control far more importance in our lives. Brands and retailers can participate in this emotion by giving more control to the consumer. Tylenol gets it by encouraging consumers: “If you have a headache, drink a glass of water, wait 30 minutes, and if you still have a headache, take a Tylenol.” Brilliant.

We are seeing the decline of 100-calorie packs as shoppers take back portion control as something they can do themselves for far less money. People want product packages sized to their paycheck — not sized to their pantry. Shopping is now a mission and retailers can gain connection by better price transparency, sustainability labeling and portion control. The explosive rise we’re seeing in the use of mobile phones for information and coupon delivery is driven in part by this desire for control.

Certainty: Third, there is a deep desire for the comfort of certainty. The rules for advancement, retirement and making a good life aren’t working. As a result, risk-taking is out. Right now there’s tremendous need to identify with brands that are proven. New is being challenged. Now is the time for assurance, legacy and heritage payoff. Hyundai set the bar early with its “Assurance” campaign, but others are right there, like Sears with bringing back layaway.

Unexpected victories: No one expects the world will improve anytime soon. Hope is not on the big wins, but the small victories. Consumers have low trust and respect for institutions, and a deep satisfaction in “getting one over on the man.” The key is not being “the man.” Being the underdog is where you want to be — like Miller High Life’s affable delivery guy who’s all about common sense. Sainsbury supermarkets in the U.K. tapped into the idea of feeling good about making do with its “Love your leftovers” campaign. It asked shoppers what they did with their leftovers and then suggested how they could stretch their budgets by turning leftovers into interesting meals. Spot-on.