Time for some positive action

European companies are underestimating the positive aspects of the new millennium and failing to develop appropriate marketing activity to prepare their brands for the year 2000 and beyond.

A study by The Brand Futures Consultancy has found the majority of consumers associate the new millennium with renewal and hope, yet many companies have become pre-occupied with negative associations.

The consultancy spoke to three groups of people: opinion-formers well-placed to anticipate future consumer trends, 2,000 consumers, and 149 senior directors working in companies with an annual turnover of 20m or more.

Taken together, their responses provide compelling evidence that the new millennium is a matter of profound importance to consumers who regard it as a time for personal reinvention and involvement in community projects. Their mood is increasingly one of excitement and anticipation. At the same time, the study finds consumers are being overwhelmed by negative media coverage, which has been overly focused on fears of social unrest, the millennium bug and apocalyptic visions of cult groups existing on the fringes of society.

Alarmist media coverage may not accurately reflect consumer attitudes, but it has led companies to misread the public mood. Company directors admit they are investing more in millennium negatives, such as the Y2K problem, than in activities directed at employees and consumers. And while most do acknowledge the importance of brands, they seem unaware of the opportunities and dangers facing their brands in less than a year’s time.

To redress this imbalance and harness positive consumer expectations, companies should seek ways to build on consumer hopes. These might include greater corporate involvement with community projects that contribute to society. Tesco’s vouchers for schools is one such initiative. Importantly, such projects must be handled with sensitivity and bring real benefits if companies are to avoid being perceived as commercial “exploiters”.

Additionally, the new millennium provides companies with an opportunity to assess their own internal structures and processes to ensure they match the aspirations of their consumers and their employees.

By embracing positive millennium attitudes, companies stand to reap significant benefits. First, they will reinvigorate their corporate reputation in terms that look to the future and reflect the prevailing mood of hope and renewal. This, in turn, will help to enhance their relationship with the consumers they serve while reinforc ing levels of staff commitment.

Companies hoping to grasp these opportunities must ensure they are armed with the consumer intelligence to adopt a more innovative and positive approach to the millennium. Those that do so will lay the foundations for generating new levels of customer loyalty and secure a strong future for their brands.

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