The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
What consumers fear most nowadays is not failing to reach the top but tumbling down to rock bottom. The possibility of losing everything is a palpable peril in an economy wracked by high unemployment, weak growth, volatile stocks, disarray in Europe and gridlocked leadership. Most consumers have little if anything to fall back on should the worst happen, so it’s hardly surprising that they are thinking more about avoiding the worst than getting the best.
It wasn’t too long ago that consumers compared their personal situations to those with more, and worried about how they stacked up. This pull and tug of the top fueled the frenzy of trading up. Brands that offered more had a powerful attraction.
Lately, surrounded by others who have lost it all, or overwhelmed by such stories, many consumers now compare their individual situations to those with less, not those with more, and worry about how to avoid winding up like that. What is shaping their behavior is the repulsion of the bottom not the attraction of the top.
More and more consumers say to pollsters that they have slipped out of the middle class. Even many consumers with income and assets that secure them from any risk of ruin have also answered that they feel under threat. The context of the marketplace has refocused almost everybody on looking down with dread rather than looking up with aspiration.
When the risk of hitting bottom seems remote, people allow themselves to be consumed with dreams and aspirations of the good life. But when that risk seems to be stalking them, people become gripped with dread about the worst that could happen.
The good life beckons; it gets people coming. The worst repulses; it sends people running.
Lots of consumers have given up hoping to get the best and are now just trying to avoid the worst. The best thing that brands can do for them is to offer them that sort of alternative, while recognizing the paradox that brands that used to trade on offering the best now risk being perceived as delivering only the worst.
For marketers, it’s as if brand magnetism has been turned on end. Risk-averse consumers can no longer be pulled in by the force of attraction; instead, they are being pushed away by the force of repulsion.
Avoidance has emerged as the bigger motive force in this economy. Consumers are fleeing from things that expose them to the risk of overreaching and slipping backwards. The aspirational customer base has contracted, and even when consumers are open to a premium offer, they first want reassurance that they’re not putting their finances at risk.
Avoidance means that safe havens are in vogue. Consumers don’t want cheap brands so much as they want safe brands. The cheapest brand may, in fact, be the riskiest. Poor quality or bad service could make it more expensive. Consumers want protection from the worst, so within reason that might mean paying more. But it’s not the attractiveness of a safe haven that is the primary driver. First and foremost, it’s the avoidance of the worst case.
In short, the rule of repulsion is front and center in today’s marketplace, and it affects every sort of brand, not just the sorts of loser brands that have always failed. Attraction no longer predominates as a brand motive because consumers are now oriented more to the bottom than to the top.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: J. Walker Smith, Executive Chairman, The Futures Company
Sponsored By: Brand Aid