The Darwinian Gale and the era of consequences

9 February 2010 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

Walker Smith, in Chapel Hill,  writes:

I’ve been thinking about  the nature of the recession, and consumer responses to it, for The Darwinian Gale. a large report we’ve just published.  The prevailing view of the Great Recession of 2008/2009 is that the recessionary experience of frugality has ushered in a new era of thrift.  Another says that  consumers will pick up spending right where they left off the minute they can. Our research suggests that both views are wrong.

Instead, we concluded that the defining dynamic of the recovery consumer marketplace will be an overhang of uncertainty about economic risk.

The Great Recession blew away the keen consumption and liberal globalization that drove the global economy for three decades.  But consumers still have aspirations for a better life; although they will re-channel these ambitions, and perhaps redefine what they mean by ‘better’.

As a result, the most important question facing marketers is what sort of value will animate the connection between consumers and brands in a recovery consumer marketplace coming to terms with uncertainty. But it’s not about frugality. Where it happened (and not all markets contracted), it is best understood as a coping mechanism. The risk for marketers is that if they focus on the frugal, they will miss the bigger issue of the changing value equation.

Indulging in economic risk, as consumers did in the run-up to the recession, meant not worrying about consequences.  Now, after the recession, every aspect of every decision is up for review, along with the the full range of consequences from those decisions. A considerable part of redefining value will involve focusing on the possible consequences.

This focus on consequences will be the hallmark of value in the recovery consumer marketplace to come.  Our research suggests it will be guided by a potent ambition of responsibility that will entail a greater emphasis on vigilance and resourcefulness.  Spending will be shaped by the necessity to prioritize as consumers orient their shopping in coordination with networks of interests that include but also go beyond their own selfish concerns.

The Futures Company has developed a white paper called A Darwinian Gale (available here) that explores the story of the overhang of uncertainty and examines the implications.  The Futures Company’s “unlocking methodologies” enable clients to identify the new value equations in their markets.

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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