A new year and a new world order beckons for business

The coming recession will usher in major cultural and corporate shifts for 2009 which marketers are well-equipped to turn to their advantage

Obama‘Tis the season for those future-gazing lists to flood in on a daily basis, even though most of us are struggling to work out how to finish this year with any confidence in our businesses, the global economy or our employment potential. But what does next year really have in store? I asked people working in roles from traditional marketing to avant-garde culture-shaping agencies to set out a few ideas.

According to Guy Tomlinson, an ex-Boots marketer and now managing director of consultancy The Marketing Directors, the critical theme for 2009 will be that cash is king for both businesses and consumers.

For brands, the cash-rich companies will have more flexibility and breathing space than their rivals. They will be able to carry out valuable marketing campaigns and have more impact on consumers. For everyone else, Tomlinson warns: “Expect more promotions to bring forward sales, clear stocks and tighter credit control to limit the risk of bad debts and boost liquidity.”

For shoppers, too, money will be on the mind. With redundancies now common in every industry, consumers will be conserving their cash. After rapid rises in food and fuel costs throughout 2008, people are short of funds, and with future mortgages requiring larger deposits, people need to keep hold of accessible funds.

Brands will have to react to this by persuading consumers that spending money with them still represents “saving”, that is, if people have to buy things, they want to save in other ways, such as in terms of stress, time, efficiency or quality.

The second theme coming through is the culture of fear. We’re all scared in a recession. But Simon Strong, founder of consultancy Human Zoo, says that as we get frightened, our brains activate adrenaline and cortisone, inhibiting neural electrical activity, decreasing efficiency and reducing new cell growth. Stressed staff do worse jobs.

This individual response spreads to an organisational level. People start to operate in silos, departments act in isolation and suppliers are held at arm’s length. Rather than pulling together, says Strong, “the fear-based instincts of staff compel them to shut down and close off.”

As a result, brands are likely to produce solutions to 2009’s recession that are disconnected, temporary and fragile. To combat this, people must talk, says Strong. By discussing issues, everything becomes less alarming. So if you’re a marketer, be truthful with your staff and suppliers. Tell them how they can help you rather than simply worrying, and everyone is likely to be more efficient.

The third is the death of big capitalism. Out of necessity, many new business models will develop in 2009. Global businesses, traditionally protected by their scale, may see this become a liability.

Ian Wood, executive director at agency Landor, calls the last 25 years a “mutated capitalism” in which many of the world’s brightest minds went into investment banking rather than other sectors. With financial services no longer regarded as a carefree moneypot, the world’s smartest folk may develop new, innovative business models.

While larger companies struggle with massive overheads, these smaller brands that appear relevant to consumer lives on a local, personal basis could forge ahead. Wood sees capitalism no longer being “private profit/public loss”, instead concentrating on “making value” rather than making money.

Although token “green” products may fall away as people’s financial concerns tip the balance against them, sustainability as a trend will be more important than ever. Responsibility of every type will be important, whether it is to the environment, customers or suppliers.

The recession will dampen spirits in 2009 but a more positive story could emerge by the end of the year, according to Ben Kay, head of planning at RKCR/Y&R. The next 12 months will be a time of transition and confusion, yet Kay sees 2010 ushering in “a rebirth in sincerity”. He points to the lack of cynicism surrounding the recent election of Barack Obama in the US as a sign that people are keen to be optimistic.

While marketers are still waiting for the cheery times to arrive, Kay suggests we all look backwards for inspiration. While times are tough, the “home grown” ethic fits into the idea of adding value without costing cash. Conspicuous displays of wealth are out and this applies to brands too. Financial might is no longer reassuring and aspirational; instead, small is beautiful. Kay says that brands will need a “genuine sense of purpose” rather than merely existing to make money.

With these four trends in mind, it seems to me that there is only one option. Get excited; next year will see enormous cultural and corporate shifts. Marketers, with their skills in understanding consumers, being creative and financial planning, are in the perfect position to take advantage of the new world order. 

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